At a conversion rate of 19.46%, the Flyers’ power play is below the NHL average this season. This shortcoming intensifies when most teams are playing above the league average with a man advantage and save percentage has decreased throughout the league this season. In theory, that should help the Flyers powerplay unit score more often.
Philadelphia is .76 percentage points away from matching the league average power play percentage. Teams such as the Florida Panthers, Los Angeles Kings, and St. Louis Blues are scratching the bare minimum of power play efficiency. Of those three teams, only the Panthers are in a position to make the playoffs.
By the numbers, the Flyers are drawing more penalties than the league average. Their inconsistency on special teams is a critical reason why they are out of the playoff picture. Opponents are consistently blocking shots against Philadelphia in large quantities. Alain Vigneault‘s offensive structure thrived at the beginning of 2020-2021 when the Flyers took fewer shots from high percentage areas. In observing the powerplay woes, Michel Therrien should recognize success increasingly breeds behind the goaltender.
Look no further than the Washington Capitals, who average 4.83 goals against Philadelphia, with two more contests remaining.
Through six games, the Flyers allowed seven power play goals from Washington. The Boston Bruins, twelfth best league powerplay, scored ten goals in their season series versus Philadelphia.
Former Coaches Evolving the Powerplay
In recent history, the Flyers’ power play has been dreadful. Reaching elite heights in 2019-2020, Philadelphia topped out at 20.8% on the powerplay. Only two other seasons in the last decade finished with a higher powerplay efficiency.
Generally speaking, the Flyers never stand out on the power play. Only twice has Philadelphia surpassed a 21% powerplay efficiency in ten years. The coaches in those seasons were Peter Laviolette (2012-2013) and Craig Berube (2014-2015). Laviolette currently is the head coach of the Washington Capitals, home of the second-best powerplay in the NHL. Berube is the head coach of the St. Louis Blues, who rank in the top half of league power play efficiency.
TJ Oshie (3rd) and Alexander Ovechkin (8th) rank within the top ten power play scorers this season. Everyone knows the formula with the Capitals. Stretch passing to Ovechkin to set up a one-timer for a goal, or bumper pass at the goal line to Oshie in the slot. More times than not, Washington is dominating other penalty kill units.
If Michel Therrien and Alain Vigneault studied the Capitals’ powerplay motives, Philadelphia could have snuck into the postseason.
Vigneault needs to move on from Therrien, placing the franchise before friendship.
Therrien Must Adapt
Michel Therrien and Alain Vigneault want the same for the Flyers. They both want their lineup to “play the right way” while incorporating a two-hundred-foot game. Upon his entry alongside Vigneault last season, Therrien emphasized speaking with the locker room about approaching the power play.
Reliance on the blue line was always a part of Therrien’s blueprint. Quarterbacking the power play at the blue line doesn’t work when puck control is a defensive issue.
Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim lead Philadelphia in giveaways. Shayne Gostisbehere‘s puck control isn’t much better than Provorov. Those three defensemen patrol the blue line on the power play. Therrien must reroute his formula when the defensemen are prone to turning the puck over at an alarming rate. Under this scheme, the Flyers are at risk of giving away high-percentage shorthanded opportunities.
Five shorthanded goals surrendered this season is two more than the league average.
Passing hasn’t been crisp along the blue line. It’s in those fine details where Philadelphia misses Matt Niskanen. One great play by penalty killer leaves Carter Hart, Brian Elliott, or Alex Lyon out to dry. The Flyers have been so predictable on the powerplay, Brandon Montour scored back-to-back shorthanded goals en route to a 6-1 victory for the Buffalo Sabres.
Flyers need to make the right changes
A core of veterans like Jakub Voracek, James van Riemsdyk, and Claude Giroux can drive a power play similar to the Washington Capitals or the Colorado Avalanche. The driving force begins with the forwards behind the goaltender, taking the attention away from the blueliners.
Giroux can control the puck behind the net, like a natural center. His position behind the goaltender leaves Voracek available for a one-timer just outside of the slot or van Riemsdyk clogging the dirty area for a deflection. The concept is to get the penalty kill to cheat towards Giroux, finding an open look to Voracek or Shayne Gostisbehere. Additionally, in theory, Wade Allison and van Riemsdyk could switch in and out of the high-danger area in front of the crease. Suddenly, stretch passing is a viable option for Voracek and Gostisbehere.
With Gostisbehere currently out of the lineup, Travis Sanheim fits. If the Seattle Kraken selects a defenseman from Philadelphia, one who aides the powerplay will likely depart. Ivan Provorov and Sanheim will be protected.
Aside from Gostisbehere, only two other skaters could leave the Flyers among the power play units. Voracek and van Riemsdyk are at risk. Unfortunately, 2020-2021 is a wasted season because of the lack of adaptation from Therrien’s powerplay.
Chuck Fletcher replied “no” when asked about coaching changes at the trade deadline.
Chuck, please reconsider.
Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre