Flyers Lack Identity In Worst Start of Vigneault Era

NHL: FEB 10 Panthers at Flyers
PHILADELPHIA, PA – FEBRUARY 10: Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault looks on during the game between the Florida Panthers and the Philadelphia Flyers on February 10, 2020 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

A season ago, the Philadelphia Flyers defense was the primary culprit. The inability to stabilize the defensive pairings was dreadful. It bled into the goaltending and penalty kill.

Now, it’s the goaltending and penalty kill that are the backbone of the Flyers. Philadelphia seemingly scores as many goals shorthanded as they would on the powerplay.

Through the first ten games of the season, the Flyers were overachieving. Even strength hockey was a strength, and the powerplay wasn’t drowning. There were the early signs of the penalty kill getting on with solid goaltending. 6-2-2 was an accurate representation, especially after the victory against the Washington Capitals.

The other shoe has dropped.

Confidence is an issue. Philadelphia avenged the Calgary Flames at home before nearly defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning for the first time with Alain Vigneault as head coach. Even though the loss to the Lightning came in a shootout, the Flyers couldn’t recover. It was the first time they lost back-to-back games in 2021-2022. Quickly, losing back-to-back games turned into a six-game losing streak.

The Worst Start of the Vigneault Era

Analytics will show what the eyes can see in this one. Throughout this losing streak, the Philadelphia Flyers haven’t put together a quality five-on-five outing. They’re playing like the seventh-best team in the Metropolitan. The opposition scored four or more goals at an 83.3% rate over the last six games. Nothing is going right, and Alain Vigneault is in a dangerous spot.

It’s beyond injuries. “That’s just excuses,” said Claude Giroux. It’s on the players to execute. After starting 6-2-2, the Flyers went 2-6-2, the absolute antithesis of who we thought they were.

Sometimes, bounces don’t go the right way for Philadelphia. Last night, the Flyers were on the receiving end of two fortunate bounces, ending in a Scott Laughton and Joel Farabee goal. If not for a lucky deflection from a referee’s skate and a shorthanded goal, the New Jersey Devils would have likely shut out Philadelphia.

So, is it on Vigneault’s system, or is it poor execution? The Lehigh Valley Phantoms, who are running Vigneault’s system with Ian Laperriere, are struggling all the same.

The common thread is the lack of clean offensive zone entries and sustained offensive possession.

The Peco Penalty Kill

It may as well be.

Over the last ten games, the Philadelphia Flyers are 2/33 on the powerplay. Ivan Provorov converted one against the Dallas Stars, then Derick Brassard against the Boston Bruins. In the same span, the Flyers penalty kill went 2/30 in scoring shorthanded goals (4/30 in killing penalties.)

Any way you slice it, the penalty kill is the stronger special team. It’s just ridiculous that Philadelphia scores at a slightly higher rate with fewer men on the ice than their opponent.

Alain Vigneault and Michel Therrien began to shuffle the powerplay when it was working. It isn’t the first time Vigneault received criticism for over trying to reinvent the wheel. He tried it with the New York Rangers in 2016-2017. Vigneault faced injuries, but no lineup remained consistent enough to bond.

Go back to the victory against the Vancouver Canucks, which kicked off the Western Canada trip. On the top powerplay unit were Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny, James van Riemsdyk, and Keith Yandle; then, the second team of Cam Atkinson, Derick Brassard, Joel Farabee, Ivan Provorov, and Rasmus Ristolainen. To this day, those units should have stayed intact (sans Brassard due to injury.) They may have performed slightly below average during the first ten games, but nothing like the 27th ranked powerplay they showcase currently. It’s an anomaly, unlike anything that’s supposed to be.

Provorov Needs Ellis

Ivan Provorov was incredible two seasons ago with Matt Niskanen. Since then, he hasn’t been the anchor on the first pair. He needs a complimentary piece. Ryan Ellis was supposed to be that.

What he requires is a partner who does a great job mitigating turnovers. Provorov had turnover issues throughout his career, and he leads all Philadelphia Flyers defensemen in that category this season. It’s a regression from Provorov, who has not been better than Travis Sanheim on the second pair. Defensively, everything is coming undone. Justin Braun is not a placeholder on the top with Provorov, as we learned in 2020-2021.

Finding confidence, especially defensively, doesn’t need to begin with scoring. The Flyers have turned defense into offense many times this season. Neutral zone dominance and checking can breed confidence, and it needs to manifest sooner rather than later.

Earlier this season, Philadelphia was particularly stubborn down the middle of the ice. Recently, teams are just entering their offensive zone without any pushback.

Ellis is a critical link missing from the defensive chain, where his presence with Provorov boosts the top pair while the rest of the unit falls into their rightful place, bringing balance ahead of Carter Hart and Martin Jones.