We’ll get the chat started about 1:45 p.m., but in the meantime here’s some reading material for your perusal:
I’ve been on the fence about what to think of this Philadelphia Flyers team going all the way back to the offseason. There is reason to be encouraged by their roster, and there is at the same time every reason to have serious concerns about their roster.
Even now, with the team rapidly climbing the standings with eight wins in the past 11 games (including five in a row, and points in six in a row) those same feelings of confusion still exist. They are winning and collecting points — against very good teams! — but they are doing it while being completely dependent on overtime and shootouts.
Just as is the case with the St. Louis Blues and their recent hot streak (read about that here), there is an element of good fortune and luck to that sort of winning. You can’t keep relying on overtime and shootouts over an 82-game season if you want to be a playoff team and become a contender. But here’s the positive sign for the Flyers — from a big picture standpoint this season they are still exhibiting some signs that they might have some staying power. They might be a little lucky right now when it comes to their OT and shootout success, but there is also still reason to believe they have been a little unlucky to this point in pretty much every other area. At 5-on-5 play the Flyers have been one of the top-10 teams in a lot of key areas.
• Shot attempt share: 6th in NHL
• Expected goals share: 10th in NHL
• Scoring chance share: 5th in NHL
• High-danger scoring chance share: 9th in NHL
To be in the top-10 in all of those categories nearly a quarter of the way through the season is a pretty good sign and something a team can definitely build on. If a team is able to stay there, it is probably going to be a team one is a serious contender, especially if it gets even somewhat competent goaltending on top of it.
What should be encouraging for Flyers fans is they have played well this season, they have already collected a lot of points (they have the sixth best points percentage in the NHL), and you can make the argument that their four most important players — Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, and goalie Carter Hart — have probably underperformed to this point, at least relative to their expectations and previous track records.
The three forwards (Giroux, Voracek, and Couturier) are the most intriguing because all three have excellent underlying numbers and shot rates (especially Giroux and Couturier) but have not yet had it translate to the point totals we usually see from them. Giroux and Couturier have been especially dominant when it comes to driving possession, while both have seen increases in their individual shot rates. There is every reason to believe they have more to offer and that their production can — and should — increase.
Hart remains the key to this team, and he always has been. He is the latest goalie in a long line of goalies that was supposed to offer a real long-term solution to a consistently cursed position, and after an outstanding rookie season expectations were sky-high for him entering this year. But he did not get off to a great start (an .864 save percentage in October), and that more than anything contributed to the Flyers’ early losing. Since the calendar has rolled over to November, however, he has started to play like the goalie the Flyers hoped he could be. He has a chance to be a franchise-shifting player simply because of the position he plays and the importance it carries.
No one would blame you if you are still skeptical of this team.
The offseason moves were, in a word, strange, and the organization as a whole has settled into a state of consistent mediocrity over the better part of the past decade. They have also been burned by a revolving door of goalies that were supposed to solidify the position only to fail spectacularly in their own special ways.
But there is at least some kind of hope that this team might be able to be something decent this season based on what we have seen from them so far. If they can keep controlling play the way have over the first month-and-a-half, combined with Hart getting himself comfortable in net, there might be something to actually build on here.
Coverage of the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Flyers and Capitals begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.
When we last checked in with the St. Louis Blues a few weeks ago the defending champs were off to a sluggishly inconsistent start and then got the one piece of news they absolutely did not need — Vladimir Tarasenko, their most impactful player and biggest star, was going to be sidelined for the next five months. It was a disappointing start to their title defense, and it seemed like it could have at least had the potential to put them in another early hole in the Western Conference they would have to dig out of.
Instead, the opposite has happened. They enter Tuesday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes riding a seven-game winning streak and have climbed back to the top of the West standings, owning what is by far the best points percentage (.750) in the conference.
Considering the injury situation it is an impressive run and quick turnaround. How have they managed to stay so hot, and can they keep it rolling? It is a nice run of success, but there are definitely some red flags that come along with it.
The power play and overtime domination has carried the offense
Two things stand out about the Blues’ current winning streak. The first is that five of those wins have come in overtime, with two of those overtime goals being scored on power play opportunities.
Somewhat related to that is the fact the power play itself is clicking at a 29.6% rate over the past eight games, the second best success rate in the NHL during that stretch. All of that is making up for the fact that the Blues have scored just 12 goals during 5-on-5 play and have one of the worst scoring rates in the league at even-strength (more on this below).
This should be a concern because you can only rely on your power play to carry you for so long, and you’re not always going to get that sort of opportunity in overtime. Overtime itself can be a huge coin flip due to the unpredictable nature of the 3-on-3 situation. Sometimes you will get the bear, and sometimes the bear will get you (this five-game OT winning streak came after losing three OT/SO games in a row earlier in the year).
Jordan Binnington has gone on a roll
This is probably the biggest part of the Blues’ recent run. Binnington has won each of his past five starts and has a .930 save percentage in the six games since Tarasenko went out of the lineup. He was one of the players off to a slow start at the beginning of the year and his recent turnaround has resulted in him putting the team on his back and carrying it.
