The Philadelphia Flyers’ home ice, the Wells Fargo Center, is quickly becoming a distinct advantage early in the 2019-20 NHL season. As it stands, the Flyers are 6-1-1 at home this season and their play has been near dominant. Strong goaltending, even stronger special teams play, and depth scoring has made the Flyers’ building into a staunch, ever-growing challenge for opposing teams.
The opener against the Chicago Blackhawks this season, part of the NHL Global Series in Prague, counts as a home game and will be included in the stats here. How have the Flyers reestablished home-ice advantage so adamantly this season? It starts and ends with the stellar goaltending tandem of Brian Elliott and Carter Hart.
Protect This House
While neither Flyers’ goalie has been a world-beater early this season, their best work always comes in front of the hometown crowd. Look no further than Hart’s stellar shutout against the New Jersey Devils, and Elliott’s 33-save win against the Vegas Golden Knights. When the defense has been lackluster, both goaltenders have stepped up to fill in the mistakes and make big saves when they’ve needed to.
Hart, in particular, has been spectacular in his home starts stopping 33 of 34 against the Carolina Hurricanes on Nov. 5, and making 22 of 24 against the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 7. Compare these starts to Hart’s away starts and the difference is baffling. He was pulled in back-to-back away games against the Edmonton Oilers and the New York Islanders. Something about the Wells Fargo Center propels the Flyers’ goaltending to the next level.
Related: Flyers’ Season Rests on Goaltending
Apart from the goaltending, the Flyers’ special team units are performing at an absurd level on home ice. The power play at home, through eight games, has been operating at 28.57%. That is almost a full ten percentage points higher than the league average. Both the first and second units have been operating will even with head coach Alain Vigneault’s willingness to mix and match personnel.
The team employs several different looks, especially on the back end, during power plays on both units. Sometimes electing to ice two defenseman, two forwards, and most commonly a forward and a defenseman on the point. Not to be outdone but the Flyers’ penalty kill at home sits at 87.5%. They have fought off 21 of 24 opposing power plays while being aggressive at the half boards and the point. It appears that the penalty-killing woes of previous Flyers’ seasons are over, thanks to assistant coach Mike Yeo’s tutelage.
A Team Effort
It is worth mentioning how well the Flyers protect their home ice. Not just the defensemen, but the forwards also contribute to protecting the neutral zone and keeping pucks away from high scoring areas. The additions of Kevin Hayes, Justin Braun, and Matt Niskanen have paid dividends on home ice, where the Flyers are stalwart in all three zones.
Niskanen, in particular, has been a stand out star every time he takes the Wells Fargo ice. He has scored five of his eight points at home while also bringing a steadying presence to the Flyers’ young blue line. Vigneault’s defensive style of coaching flourishes in front of the home crowd, as forwards are always cycling back to pick up any defensive slack.
The Wells Fargo Center has been an unexpected boon to the early Flyers’ season. The team just flat out plays better in front of the hometown crowd. They have started a positive trend in reestablishing a true home-ice advantage that the team has so desperately missed in previous seasons. You can attribute this to the cacophony of cheers and “Let’s Go Flyers” chants or the “boos” that rain down after the opposing team scores.
It doesn’t matter exactly what pushes this team to playoff levels of hockey, it matters that it happens on home ice. If the Flyers can keep up their stellar play at home, there’s no reason this team won’t be vying for a playoff spot come the end of the season.
Freelance Writer born and raised in the city of Philadelphia.