3 Changes Peter Laviolette Must Make to Improve the Philadelphia Flyers
Not an overly impressive start for a team many pundits predicted would contend for the regular season title in the Eastern Conference and possibly even the Stanley Cup.
While even the shortened 48-game season is brutally young, there is still genuine cause for concern in the City of Brotherly Love.
With that said, here are three changes Philly head coach Peter Laviolette must make to improve his struggling Flyers squad.
The Top Line
Philadelphia must find some consistency on its top line.
The Flyers have already had several different combinations play on their top forward line, and without any sort of sustained consistency, the high-end forwards for Philadelphia will struggle to produce at their expected scoring rate.
Philly re-signed Jake Voracek to a four-year pact over the summer with the belief he would fill the void left when Jaromir Jagr darted for Dallas via free agency. Instead, Voracek didn't even start the season alongside Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell on the team's top line.
That role was left to young Brayden Schenn. And what appeared to be a glorious opportunity for one of the most highly touted young players in the game was dispatched with almost instantly.
Add to that Hartnell's injury in just the third game of the season, and the team was left searching for answers without its leading goal scorer from last year just as the season had begun.
It is not uncommon for coaches in the early part of the season to tinker with various line combinations to see what chemistry develops. But it is rare to see this much juggling within a team's top line.
When the Flyers travel to Washington tomorrow to battle the Capitals, Giroux will begin on Philadelphia's top line alongside Wayne Simmonds and Danny Briere.
Yet another new look for a team and a coach desperate for some front-line production and consistency.
The Power Play
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Considering all the offensive talent the Flyers possess, Philadelphia's power play has been a colossal disappointment through the season's first two weeks.
Despite being tied with the Vancouver Canucks for the most man-advantage opportunities to date (37), Philly has posted a pedestrian five power-play conversions so far.
Among the 30 NHL clubs, that 13.5 percent man-advantage percentage ranks 23rd overall and simply isn't good enough for a team that sends out the likes of Giroux, Briere, Simmonds, Voracek, Timonen and company when skating with the extra attacker.
Philadelphia's power play has already failed to convert in three games so far (all losses) and has managed multiple man-advantage markers just once this season.
What's worse, the Flyers are coming up empty on the power play in critical moments of games.
In the season opener, Philly had three power-play chances in the opening frame and failed to capitalize on any of them, as Pittsburgh jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead. Later that afternoon, with the team down by just a single goal, the Flyers had two man-advantage opportunities in the third period and failed to make good on either one.
More recently, Philadelphia enjoyed a 1-0 first period lead in Tampa Bay on Sunday and was presented with a four-minute power play after a trio of silly penalties by the Lightning's B.J. Crombeen. The Flyers proceeded to do absolutely nothing with that prolonged man-advantage, shifting the momentum back in Tampa's favor en route to a 5-1 loss.
Traditionally, teams don't practice special teams a lot, particularly at the beginning of the season.
But with how vital power-play opportunities are proving to be (161 of the league's 510 goals scored to date are power-play goals), maybe Coach Laviolette and the Flyers should brush up on their skills with the man-advantage.
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The Flyers take too many penalties. Plain and simple.
Through nearly two weeks of the season, Philadelphia has taken the most minor penalties (42) of any NHL team. Those 42 minors, coupled with six majors and two bench minor penalties, have led directly to 31 short-handed situations for the Orange and Black (fourth-most in the NHL).
The team and its fans could live with those penalties and the subsequent power-play chances for the opposition if Philly's penalty kill wasn't so abysmal right now.
Through just seven games, the Flyers have surrendered 10 power-play goals and enter the weekend with the league's second-lowest penalty-kill percentage at 67.7 percent.
Philly's penalty kill has held the opposition's power play off the scoreboard just once this season, and even more disconcerting is that the Flyers have given up multiple power-play goals in three of their first seven outings.
Stick penalties (hooking, tripping) are lazy penalties and must be eliminated immediately. At the same time, penalties coming as a result of hard work are part of the game and, ironically, the type of penalties most frequently killed off.
The Flyers want—and quite frankly need—to play an uptempo, physical game, which will naturally produce penalties both for and against Philly. Yet the Flyers need to pick their spots better over the course of a game.
That message needs to come from Laviolette and should be delivered right away.