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Reviewing How Peter Laviolette's Flyers Teams Performed Against the Devils

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Continuing the rivalry theme, today we will be taking a look at coaching candidate Peter Laviolette’s experience coaching one of the Devils’ rivals - the Flyers.

Philadelphia Flyers v New Jersey Devils - Game Four
I wonder what he was thinking as he fell behind in Game Four.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Last week, All About the Jersey participated in SBN’s “Rivalry Week”, in which we focused on the Devils’ rivalry with the New York Rangers. This week, the theme continues with a variation on the subject. This week, it’s the Philadelphia Flyers.

For this week’s subject, I thought about continuing with my retrospective on John Hynes - this time detailing his games against the Flyers. After thinking it over I decided that Laviolette’s performance against the Devils would make for a more interesting dive. Peter Laviolette became head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday, December 4, 2009. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren felt he needed to make a change from coach John Stevens, as what he believed to be a good roster was underperforming. This was the third team that Laviolette got the chance to coach, after the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes, the latter of which he led to a Stanley Cup victory in 2006.

The 2009-10 Season

When Laviolette took over from John Stevens, the Flyers roster included such players as Chris Pronger, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, a 22-year old Claude Giroux, Kimmo Timonen, a 20-year old James Van Riemsdyk, and Daniel Briere. Through 25 games, Stevens had led that team to a 13-11-1 record, having lost his last two games coached in shutouts, as mentioned in the ESPN article detailing the firing and hiring. However, before the Flyers fired John Stevens, two of their 13 wins that early season came against the New Jersey Devils. On the second game of the season, the Flyers beat the Devils in Newark by a score of 5-2. On the 17th game of the season, the Flyers beat the Devils 3-2 in Philadelphia. Under Laviolette, the Flyers would play the Devils four more times in the regular season. Here are the real results for those games, along with Evolving-Hockey’s xG for both sides in those games.

  • December 12, 2009 - Flyers 1, Devils 4 - 1.43 xGF to 2.76 xGA
  • February 8, 2010 - Flyers 3, Devils 2 - 4.73 xGF to 2.58 xGA
  • February 10, 2010 - Flyers 3, Devils 2 (OT) - 1.44 xGF to 1.89 xGA
  • March 28, 2010 - Flyers 5, Devils 1 - 3.2 xGF to 3.7 xGA

As you can see, Peter Laviolette’s Flyers sometimes outperformed their expected goals ratio - probably due to their forward talent at the time. Since the Devils allowed the Flyers to beat them in five of six regular season matchups in the 2009-10 season, the Flyers got to the playoffs. Peter Laviolette coached his team to a 28-24-5 record under him for a total record of 41-35-6 (88 points). Had the Devils won any other game against the Flyers that season, they would have been playing the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. Instead, the 103-point Devils went to take on the Laviolette-led Flyers. The results of that first round of the playoffs, with expected goals, are as follows:

  • Game One: Flyers 2, Devils 1 - 1.14 xGF to 2.24 xGA
  • Game Two: Flyers 3, Devils 5 - 3.07 xGF to 3.5 xGA
  • Game Three: Flyers 3, Devils 2 (OT) - 3.84 xGF to 2.26 xGA
  • Game Four: Flyers 4, Devils 1 - 2.67 xGF to 3.38 xGA
  • Game Five: Flyers 3, Devils 0 - 2.22 xGF to 2.42 xGA

So, despite beating the Devils in three out of four regular season games and four out of five postseason games, Laviolette’s Flyers only had an xG advantage in two of those games. In the regular season, Laviolette’s Flyers had a total 10.8 xGF to 10.93 xGA. In the postseason, the Flyers had a total 12.94 xGF to 13.8 xGA. Had the Devils performed up to their expected goals standard in the regular season, the Flyers would not have made the playoffs. Had the Devils performed up to their expected goals standard in the postseason, the 88-point Flyers would not have made it to the second round, let alone the Stanley Cup Final.

The 2010-11 Season

During the next season, in 2010-11, the Flyers made huge improvements to their regular season performance. With a 47-23-12 record, the Flyers had 106 points, and finished first in the Atlantic Division. However, Laviolette had to coach 32 of those regular season games without Chris Pronger, who only played three postseason games. Fortunately for Laviolette, goalies Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher were able to improve on the goaltending from the year before, which included Michael Leighton, Ray Emery, and Boucher. Claude Giroux had his first big year, with 25 goals and 51 assists in all 82 regular season games. With a more potent offense and more consistent goaltending, Laviolette had little trouble in the regular season. In the six games that Laviolette’s Flyers faced the Devils that season, the results were as follows:

  • November 27, 2010 - Flyers 1, Devils 2 (SO) - 2.6 xGF to 2.53 xGA
  • December 4, 2010 - Flyers 5, Devils 3 - 4.71 xGF to 2.11 xGA
  • January 6, 2011 - Flyers 4, Devils 2 - 2.25 xGF to 1.49 xGA
  • January 8, 2011 - Flyers 2, Devils 1 - 2.44 xGF to 2.67 xGA
  • January 22, 2011 - Flyers 1, Devils 3 - 2.84 xGF to 2.71 xGA
  • April 1, 2011 - Flyers 2, Devils 4 - 2.18 xGF to 2.92 xGA

Interestingly, after outperforming their xG ratios in 2009-10, Laviolette’s Flyers did not benefit from such things against the Devils in the dreaded 2010-11 season. In said season, two of the Flyers’ three losses to the Devils came in games they outperformed the Devils in xG, while only winning one where they had an xG disadvantage. In total, the xG ratio in the 2010-11 season series was 17.02 to 14.43. The Devils would finally get their playoff revenge against Laviolette the next season.

The 2011-12 Season

In 2011-12, the Philadelphia Flyers put up a 47-26-9 record for 103 points and a third place finish in the Atlantic Division. In addition to Claude Giroux’s 93 points in 77 games, the Flyers were also led by Scott Hartnell, who hit a career high of 37 goals. Aside from their leading two, the Flyers made some key acquisitions in the 2011 offseason. They traded Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jakub Voracek, as well as Columbus’ first and third round picks. Those picks were used to select Sean Couturier and Nick Cousins. They also traded Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, and a second round draft pick. They also traded for Ilya Bryzgalov from the Phoenix Coyotes, and signed Jaromir Jagr for his return to the NHL. They also had signed undrafted free agent Matt Read to a contract at the end of the 2010-11 season, and he made his NHL debut in 2011-12, where he finished fourth in Calder voting. Which leads me to think - whatever happened to that guy? Anyways, the Flyers ended up with the third most goals in the league - 260, with 66 on the power play. A lot of this was driven by Claude Giroux, who finished fourth in Hart Voting that season.

The peak of his offensive powers.
Evolving Hockey

Now, here were the Flyers’ results against the Devils that regular season, with xG:

  • October 8, 2011 - Flyers 3, Devils 0 - 3.13 xG to 1.07 xGA
  • November 3, 2011, Flyers 3, Devils 4 (SO) - 1.89 xG to 4.03 xGA
  • January 21, 2012 - Flyers 4, Devils 1 - 2.17 xG to 2.02 xGA
  • February 4, 2012 - Flyers 4, Devils 6 - 4.51 xG to 3.6 xGA
  • March 11, 2012 - Flyers 1, Devils 4 - 1.37 xG to 3.05 xGA
  • March 13, 2012 - Flyers 3, Devils 0 - 2.76 xG to 1.7 xGA

Unlike previous seasons, it’s not like either team’s performance would have affected whether they would make the playoffs. The Flyers finished with 103 points on 47 wins, and the Devils finished with 102 points on 48 wins. The nearest wild card candidates were the Buffalo Sabres at 89 points. For the second season in a row, the Devils and Flyers split the season series, although the Flyers outperformed the Devils in xG in four out of the six games. The total xG ratio was 15.83 to 15.47. And here was their second round against the Devils, with xG:

  • Game One - Flyers 4, Devils 3 (OT) - 3.68 xG to 1.92 xGA
  • Game Two - Flyers 1, Devils 4 - 1.92 xG to 4.68 xGA
  • Game Three - Flyers 3, Devils 4 (OT) - 1.92 xG to 2.32 xGA
  • Game Four - Flyers 2, Devils 4 - 1.17 xG to 4.63 xGA
  • Game Five - Flyers 1, Devils 3 - 2.22 xG to 3.37 xGA

Throughout the series, the total xG ratio was 10.91 to 16.92. Laviolette had some bad moments in this series. After deservedly winning Game One, Ilya Kovalchuk missed game two with a lower-body injury which was later confirmed to be a herniated disc. During that game, Matt Read scored the first goal of the game, after which the Flyers seemed to be in control of the game. But just as the Flyers were getting going, they flatlined after James Van Riemsdyk got out of the box for his slashing penalty at the 4:22 mark of the period. For the rest of the game, the Devils were able to pretty much contain the Philadelphia Flyers as they staged their comeback. Here’s a visualization of the xG throughout that game from Evolving-Hockey:

Brodeur stood strong after the goal and the rest of the game was easy for him.
Evolving Hockey

Of course, looking at charts of the Devils beating the Flyers is not as fun as watching video of the Devils beat the Flyers. Relive that third period here:

This game marked the downfall of Laviolette’s time in Philadelphia. By midway through the third period, his trajectory downwards was plotted. By all appearances in the first minutes of the first period, the Flyers were on their way to another victory in front of their home crowd, and possibly another series victory against the New Jersey Devils. But, this is what Laviolette had to say about the Devils that game:

“In the first period, they came out hard and we came out ok. We probably gave away too many chances but they were working hard on the puck,” Laviolette said. “I think where it went south really was the start of the second period. They went up a gear, and we went down a gear. That was the difference. We were playing in first gear and they were playing in third or fourth gear.”

