For the Philadelphia Flyers, scoring goals has come fairly easy this season. Through 26 games the team has accumulated 87 goals, which trails only the Washington Capitals in the NHL. Their ability to score from their any one of their top three lines has been extraordinary.
However, in the past week the team has struggled to find the back of the net. Since a six goal outburst in Minnesota last Wednesday, the Flyers have managed to score just three goals in their last three games.
Although there are a variety of reasons for their lack of scoring, one problem is especially troubling; Their power play has been atrocious.
The NHL season is long, and it’s impossible to dismiss the notion that teams fall into slumps. Sometimes the team isn’t at fault, the puck may not bounce their way or perhaps they run into a hot goaltender. The lack of production is not uncommon, and it usually rectifies itself. However, when most teams fall into a slump, they look to their power play units to make up for the lack of goals. For the Flyers, that strategy doesn’t apply.
In their last 38 power play opportunities, they’ve only scored twice. At this point, the power play opportunities are becoming more and more like burdens.
How can the Flyers change their fortunes on the man advantage? There doesn’t seem to be one good answer. But there are some recommendations that would increase the probability of eliminating their woes.
There are always a few things that come to the forefront when dealing with ineffectiveness on the power play. First, the team has to be able to gain the offensive zone effectively and on a consistent basis. Earlier in the year, Claude Giroux or Daniel Briere seemed to have little problem gaining the zone, but now they’re finding it more and more difficult. When that option is taken from the team, it becomes essential to dump the puck and retain possession on a cycle. The Flyers certainly have the ability to do this, yet they seem to fall back into their habit of trying to gain the zone individually too often, and in doing so they have trouble retaining possession of the puck.
Another important tenet of power play success that’s missing in Philadelphia is constant movement. When their power play is firing on all cylinders, it’s a beautiful thing to watch. But when the team loses momentum on the power play, there are far too many bystanders on the ice.
Movement should occur on every inch of the offensive zone, yet the Flyers are relying too much on the puck handler to create. When that happens, the opposition’s penalty killing unit can remain disciplined fairly easily. It’s quite apparent that the lack of movement is leading to blocked shots and lack of passing lanes. If the quick and talented forwards keep their legs moving on the man advantage, better scoring opportunities will open up.
What’s especially interesting about the Flyers’ recent power play struggles has been the reluctance of Peter Laviolette to change the lines. The first unit of forwards include Jeff Carter, Briere and Scott Hartnell, and the second is comprised of Ville Leino, Giroux and Mike Richards.
It’s puzzling why Leino hasn’t switched places with Carter on the units. Leino, Briere and Hartnell have been the Flyers’ most consistent and productive line this year, and their chemistry would almost certainly carry over to the power play. Also, with Carter on the second line the team would have a tremendous shot to go along with Richards and Giroux. Having two exceptional shooters on one line in Briere and Carter, and having none on the other line doesn’t make much sense.
If the team can’t find some success on the power play in the near future, it may not be a bad idea to add the likes of Nikolay Zherdev or James van Riemsdyk to a unit. There’s a possibility that it could provide a spark to the team. The addition of a different player could also add some extra motivation to whoever is being replaced. Zherdev is a legitimate scoring threat every time he touches the puck, and van Riemsdyk’s presence in front of the net would provide some much needed traffic for opposing goaltenders.
Whether it is improving their entry into the offensive zone, creating movement or shaking up the lines a little bit, the Flyers have to do something to exorcise their power play demons. A team with the amount of talent and goal scoring that they have has little to no excuse for their recent struggles.
The Flyers are repeatedly making the same mistakes, and low offensive production has been the consequence. Maybe they will find their groove without making any adjustments. But, at this point it certainly wouldn’t hurt to try.