The Flyers coaching staff is experimenting a bit, but is the criticism justifiable?
The Philadelphia Flyers’ penalty kill is horrible.
It’s no secret that when only the New Jersey Devils have a lower penalty kill percentage than you, you’re going to be allowing a lot of powerplay goals and will allow teams back into games. As of Friday morning, Philadelphia has been on the penalty kill for over 250 minutes, and that’s not enough time to really get a sense of some performance.
The old adage of an NHL defenseman’s level of ability only really becomes apparent after 3,000 minutes of ice-time is said among analyst circles for a reason. And now with less time to figure out what you look like as a shorthanded player, there are easy lay-up opinions that can get spouted out.
Maybe even from your head coach as he’s wondering who to blame the lack of defense for. Alain Vigneault said this after Thursday’s loss to the Devils.:
One thing I will say is we’re trying to work some of our young personnel in and it has been a learning experience. Last year, we had a couple of more veteran players there that had killed a bit in those situations before. This year, we’re working in a couple of guys. Phil Myers, for an example, last year never killed; it was [Matt Niskanen] or [Justin Braun] over the boards. This year, we’re throwing over the boards him and … I don’t want to get into specific names there, but obviously trying to work in some personnel and it’s made our penalty-killing a little bit more challenging.
Sticking to the penalty-killing defensemen — because Alain pointed them out — Ivan Provorov has led the team in SH TOI for both last season and this season. Niskanen did play a significant role (he’s second among defensemen) but a young defenseman by the name of Travis Sanheim actually played more on the penalty kill than your veteran Justin Braun last season. It’s the opposite this season, as Braun is getting more of a role than Sanheim, so maybe that’s a difference that can be looked at.
Beyond the time spent shorthanded and what the does with some experience under their belt, Vigneault singled out Philippe Myers as a young defenseman that didn’t kill penalties last season — at least that is true — and someone that is struggling with that, in his own Alain way of calling out young players.
The issue there is that Myers is actually kind of good on the penalty kill.
As everything with this Flyers season has done, it all points back to goaltending. While Myers is on the ice, he does possess one of the highest goal against rates in the league as a defenseman that is shorthanded. Among blueliners with at least 50 shorthanded minutes, he has the 14th-highest GA/60 with 10.3. But hell, of the 13 defensemen that have it worse, one of them is Robert Hagg, so does it really matter on an individual level?
It’s still not the best, but considering that Myers also has the literally the league’s worst on-ice save percentage among shorthanded defensemen, it all points back to in between the posts.
Not to dig too deep into Myers’ ability to kill penalties, but it’s not even what he’s doing on the penalty kill that creates that poor save percentage. Sometimes goaltenders can’t help it if their defense is terrible, but when Myers is out there, it’s not that.
Among those same 127 blueliners, the 24-year-old has one of the best on-ice quality suppression profiles amongst all defensemen in the league, earning the 8th-lowest expected goals against rate with 4.88 xGA/60. When you’re sitting in the realm of defensive stalwarts like Minnesota Wild blueliner Jonas Brodin and Carolina Hurricanes’ Jaccob Slavin — Myers has better numbers than both of them, by the way — you’re in good company and don’t deserve to be singled out like Vigneault did.
For those that love more visual mediums, there’s this:
Two graphs that detail just how dominantly defensive Myers has been for the Flyers’ penalty kill this season, truly paint a picture that they are helpless without him. The undrafted righty is providing so much value for Philadelphia while shorthanded, that it is impossible to comprehend just how bad it could be.
He hasn’t looked the best this season. After expecting a big jump in production, Myers has somewhat stagnated and has been a hot topic for why the Flyers blue line is the why it is. He certainly hasn’t improved his overall play. And I will come out and say that this small sample can have other factors that play a part, but this stark difference in him being on the ice compared to him being off it, is reason enough to point it out.
One thing for certain is that Philadelphia would be in penalty-killing hell if Myers didn’t exist. Even if it is just 54 minutes, his ice-time there has been earned and for Alain Vigneault to not see that — and to take a step further by publicly shaming the youngster for his falsely terrible shorthanded play — is just the wrong thing to do.
It’s all there. It’s just so obvious and I was personally surprised just how dominant he has been. It’s just this tunnel-visioned approach that we have been so accustomed to this season from Vigneault.
It’s just disappointing to see.
All stats via Evolving Hockey unless otherwise noted.