The Philadelphia Flyers have struggled immensely on the powerplay since traveling to Western Canada. Are they close to getting back on track?
Two statement losses served as notices to the extinguished powerplay. First, the Calgary Flames dominated the Flyers on the road. Then, Philadelphia couldn’t get back on track against a wounded Pittsburgh Penguins roster.
Including the loss to the Flames, the Flyers are 2/29 on the powerplay.
Over the last eight games, Philadelphia hasn’t kept their powerplay units stable. Alain Vigneault and Michel Therrien have shuffled the lineup five different times, hoping for a breakthrough. Over the same stretch, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov were the only Flyers to contribute to the scoreboard with an extra-man advantage. Last night versus the Tampa Bay Lightning, the inability to convert helped dig Philadelphia’s grave.
The inability to convert on the powerplay places the responsibility squarely on the penalty kill and the overall ability to play a well-disciplined brand of hockey. Following last night, the Flyers have the third-best defense in the NHL. Couple that with an elite goaltending tandem, and it’s a little easier to understand how Philadelphia competes against playoff contention opponents. It’s a crash course in accentuating the positives, but there’s no sustainability over a whole season. Therrien is walking a tight rope when his adjustments adversely affect a playoff-caliber franchise.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
Following the loss to the Calgary Flames, the Philadelphia Flyers began shuffling their powerplay units. Against the Arizona Coyotes, AV and Therrien debuted a new look on the man advantage. The Coyotes and Flyers were scoreless after two periods. They were 0/3 on the powerplay against a thirtieth-ranked penalty kill on the worst team in the league.
From a puck movement standpoint, Vigneault liked what he saw. Did he hit the panic button a little early? Were these changes better than the original plan?
Through the first six games of the season, Philadelphia scored five powerplay goals. They didn’t play back-to-back games in that span without converting a powerplay chance.
James van Riemsdyk, Sean Couturier, and Keith Yandle are among those not currently on the top powerplay unit. Joel Farabee, Derick Brassard, and Ivan Provorov were all promoted from the second to the first team. Frustration is building, but Vigneault and Konecny got their message across in press conferences. They need to keep pushing, and the goals will come. Lineup nirvana is obtainable, especially when the Flyers are capable of such firepower.
The next step forward unlocks once Vigneault and Therrien revisit square one.
A Powerful Suggestion
As a disclaimer, I’ll remove emphasis from Ryan Ellis due to his long-term injured reserve status.
Something that I believe hinders the Philadelphia Flyers is Ivan Provorov doing too much. He’s on the top pair, the first powerplay and penalty kill. Underutilized is Travis Sanheim. He doesn’t get as many offensive chances but should step in to relieve Provorov, especially while he’s in overdrive with Ellis missing. Whether or not that means Sanheim comes off the penalty kill is up for debate, but I wouldn’t be quick to change that dynamic either.
Claude Giroux is dynamic with Atkinson and Brassard. Include JVR, a powerplay scoring specialist, with Keith Yandle, and that’s a wrap on the top unit. Joel Farabee, Sean Couturier, and Travis Konecny remain familiar on the second team with Rasmus Ristolainen and Sanheim at the blue line. Both have similar through rates for shots on goal, but Sanheim could help contain the puck a tad better in the offensive zone because of his grip on limiting giveaways.
Across the blue line, I look for Ristolainen and Yandle to quarterback both units. As soon as Ristolainen takes on that role, his value with the Flyers will skyrocket.
These units are experiencing growing pains, but it’s incredibly tough to work on consistency when the powerplay teams are constantly changing. Alain Vigneault and Michel Therrien need to extract such a performance from their forwards to match the defense and goaltending. When that happens, Philadelphia becomes a consistent threat.
Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre