Flyers’ Slow Starts a Problem Under Current Regime
If you had to pinpoint the single biggest issue the Flyers have faced in nine games this season, it’s starting slow. More than any specific aspect of the game -- like goaltending, penalty kill...the usual suspects -- slow starts have been a consistent problem and not just this season.
In fact, the numbers under the Flyers' current regime of Ron Hextall, Dave Hakstol and all the players of this core show that it's a trend.
Since the start of the 2015-16 season, Hakstol’s first as head coach, the Flyers have allowed the first goal of the 147 times. In those games, the Flyers are 58-65-24. They have scored first in 108 games and have a 68-24-14 record.
Those numbers -- courtesy of the great Bill Meltzer -- are over the course of 255 regular-season games and include scoreless games that were decided in the shootout as 1-0 final scores.
For a little perspective, in the same four-year span, Washington, Chicago, San Jose, Nashville and Anaheim all have more than 100 wins when scoring first.
Obviously, that’s not good overall, but those numbers aren’t a good example of slow starts, because a first goal of the game could come late in the second or into the third period. Of course, a result will typically be dictated by a team scoring first late in a game.
This is about the first nine games of this season, though, and the Flyers starting off slow and allowing the first goal of the game has been almost expected every game.
Let’s start by listing the first goal of every single game, noting the time and situation.
- Game 1 at Vegas - Jonathan Marchessault at 6:37 of the first period - 2-on-1 in the middle of a change for the Flyers. Marchessault snaps a shot high to the stick side of Brian Elliott.
- Game 2 at Colorado - Colin Wilson at 1:35 of the first period - Andrew MacDonald and Nolan Patrick come together behind the net and are taken out of the play. Colorado gets a 2-on-1 in front of the net and Wilson scores on a rebound after two saves by Elliott.
- Game 3 vs. San Jose - Logan Couture at 3:17 of the first period - An Ivan Provorov turnover leads to an odd-man rush for the Sharks and Couture shoots through the five-hole of Elliott. To make matters worse, Joe Pavelski scored just 11 seconds later to make it 2-0.
- Game 4 at Ottawa - Brady Tkachuk at 8:39 of the first period - A deflection from the slot on a power play turns a cross-ice opportunity on goal, beating Cal Pickard.
- Game 5 vs. Vegas - Cody Eakin at 18:35 of the third period - A Sean Couturier turnover allows Vegas to gain control and Ryan Carpenter sets up Eakin with a nice pass to the slot that Eakin roofs over Elliott.
- Game 6 vs. Florida - Frank Vatrano at 17:58 of the first period - A sharp angle shot slips by Elliott short side.
- Game 7 at Columbus - Travis Konecny at 10:06 of the first period - Robert Hagg puts a shot on goal that Konecny redirects between the five-hole of Sergei Bobrovsky.
- Game 8 vs. New Jersey - Damon Severson at 4:07 of the first period - Marcus Johansson laces a pass cross-ice to the left circle for Severson who lifts a shot over Elliott for a power-play goal.
- Game 9 vs. Colorado - Mikko Rantanen at 3:23 of the first period - After making big saves on Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon, MacKinnon takes the second rebound, gets the puck to the slot and Rantanen is open with a wide open net for the power-play goal.
For three games, all smack in the middle one after the other, the Flyers did not allow a goal in the first 10 minutes of a game. In the other six, the latest an opposing team has scored on the Flyers is 8:39. In eight of nine games this season -- the 1-0 loss to Vegas being the only exception -- the Flyers have allowed at least one goal in the first period. In fact, they have been outscored 12-7 in the first 20 minutes. 12 goals allowed in the first period leads the league.
It’s difficult to constantly play catch-up. The Flyers should know this well. The Flyers frequently get scored on in the first period.
In the same four-year period under Hakstol, the Flyers have scored 169 goals in the first period, tied for 27th in the league -- and keep in mind that Vegas ranks last because they weren’t part of this equation for the first two seasons. The Flyers have also allowed 205 goals in the opening 20 minutes, a differential of -36.
Let’s go back to the 255 game body of work. The Flyers have trailed after the first period in 84 of those games, which is 32.9 percent of all regular-season games played. They have trailed after two periods in 94 games, 36.8 percent of the 255 games.
Perhaps it’s not the number of times they have trailed after the first or second as much as how little they have played with a lead from one period to the next. The Flyers have had a lead after the first period just 52 times in 255 games, a 20.4 percent rate. They have led after the second period 93 times, a 36.5 percent rate.
Virtually nothing has changed. The Flyers may have 30 goals this season, but they either need the luckiest break or to work intensely to get the puck into a dangerous scoring area. They have allowed 37 goals, second-most in the league at over four goals per game on average. The penalty kill is 30th in the league with a 68.8 percent success rate. That’s 10 goals allowed in 32 times shorthanded. Pathetic.
Goaltending isn’t let off the hook either. Elliott allowed two soft goals as the first of the game in the home opener against San Jose and against Florida a week later.
In general, it’s just a lack of hustle and energy from the start of games that send other teams in to create opportunities. Hextall called it “donating the first 10 minutes” of games. He’s not wrong. Teams can’t just flip a switch after a certain point or when a team gets down. It needs to be immediate.
That’s the Flyers' challenge moving forward. They have backed their way into the playoffs in the past with slow starts and continuous mistakes in the crease, on the penalty and scoring depth issues.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.