Solutions to Philadelphia Flyers' Biggest Problems Early in 2013-14

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Solutions to Philadelphia Flyers' Biggest Problems Early in 2013-14

The Philadelphia Flyers had won two games in a row going into their Tuesday night matchup with the Anaheim Ducks, but nobody expected them to be four games below .500 after 10 games.

They also failed to score more than two goals in a game until that 10th contest, when they had four goals plus an empty-netter against the New York Islanders.

The numbers do not look pretty. Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds each have just one goal. Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Sean Couturier have none. 

New head coach Craig Berube replaced Peter Laviolette after just three games, and the optimist would say that their consecutive victories are a result of the players adjusting to a new system.

But that kind of terminology is vague, and without Vincent Lecavalier's fantastic effort and hat trick against the Islanders, the Flyers would likely still be scraping to score three goals in a game.

There are a few different major issues at play for the Flyers, and they are complex in that the different issues require contradicting types of fixes.

First things first, Steve Mason has been excellent in goal and has finally made the goaltender position not one of the issues in Philadelphia. Going into Tuesday night's game, Mason had a 2.15 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.

Who would have thought that the goaltender situation would be excellent while the offense would be struggling at near-historical levels?

But that is exactly what the Flyers are faced with.

Their problem is not, on the surface, a shortage of talent. But there have been issues with their lines because of a peculiar roster construction that includes too many centers and not enough left wingers.

The emergence of Michael Raffl has been a positive. Although he and Lecavalier did not spark Giroux's scoring on the top line, Lecavalier did get his hat trick while playing top minutes.

Raffl's longevity is not a guarantee at all, though, as playing top-line minutes can wear a player down, especially one coming from a less physical international league.

The Flyers have two things they need to do in conjunction in terms of style. They need to play faster and smarter, which is not an easy task by any stretch.

But the Flyers seem to lack creativity and quickness in the transition game, and their neutral-zone passing has been off.

This has led to less odd-man rushes and also to struggles in getting themselves set up and cycling in the offensive zone. 

They also rank near the bottom of the league in both penalty minutes per game and minor penalties per game, which kills their momentum and wears out guys like Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Max Talbot.

But their defense is also a big part of both the playing speed and penalty problem. Their defense is both old and slow and has little offensive upside.

Kimmo Timonen and Mark Streit look slow and soft, which is unsurprising considering they're both on the wrong side of 35. Nicklas Grossmann and Luke Schenn are also slow and ineffective offensively, while Braydon Coburn is a little faster but a horrible decision-maker.

Andrej Meszaros and Erik Gustafsson have split time as the sixth defenseman, and while they both bring some offensive potential, they have been up and down in their performance.

This problem is not one that can be solved this season, let alone overnight. Guys like Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg and Shayne Gostisbehere are waiting in the wings, but they may not be NHL-ready for another year or two.

The Flyers need to replace the majority of their defensive corps with better two-way players, whether it's through trades, free-agent signings or a top draft pick next summer.

They also need to find out how to get Giroux and Voracek going. I don't know the answer to this, but something has to be done.

Giroux specifically has to figure things out.

Maybe he needs different linemates, a different offensive system, a different practice schedule or workout regimen or to have a guy like Lecavalier take over some leadership responsibility—there has to be some way to help the Flyers captain.

Lastly, Berube and the Flyers have to fix the power play. They went into the matchup with Anaheim tied for last in the NHL with just four power-play goals.

They don't look confident with the puck, and Timonen and Streit have not been effective at the point. 

The problem is not necessarily in getting shots; the Flyers are 18th in the league with 57. The problem is the lack of creativity and confidence, which leads to less quality chances.

There is also just the element of finishing. On the power play and at even strength, the Flyers have not had players finish plays like they need to.

This will require some patience. These goals will come if the team stays the course and continues to work hard for those chances in the first place. The poor shooting percentages of their top players has to come up.

Some of these issues—like the system and the need to play high-paced, disciplined hockey—need to be actively worked out every day.

The lack of finishing, low confidence and need for Giroux to play at a high level will fix themselves with patience and persistence.

But the personnel issues, like the unbalanced forward group and weak defensive corps, will not be easily solved. 

Flyers fans have reasons to be frustrated, but there are reasons for hope as well. Philadelphia is just a few games back in their division, and this season is certainly not lost.

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