Flyers skating a fine line

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Kimmo Timonen is angry with himself for being demoted to the second power-play unit.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Kimmo Timonen is angry with himself for being demoted to the second power-play unit.
Posted: October 25, 2013

THE NEW coach says they need to "concentrate more."

The old defenseman, the one just demoted to the second power-play unit because of an inability to get the puck to the net, says "sometimes you think too much.''

So which is it? Or is it - can it be? - both? Does 11 goals in eight games mean the Philadelphia Flyers are trying too hard or not trying hard enough? Are they thinking out there or, as it appears at times, not thinking at all?

"When you're on a roll you don't think," Kimmo Timonen, the 15-year veteran defenseman, was saying after practice at Flyers SkateZone in Voorhees yesterday. "You just go out and play the game and rely on instincts. Sometimes when things are not going well, you go on the ice and think about too much. And you say, 'OK, what can I do better?' You're doing more than you're supposed to. And then things fall down and you're not playing the system and all kinds of things will happen. Rather than going out there, play your game and trust the things you've been doing for years."

So just relax, right? Stop "squeezing the stick," as the old hockey phrase goes, and play your game and the pucks will start hitting the net below the glass rather than above it, right?

But haven't we been saying that since the old coach was replaced by the new coach? Five games ago? The Flyers' shots-on-goal average has increased since then, but the blocked shots by teams facing them likewise has increased - through no concentrated effort by those teams.

"Hitting the net comes from practice, to be honest with you," said Craig Berube, the new coach. "You've got to hit the net. Going down there, you're doing a shooting drill or any kind of drill and you shoot the puck and miss the net - that's kind of a waste, isn't it? To skate all that way and shoot the puck wide?

"I mean, it comes from practice. It's my job, and the job of this coaching staff, to get on these guys to hit the net more."

That doesn't sound very relaxing, does it? Or calming?

I know if Chief was getting on me, I'd squeeze that stick so hard they'd be picking splinters out for a week.

But that's the dilemma this 1-7 team faces as it resumes play tonight against the equally punchless Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center. Talk about teeing it up for a struggling team. The Rangers won't have Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes and his backup, Martin Biron, retired earlier in the week rather than accept a minor league assignment. Ryan Callahan, who it only seems averages a hat trick against your team, also will miss the game with a broken thumb, and Rick Nash and Carl Hagelin are out, too.

"That's dangerous, that stuff," said Berube, when someone mentioned this. "I don't care how beat up they are, they are a good hockey team. They've got good players. They're going to compete . . . It's going to be a tough game. And our players better know that."

They should. The Flyers have averaged 27.6 shots in their first eight games. As statistically noted in a SBNation blog the other day, nearly every player on this team is well under his career shooting percentage this season, which brings us back to the why, and what seems to be conflicting theories expressed by the coach and longtime assistant captain.

Berube has had nearly a full week since the 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh to impart that knowledge. By players' accounts, Flyers practices have been extensive, exhausting and experimental, a second training camp rolled into a small window. Lines have been shuffled. Established players, like Timonen, have been given reduced roles, at least for the time being.

He's not happy about it.

"I'm mad about it, I can't lie to you," Timonen said. But not at the coach, or teammates, or any sense of injustice.

He's mad that his play warranted it.

"I've played almost 1,100 games," he said. "And when that happens, that's some kind of message that I've got to be better. I'm one of the leaders on the team so you have to take that as you have to be better, bring better stuff on the ice, that kind of stuff. You can be mad about it and you should be mad about it, but you have to . . . show what you used to do."

That sounds like he's thought a lot about this.

So maybe the coach has something, with trying to get them to focus better. It sure is worth a try.

"He knows he can play better," said the new coach. "There's a lot of guys who know they can play better. I'm not here to single anybody out. I mean, if you want to win hockey games we need everybody at their best on most nights. You don't get too many free games in this league. If we don't get everybody's best from the coaching staff on down you're not going to win too many games."


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

Columns: ph.ly/Donnellon

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