(We should also acknowledge that Jake Allen has also contributed, winning two games during the winning streak with a very respectable .914 save percentage).
Binnington’s play has been so important because the Blues are not controlling shot attempts and scoring chances like they did a year ago. Even during this recent winning streak (since Oct. 25) the Blues are among the worst teams in total shot attempt differential (28th), scoring chance differential (28th), high-danger scoring chance differential (30th), and expected goal differential (30th). It is a small sampling, yes, but it is also a dramatic fall from where they were a year ago after the coaching change when they were one of the best teams in all of those categories. (All via Natural Stat Trick)
Something to keep in mind: Even though their defensive play isn’t quite as good as it was in the second half and in the playoffs, a lot of their struggles in these differentials have to do with what they are not creating offensively as opposed to what they are giving up. Across the board they have been the worst 5-on-5 team in the league when it comes to generating shots, chances, high-danger chances, and yes, even goals. This is an example of where they are really missing an impact player like Tarasenko, and it really puts a ton of pressure on the goalies to have no margin for error because one or two goals could be too much to overcome.
The results are good, the process is concerning
This is really what it comes down to.
The Blues are winning games right now, yes, but the process behind those wins is concerning when it comes to their long-term outlook. These points they have collected over the past two weeks are important, and they have definitely built themselves a nice cushion in the playoff race, but if they keep playing this way the wins may not be as frequent as they currently are.
At times last year the Blues looked like a team that was doing everything right with the way it played and just needed to fix its goaltending to get on the right track. They do not have that same feel right now.
If they want to keep getting the same results this year something is going to have to change in their process to generate more offense at even-strength, and that might require a trade to help replace what they are missing with Tarasenko.
NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
It’s pretty unusual to see the Penguins near the bottom of the NHL in power play efficiency, but here we are.
Sitting with the fourth-worst success rate (12.5%) in the league, the Penguins are hoping to snap out of their funk Tuesday night against the Rangers. New York’s penalty kill has been okay so far, killing off 80.3% of man advantage opportunities. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has not scored a power play goal since Oct. 13 and have failed in their last 26 chances.
During Monday’s practice, there were times when head coach Mike Sullivan had his power play units work 5-on-0 against goaltender Matt Murray. There was success in beating the netminder, but Sullivan’s goal was to make his players realize they just have to follow the K.I.S.S. method: keep it simple and execute and their fortunes will change.
“We scored some goals,” Sullivan said afterward. “So that’s progress, you know?”
The Penguins will be without Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist and Kris Letang against the Rangers. Those are three huge pieces of their power play setup gone. In their place, the top setup at Monday’s practice featured Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Alex Galchenyuk, Nick Bjugstad and Justin Schultz.
Hornqvist’s absence means there is a need for another havoc-creator in front of opposing goalies, someone to set screens and cash in on those greasy goals right in front of the net. That will be Bjugstad’s role for now.
“That’s one thing that [Hornqvist] brings to our power play that’s important,” Sullivan said. “You have to make it tough on the goalie. You’ve got to take sight lines away. You have to limit his ability by being in and around the crease. I just don’t think we’ve gone there enough.”
Sullivan feels that the length of the current man advantage drought is playing into his players getting away from keeping it simple.
“It’s only been most recently that the power play has struggled in the sense that there hasn’t been execution,” he said. “There was a long time there that we felt the power play was doing everything except put the puck in the net, and so as that starts to evolve, if you don’t start to score, I think it’s a natural inclination to start to squeeze your stick and press a little bit, and that’s a whole different challenge, and so these are some of the dynamics that we are trying to work through as a group.
“But I do believe that part of the solution has to be just simplifying everything we do, and it starts with just shooting the puck more and getting more pucks and people to the net.”
Brendan Burke and Joe Micheletti will call the Penguins-Rangers showdown from Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y. Paul Burmeister will anchor studio coverage with analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp.
Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at email@example.com.
• No Dallas Star will ever wear No. 56 again as the team announced they will retire Sergei Zubov’s number sometime next season. [Stars]
• The Blues have signed Jamie McGinn and Troy Brouwer to tryout contracts to see if they can wait on calling up prospects. [Post-Dispatch]
• Looking for reasons why the Lightning offense is off to a slow start? Start with their stars. [Raw Charge]
• Interesting look at the various hydration techniques of NHL players. [Boston Herald]
• It doesn’t look promising for the Blue Jackets’ chances of turning around their slow start. [Yahoo]
• Rico Phillips’ life has changed since he was named winner of the 2019 Willie O’Ree Award. [NHL.com]
• Finally, there were a trio of beautiful goals over the last few days outside of the NHL. First up, Jayden Davis of the SJHL’s Estevan Bruins with some magic:
Next, Adrian College’s Dean Balsamo spins and spins and scores:
Finally, Mike Sgarbossa of the Hershey Bears gets elected as Mayor of Dangle City: