February 29, 2012 Leave a comment
It began last season when the Philadelphia Flyers gave up a third period lead to the Phoenix Coyotes and lost a 3-2 contest in overtime at the Wells Fargo Center. From there, the Flyers’ season spiraled downward, as they limped to the end of the season with just eight wins in their last 23 games, part of an 8-8-7 record rom February 22 to the end of the regular season. As the playoffs began, the team struggled through a weaker Buffalo Sabres team, and then experienced a demolition of their season when the Boston Bruins blew through them in four easy games.
This season, the Flyers are 4-7-1 since February 4 and have lost two of their last three games, to opponents ranked below them in the standings. Their play is reminiscent of last year’s at the same time, straying away from coach Peter Laviolette’s system and playing with little to no heart for a majority of each game. It is extremely rare to see the Flyers put together 60 strong minutes of play in a night, as their rival New York Rangers are managing to do most nights, leading to their seven-point lead of the Eastern Conference as of Saturday night.
From a technical standpoint, the Flyers’ defensive zone coverage is lacking, to say the least. More times than not, players are running around in the zone, rather than staying in the box-plus-one that Laviolette is so well known for perfecting. The system calls for a containment of the other team, rather than an attack. It is meant to force opposing players to the outside of the ice, and keep them away from the high slot and shots in close. However, they are giving up high percentage shots, making their two goaltenders look even worse than their statistics are showing. Both Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky are capable goaltenders, regardless of off-ice rumors and media reports otherwise. However, when shots are taken from the spots the Flyers are allowing, not even Terry Sawchuk could stop all of them.
On the forecheck, the Flyers have been running an aggressive 2-1-2 system since Laviolette was hired in 2009, and immediately began running it to perfection. The system calls for two players to attack the man with the puck, while the third man positions himself high enough in the offensive zone to both direct the play and retreat on a backcheck if the first two forwards are ineffective. However, the Flyers’ recent forecheck resembles more of a 3-2, in which all three forwards end up under the circles, leading to numerous odd-man rushes and offensive opportunities for the opposition. In addition, because of three forwards constantly needing to backcheck from such a long distance, it is almost impossible to retreat into the defensive formation in time to prevent optimal scoring chances.
The Flyers have the deepest offensive team in the league (and are still ranked second in the NHL in goals scored, and have ten players with ten goals or more). Their defense is lacking without Chris Pronger, but is still a deep defense capable of performing well. But if the team continues to repeat last year’s March and April bonanza, then Paul Holmgren and Co. can begin booking early-May tee times yet again.
Alan Bass, a former writer for The Hockey News and THN.com, is the author of The Great Expansion: The Ultimate Risk That Changed The NHL Forever. He currently write for HockeyBuzz on the psychology of the game. He was the General Manager of the Muhlenberg College Division II hockey team as well. You can contact him at Alanbasswriting@aol.com.