Game Three was a closer affair, but the Devils - unlike the Flyers - where able to stay on top of the Flyers once they got out to the lead with a tying goal by Elias on the power play and a quick followup by Kovalchuk in the first period. After that goal, Philadelphia tied the Devils twice but never got out to a lead, before the Devils were able to outlast the Flyers in overtime.

As usual, the Flyers got out to a lead in Game Four - but this time a two goal lead (for the first time since Game One). As usual, the Devils answered back and shut them down to end the game. In Game Four, the Flyers were even less threatening after their lead than they were in Game Two.

Evolving Hockey

Again, here’s the highlights from that game:

After this point, the odds were practically insurmountable for Peter Laviolette’s Flyers. While he suffered from inconsistent goaltending during the regular season in Bryzgalov and Bobrovsky, they were not at fault for the Flyers’ fall in the postseason. Rather, the performance of Laviolette’s skaters was wholly underwhelming - especially after getting out to leads against the New Jersey Devils. Of course, the Flyers got out to a lead in Game Five. And as usual, they fell apart, and failed to come close to scoring as often as the Devils even after New Jersey took a 2-1 lead in the first period following the goal by Maxime Talbot.

Evolving Hockey

And here’s the video highlights from that game.

Peter Laviolette was not able to motivate his team enough to stay on top of leads. Despite having a deeper lineup than the New Jersey Devils did that season, his skaters were not able to consistently outlast the scorers of the Devils. And even after falling behind in those playoff games, Laviolette was unable to get his team to respond to coughing up a lead or create more opportunities than the Devils.

The Lockout-Shortened 13 Season

The lockout-shortened season continued this downward trend for Laviolette’s Flyers. Despite the Devils’ issues in that season, he also continued to lose to them. Here were the results of the regular season games with xG counts:

  • January 22, 2013 - Flyers 0, Devils 3 - 1.56 xG to 2.45 xGA
  • February 15, 2013 - Flyers 3, Devils 5 - 2.05 xG to 2.77 xGA
  • March 13, 2013 - Flyers 2, Devils 5 - 1.79 xG to 2.92 xGA
  • March 15, 2013 - Flyers 2, Devils 1 (SO) - 2.47 xG to 3.01 xGA
  • April 18, 2013 - Flyers 0, Devils 3 - 1.67 xG to 3.77 xGA

While the Devils finished in last place of the Atlantic despite their dominance of the Flyers, the Flyers could have made the playoffs if they won three more games against the Devils. However, they came close to losing all five games of the season series that year, and deserved to according to Evolving Hockey’s expected goals. Unfortunately, there are apparently some limits to the frustration the Devils can force the Flyers to experience. Keeping them out of the playoffs is pretty good, though.

The 2013-14 Season

Peter Laviolette did not coach against the New Jersey Devils in the 2013-14 season, as he only lasted three games with the Flyers. After losing all three of those games, he was fired and replaced by Craig Berube, who led the team to a 42-27-10 record in his 79 games and a playoff appearance.

Overall Review

Throughout his tenure as the Philadelphia Flyers head coach, Peter Laviolette coached his team to a regular season record of 10-9-2, and a playoff record of 5-5 against the New Jersey Devils. However, it should be noted that as time went on Laviolette lost an increasing percentage of games against New Jersey (and in general). Despite having loads of forward talent, his team was unable to consistently threaten to score as they massively benefited from power plays in the 2011-12 season (19 goals and 64 opportunities above NHL average) and did not really carry that into the second round of the postseason. After scoring a whopping 12 power play goals in their series against the Penguins in 2012, the Flyers scored three against the Devils.

Overall, I would say that Laviolette rode the strength of his roster, as seen in Daniel Briere’s 30 point postseason in his Cup appearance after taking over for John Stevens, who actually had the higher regular season points percentage that season. During that playoff run, after the New Jersey Devils (103 points) flaked out and fell flat, the Flyers did not have a particularly difficult regular season team to play against until the Cup Final. The Bruins, who they beat 4-3 in the series, had 91 regular season points. The Canadiens, who they beat 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals, had 88 regular season points. And then, of course, they ran into the Blackhawks.

Laviolette seems to hit a stagnant point with every team he coaches. The Flyers were no different. After leading them through an unexpected playoff run, he was unable to replicate that playoff performance despite improvements to the roster and better regular season performance. After the Devils dominated them in the second round of the 2012 playoffs, Laviolette was unable to find any more success with the Flyers.

Your Thoughts:

What do you think about current Devils coaching candidate Peter Laviolette? What do you remember of him being behind the Flyers bench? What were your favorite moments playing against his team? Do you think the Devils should be seriously considering hiring him? Is it justified? Do you think he would fit in with the current state of the Devils? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Thanks to Hockey-Reference for box scores and to Evolving-Hockey (@EvolvingHockey) for expected goals and other visualizations.

Edited on 7/6/2020 at 11:26 A.M. to add missing picture.