Monday, September 5, 2011

On The Results Of The Flyers and Devils Over The Past 16 Playoff Seasons

In 1995, the Flyers and Devils met in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Flyers had been on a long decline since their 1987 Cup run, a decline that culminated in the acquisition of Eric Lindros from Quebec in 1992. The Devils had reached the Eastern Conference Finals the previous year on the strength of rookie goaltender Martin Brodeur. Both teams were on the rise. The decisive moment in the series occurred in Game 5, when Claude Lemieux's shot from the blueline went through Ron Hextall in the closing seconds of the third period. The Devils broke a tie with that shot and went on to win the game, series, and Stanley Cup. The Devils went on to win 2 more Stanley Cups while the Flyers have reached the Cup Finals twice and have failed to take home the trophy.

The narrative since that point has been that the Flyers have failed to take home the Cup because of their poor goaltending, while the Devils have flourished because of their Hall of Fame goalie. The Flyers have employed 11 different starting goaltenders in the playoffs since 1995, while the Devils have used only one. Devils fans are already beginning to panic that they will 'become like the Flyers' once Brodeur leaves or retires. I'm less concerned about this, as I think that having an elite goaltender is not as important as having elite forwards or an elite defense. So, I decided to look at a year-by-year breakdown of the two clubs' playoff results, while ignoring offense - I wanted just to focus on defense and goaltending.

I suspect that fans of both teams would be surprised to learn that the Flyers have actually won more playoff games than the Devils since 1995. Still, it's hard to ignore goaltending as the difference. Here's a breakdown of the Flyers from 1995 on, numbers courtesy of - MIN is total minutes played by goalies, SA/60 is shots against per 60 minutes:

YearPhi Goalie(s)Phi WPhi LPhi GAAPhi SV%Phi SAPhi MINPhi SA/60PHI GA
2007Missed Playoffs00
16 Years11 Goalies93872.540.90751111127927.2477

Aren't the playoffs strange? The Flyers actually got excellent goaltending in 1999 and 2002 but failed to make it out of the first round. Let's take a look at New Jersey's results:

16 yrs917220.91840941006024.4335

Let's simplify things a little bit by putting the Flyers and Devils total results together:


So the Devils have both had a better defense and a better SV%. I haven't looked at all at offense, but that's not part of the narrative, so I'm choosing to look past it. However, let's just do a fun experiment before we leave these thoughts behind - what if we take out the years the Devils won the Cup? What do the Devils' numbers look like then?

No Cup Devils43532.250.912464588925.1221

They look somewhat similar, but I suspect the two teams were simply built differently. The Devils traditionally relied on an elite defense and above-average goalie, the Flyers, an elite forward corps and above-average D. Whatever the case, the Flyers signed a 'big-time' goalie and the Devils may be heading into the great beyond without one. Both teams figure to be good for quite some time, so it will be interesting to see how these numbers change if and when the tables have turned.


  1. 1) Culminate means to reach the point of highest development. Can a decline culminate? Maybe, but it makes me uncomfortable.

    2) I know you weren't including the offense as part of the narrative, but your intuition may be correct. Tracking the GF numbers over the same period (and using your total minutes data, which may skew the numbers for empty netters, I suppose, but screw it), Philly averaged 2.681 goals/60, while NJ averaged 2.457 goals/60. I'm too lazy to see how much of this was due to shots/60.

  2. Yeah, this article doesn't feature my best writing. I agree that I probably should have used 'resulted' instead of 'culminated'. Call it poetic license.

    I would bet a lot of it is due to shots/60 since NJ doesn't draw penalties. I wouldn't be surprised if the vast majority of the difference over the years in shots for and against is simply power plays, both drawn and taken; the Flyers tend to be a negative penalty differential team, NJ positive, and the Flyers tend to have an above average number of minor penalties in a game, whereas NJ has well below the average.

  3. As you hinted at in the above comment, I'm curious what the special teams play does to these numbers. When I looked at the Flyers goalies since Hextall (Vanbiesbrouck, Cechmanek, and Biron, specifically), I found that they were fine at even-strength, but they were terrible on the penalty kill. I wonder how much that effects the total save percentage numbers.

  4. On the penalty kill, or at 4 on 5? Something I've been wondering about is how often the frequency and duration of 3 on 5 situations affects a goalie's PKSV% and overall SV%. Just by eyeballing, last year's PKSV% 3 on 5 appears to be around .750, shot rates appear to be about 95 SA/60, and the average time a team spends at 3 on 5 appears to be around 10 minutes. I guess that won't have a large effect.

    "I found that they were fine at even-strength, but they were terrible on the penalty kill."

    Yeah, I don't know - what could this mean? The penalty kill is so hard to work with, it doesn't last long enough that we can think that a year's sample is valid, so we can't even begin to conclude anything about the Flyers' penalty kill. I guess these questions will begin to be answered as we compile more and more seasons worth of data.

  5. I was just going off's special teams save percentages.

    In the 2000-01 playoffs, Cechmanek had a 91.4 ESS%, but a 64.3 PKS%.

    In 02-03, he was 93.2 ESS% and 79.5 PKS%.

    In 07-08, Biron had 92.3 ESS%, but a 82.2 PKS%.

    How much of that is the defense and how much the goalies will be very difficult to pull out and isolate, but such is the problem when looking at highly volatile statistics in such small samples.

  6. Is there SF/SA per 60 data that goes back that far? I suspect that would explain a lot as far as the defense.

  7. Ah, I didn't realize you were just talking playoffs, Geoff. I would chalk that up to variance unless I knew there were lots of 5 on 3s, or that the Philadelphia penalty killing was terrible (neither of which are likely to be true, IMO)