Inside the Flyers: Success should come with better even-strength play

Flyers goalie Steve Mason can't stop the shot of Maple Leafs' Dave Bolland as Matt Read tries to help out. The Flyers, who lost their opener, 3-1, scored on just the power play, not five-on-five play.
Flyers goalie Steve Mason can't stop the shot of Maple Leafs' Dave Bolland as Matt Read tries to help out. The Flyers, who lost their opener, 3-1, scored on just the power play, not five-on-five play. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 07, 2013

MONTREAL - The Flyers, hoping the new campaign brings them redemption, would be wise to use last season as a blueprint for what to avoid.

For the Flyers, the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign was, in a word, bizarre.

It seems almost incomprehensible for a team to have the NHL's best overall special teams and still miss qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs, but that's what happened to the Flyers.

You don't have to be a descendant of the late, great Fred Shero to understand the reason for their failure: lousy even-strength play.

The Flyers' lack of five-on-five success negated the fact they finished third in the NHL on the power play (21.6 percent success rate) and fifth on the penalty kill (85.9 percent success rate).

They were the only team in the top five in each of those categories.

But they also were near the bottom in five-on-five situations, scoring just 0.86 goals for every one allowed in five-on-five play. Only Colorado, Calgary, and Florida - three teams that also missed the playoffs - were worse.

By comparison, Chicago scored 1.52 goals for every goal it allowed in five-on-five spots.

On paper, the Flyers should be much improved in even-strength situations. Adding 6-foot-4, 215-pound Vinny Lecavalier gives them some much-needed size up the middle and will help them in matchups. They should also be helped by the addition of puck-moving defenseman Mark Streit, who should jump-start the offense.

Another difference: They have beefy defensemen Braydon Coburn, Nick Grossmann, and Andrej Meszaros back in the lineup after injury-filled 2013 seasons. Their size will help in board battles.

The Flyers are also better in an under-the-radar area - puckhandling by their goaltenders. Steve Mason and Ray Emery are much better than Ilya Bryzgalov in that facet of the game, and it should help the Flyers exit their zone much quicker than last season.

Again, these improvements look good on paper, but that doesn't mean they always translate on the ice.

Take the Flyers' season-opener, for instance. In that 3-1 loss to Toronto, the Flyers had many more scoring chances and had the puck in their offensive end at least 60 percent of the night. Problem was, they had a couple of even-strength defensive breakdowns - and couldn't get the puck past nearly flawless goalie Jonathan Bernier in five-on-five situations.

The results looked like last season: The Flyers' goal was on the power play, and they were outscored, 2-0, in five-on-five situations.

You could argue that the Flyers were actually better than the Maple Leafs when the teams were at even strength, but just fell victim to a hot goaltender.

That said, the Flyers need to be vastly improved from last year in five-on-five situations. It's no coincidence that two of the NHL's best five-on-five teams in 2013 - Chicago (1.52 ratio, tops in the NHL) and Boston (fourth at 1.30) went to the Stanley Cup Finals.

"It's all about winning more battles," captain Claude Giroux said when asked what the Flyers needed to do to improve their even-strength play. "When you go in the corners and win battles, that's when you get scoring chances. . . . You can make plays, move the puck around."

Or as the late Shero, who led the Flyers to consecutive Stanley Cups in the 1970s and will be inducted into the hockey Hall of Fame next month, once said: "Take the shortest route to the puck carrier and arrive in ill humor."


scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull

www.inquirer.com/

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