The Flyers are 3-2-1 on the season so far, but there are definitely some reasons for concern. While offensive production is soaring, problems on special teams and on defense are hampering the teams’ chances to put away games. But where do they come from and how can they be prevented?
The Flyers are sloppy in possession
The Flyers have really struggled to maintain possession of the puck this season. Whether it comes from defenders making an error in the neutral zone or a forward making a sloppy pass, the Flyers have been worryingly bad when it comes to puck control.
So far, they rank 9th in defensive zone giveaways, and have the 10th highest turnover differential in the NHL
While Corsi ratings can’t be directly associated with possession, they at least hint at aggressive possession. Only three Flyers (Morgan Frost, Claude Giroux, and Mark Friednman) have a rating of 50+.
If we are to narrow the focus to the defense though, that’s where things to become a little worrying. Ivan Provorov has 7 giveaways on the season so far, tying Erik Gustafsson for the most on the team. Hagg has given the biscuit away 5 times, only adding to the issue. What this leads to is a ton of pressure on a unit that really doesn’t need it.
Pressure on a weakened defense
The Flyers are giving up the third most shots of any NHL team so far and that largely falls on the fact that they’re giving the puck away through undisciplined play and sloppy mistakes in the neutral zone.
Take the Bruins for example. Through their opening three games, they failed to score a goal at even strength. The Flyers took a 2-0 lead and all looked to be fine and dandy, until the third period where they gave up a trio of 5-on-5 goals in quick succession. Then, the 6-1 blowout happened.
Going into the season, we knew the Flyers defense would be a very different looking unit. The shock retirement of Matt Niskanen left a huge hole alongside Ivan Provorov and with Phil Myers now injured, depth is now a slight concern. Travis Sanheim is playing up top alongside Provy, leaving the offensive-minded Gustafsson to play with Justin Braun.
While the duo makes a strong pairing on paper, the team can’t utilize Gustafsson’s powerful snipe or strong vision due to the myriad of problems being discussed. The new signing has struggled when carrying the puck up the Ice, making errors without prompt, and being pressured into bad decisions. This hurts when Braun has to then become the Janitor and try to clean up the mess before an opposing onslaught begins. This can lead to even more problems and is a large reason why the team are being so heavily outshot this season.
A bad PK
The Flyers had special teams problems at the end of last season, but they weren’t on the PK side of things. In fact, the team killed 80% of opposing power-plays last year. This year, they rank 28th in that same metric, killing only 63%. Ouch. In their three losses this season, they’re just 5-11 in shorthanded situations. What’s changed?
Losing Sean Couturier and Phil Myers is obviously going to knock the wind out of the teams’ sails, but the problems in one-on-one matchups are only amplified when they’re down a man.
As a result of all of this, teams are just getting rent-free real estate to fire shot after shot at Carter Hart until he can hold them back no more. It’s all very well scoring 4 goals per game, but if you’re going to concede 5, what’s the point?
First and foremost, the Flyers absolutely have to stop giving the puck away so freely. If they can work on retaining possession and being more composed when trying to thread passes through the neutral zone, it will limit the amount of pressure faced by Hart and his defenders. Without even knowing it, this one domino can help stop the majority of problems the team is dealing with right now in games that are all extremely winnable and are either slipping away or being made to look a lot harder than they actually are.
Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre