Flyers Winning by Playing Defense…and a Lot of It

Flyers head coach Scott Gordon believes analytics can be dangerous, and that they don't always paint an accurate picture.

Following his postgame media scrum in the Flyers 1-0 shutout win over the Rangers, Gordon spent another five minutes at the dry erase wall discussing the types of shots and high-quality scoring chances that he's been trying to eliminate since he took over in mid-December.

Gordon made it clear you have to be careful with what those numbers dictate. 

Over the course of their current five-game winning streak, the Flyers have been outshot by a whopping 185-118 margin. The Ottawa Senators are the NHL's worst in shot differential with a -7.7 margin of shots for to shots against. The Flyers shot differential during this current winning streak is a mind-boggling -13.4, whereas their season average is about even.

Gordon believes if you dig deeper into shot location and how opposing teams are being defended, you'll find a much different story. 

"You listen to what the other coaches say after the game and they say ‘We're not getting a lot of traffic', ‘We didn't make it hard on their goalie', ‘We turned the puck over', and that was the same thing we heard about Winnipeg," Gordon said. 

Typically, the first three to four weeks can be rough when transitioning to a new coach. When Peter Laviolette took over for John Stevens in December 2010, it took a good deal of time for the players to become acclimated to Laviolette's aggressive attacking left-wing lock system.

Gordon went through a similar stint with this group as the Flyers suffered through an eight-game winless stretch, 0-6-2, from December 27 to January 8, where they allowed nearly four goals per game. 

There was very little practice time for Gordon to implement change, and throughout this winning streak, the Flyers have been learning on the fly.

Starting with Montreal, we were outshot 12-1 in the first period. Throughout that (week), we talked about making some adjustments to our system play. That first period we were off in what we were trying to do. From that point on I thought we were really good in the Montreal game. 

One of the noticeable changes has been a 1-3-1 neutral zone formation, a big adjustment for a defenseman like Travis Sanheim who now joins two other forwards at the red line. But when executed properly it doesn't allow the opposition clean entries into the offensive zone. 

"You're holding the red line, so you're going the opposite way of where you're used to be going," Sanheim said. "It's a big challenge and I think we've gotten better over the past couple of games and I'm sure there's still areas for us to work on." 

Remember the game in Calgary on December 12 that saw the Flames walk into the Flyers zone and tie the game with seven seconds remaining? Those types of entries and plays have been all but eliminated over the past few weeks.

Gordon doesn't mind surrendering shots knowing that better goaltending and much better defense are giving the Flyers a better shot at winning. 

"When you're not protecting the inside ice, you're giving up those opportunities and they're hard to recover on," Gordon said. "You can always recover on a rebound that might go back out to the point. To me, that's an important part that doesn't get any analytic recognition and I think that's something that we've done a much better job at."

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