- In anticipation of tonight's game featuring the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers, I asked Collin Mehalick (@collinmehalick) of Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) a few questions about the Flyers' season so far. Collin also asked some questions of me and you can check those out over at Broad Street Hockey.
JEN: Ray Emery was a terrific backup last season in Chicago. How has he been doing this season? Do you foresee him re-signing with the Flyers?
COLLIN: Ray Emery's been a serviceable backup, but I can't help but think he's been getting a little too much heat from the fan-base here in Philadelphia.
At a first glance, Emery's .899 save percentage is pretty appalling, but I don't think it's as bad as the number suggests. At this very moment, his even-strength save percentage is only 1 point (0.001) behind Steve Mason's (.921 vs. .922); he's just had to deal with a ton of bad luck on the penalty kill. His 4-on-5 save percentage is significantly lower than Mason's 4-on-5 save percentage (.833 vs. .897), and that's basically where the difference comes from. Emery hasn't gotten as many starts as Mason, so that number fluctuated pretty wildly over the first half of the season. He's been just as solid as Mason at even-strength.
On another note, Emery's been injured the past two weeks, and I think it's safe to say he'll only get a couple more starts as the Flyers are going to look to ride Mason down this tough stretch (the next 10 teams that the Flyers will face are all currently in a playoff spot) and into the playoffs. I believe tonight is going to be one of those starts. If that's the case, I really hope he doesn't get torched by Chicago for the second time this season. The coaching staff might be reluctant to turn to him down this crucial stretch, and, boy, could Mason use some rest.
Unfortunately, I don't really see him re-signing with the Flyers. There's still a chance he does, but I seem to recall Emery expressing he'd like to be a starter somewhere once his contract expires at the end of this season. Given how this season has played out, I don't really blame him. Mason and Emery were 1A and 1B heading into the start of things, but I don't think Emery really had any shot at the No. 1 job. I think Mason's been their guy from the end of last season, and this situation was bound to play out the way it did. Mason's been slightly above average on the whole (which is a godsend, it seems), and I think management sees enough in him to let Emery walk and give a contract to a true backup goalie in the off-season.
JEN: One of the big stories early in the season was that the Flyers could not score. They seem to have righted the ship. What changed to allow the offense to open up a bit?
COLLIN: What changed? Their luck changed, and that's pretty much it. Their 5-on-5 shot attempt differential and percentage has pretty much plateaued/been the same since the middle of October. The Flyers' shooting percentage was just unsustainable: incredibly low, despite averaging ~half of all shot attempts up until November. The Flyers have pretty much hovered between 50.5 CF% and 49.8 CF% (or 5-on-5 shot attempt percentage) all year. The goals just started going in. I've likened it to how the Rangers are at this very moment. They've got a fen-close that puts them in the top-10 of the league, but their they're the 29th best team in terms of average shooting percentage. Pucks are going to start going in for them at some point, and, if so, watch out.
Now, the Flyers are nowhere in the same realm as the Rangers possession-wise, but many people have commented on the 'depth' of the Flyers' forward corps. There was no way the team could continue that scoring drought all year. This isn't the Buffalo Sabres we're talking about.
If you also remember -- Craig Berube took over as head coach only three games into the season. There could have been some bumps with regards to the implementation of Berube's system, but the team was still getting their shot attempts, so I'm inclined to attribute their scoring drought to unsustainable below-average shooting percentages instead of anything coaching-wise.
JEN: If the Flyers want to make a run of it in the playoffs, what do they need to improve upon? What do you feel the team's strengths are?
COLLIN: Just like last season, a big reason why the Flyers are so successful is their special teams play. The team's got one of the best penalty kills in the league - both by standard metrics and shot suppression - and one of the best penalty killers in the league in Sean Couturier. That's extremely beneficial, as they're on it quite a bit. The Flyers average the most time per game on special teams (both the power play and penalty kill.) Yeah, that's pretty much Philadelphia in a nutshell.
The defense hasn't looked quite as bad over the past couple of weeks, but, like I told Pensburgh before last weekend, it's more of a personnel issue. It's kind of hard to address that over the course of the season. Andrew MacDonald has come in and looked -okay-, but that's about it. The team's going to need key contributions from the second line, especially Vincent Lecavalier, who's been absolutely brutal at even-strength this season.