Philadelphia Flyers: Flying off the Handle on a Disappointing Season
An earlier exit than expected from the playoffs and all of the post mortem analysis that I've been reading has inspired me to sound off about some of the things that irked me regarding the Flyers.
These qualms come from the regular season and the postseason series against the cross-state rival Penguins, as well has historically as a franchise.
The regular season saw some highs, like Carter's 46 goal season, Hartnell hitting the 30+ goal plateau and Mike Richards' Frank Selke-worthy season.
It also saw some lows. Injuries were plentiful; there were cap issue restrictions that handcuffed Holmgren from improving the team. As a matter of fact, it forced him to weaken the team (see the Upshall for Carcillo deadline day deal). And don't forget the losing streaks that were almost unexplainable and certainly unacceptable.
Enough analysts and experts have harped on the inconsistency issues. What would spring be without the exercise of blaming Philadelphia's early exit on the man behind the mask?
I see the Flyers issues a tad differently. Do I think that Biron is a Stanley Cup caliber goalie? It's hard to say. Did he cost them the season? Absolutely not! His first period play in game five is the only reason that the sea of orange was present for the embarrassing and disappointing loss in game six.
Inconsistent play is very frustrating, but I'm of the opinion that, no matter the various factors involved, the coach is at the root of the problem. A coach's No. 1 priority is to prepare his players to compete throughout every game. Stevens was unable over the course of two seasons to find a way to get his roster of players to play a consistent brand of hockey.
Now on to some other issues. Last season, when the Flyers were ousted by the Penguins in the conference final, the post mortem with which I agreed was about the lack of mobility and puck moving skills on the back-end.
If your group of defensemen can't efficiently and effectively move the puck to the forwards, then the offense is stalled before it even gets started. The lack of mobility causes far too many shifts where the Flyers spend too much time in their own end.
2009 opened my eyes to a different issue. The game plan and breakout schemes that Philly uses to move the puck out of the zone are not conducive to puck moving and skating defense men. During the off season, Paul Holmgren addressed the need for speed and puck moving defenders through a series of deals, including minor league trades.
He even drafted Luca Sbisa, who made the team out of training camp at 18, mainly because of injury issues and the fact that his best attributes are his skating and puck movement skills.
However, I observed that the Flyers still spent the season hemmed in their zone and using the boards as an outlet for the majority of the time.
Countless times in the first round series, Flyer defense men appeared to have a second or two to complete a tape to tape pass but, instead, mindlessly chip it off the boards into the neutral zone and allow for a puck battle.
Matt Carle, a gifted skater and a completely offensive minded defender, looked suffocated in the Flyers' system. I attribute that to the plethora of give-aways. He just appeared to try too hard to thread passes to Flyer forwards who were not moving, instead of awaiting the inevitable chip off of the boards.
Did Holmgren have sufficient skill and speed on the back end? Did he improve the personnel from last year's group? Certainly; there is not even a comparison between the two groups in those areas. Yet, the results and issues that plagued them last year remained almost exactly the same.
Holmgren has done a marvellous job in building the Flyers, a team far better suited for the post lockout NHL style of play. His and the organization's lingering error is that they simply refuse to inject a more offensively aggressive style of play.
For decades, the Flyers have had defensive tacticians behind the bench. In all fairness, the bulk of NHL coaches are defensively minded. But, in recent years, the coaches that implemented a bit more of an aggressive fore-check, puck possession style of play have hoisted the Stanley Cup or have come very close.
Holmgren has three priorities this off season. First, he must figure out the cap issues immediately to allow for roster moves that enhance the lineup. Secondly, he needs to hire a coach who has a proven track record, and who is capable of changing the culture of a team. Peter Laviolette would be a fine candidate. Lastly (and most importantly) is change the culture of play. The personnel is in place to be an offensive and puck possession team as witnessed by the six players with over 25 goals and the terrific power play.
In recent history, the Flyers have been ousted by faster and more offensively minded teams in the playoffs.
And as the old saying goes, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
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