Inside the Flyers: Berube's style of play suits Flyers

Coach Craig Berube has given the Flyers a defense-first mentality since taking over in October.
Coach Craig Berube has given the Flyers a defense-first mentality since taking over in October. (Cal Sport Media)
Posted: January 06, 2014

GLENDALE, Ariz. - The Flyers have undergone an identity change since Craig Berube replaced Peter Laviolette as their head coach early in the season.

Under Laviolette, they were an attack-oriented team and, because of that, they left their goaltenders vulnerable on way too many occasions - as the guy now playing in Edmonton would wholeheartedly attest.

Under Berube, the Flyers have a defense-first mentality that emphasizes strong skating away from the puck and an active forecheck in the neutral zone.

Both styles can be successful (see Laviolette's 145-98-29 record with the Flyers and his Stanley Cup championship with Carolina), but Berube's system seems to fit this team better. The reason? Getting the forwards to back-check and win neutral-zone battles helps erase some of the defensemen's shortcomings.

And there are many.

You see, it was easier to play a go-go, attack style when Chris Pronger was the core of the defense.

Pronger is long gone because of post-concussion syndrome, and the defense is mediocre and relatively slow. Hence, playing a more defensive-minded system makes much more sense.

But the offshoot of Berube's defensive system is this: It has indirectly led to a much-improved offense.

"You can create lots of scoring chances off your defense," Berube said. "They go hand in hand."

The Flyers averaged 1.47 goals in their first 15 games, and they looked fully capable of erasing the franchise record for the fewest goals per game in a season (2.29 in 1968-69).

Berube replaced Laviolette after the third game, and it took the Flyers about a month to grasp a new system.

But since then, the players have been playing harder for Berube than they did for Laviolette last season and in his brief tenure this season.

Some of that is because of the pressure applied by general manager Paul Holmgren.

"I'm not going to let the players off the hook," Holmgren said on the day he fired Laviolette in October. "Things have to get better, and they will."

The implication: Show some life or you will be shown the door.

In their last 26 games before Saturday, the Flyers had averaged 3.5 goals, and a big part of that is because the defensemen had contributed 11 goals in the last 13 games.

The offensive improvement, the team's defensive approach, and Steve Mason's superb goaltending are the main reasons the Flyers entered Saturday with a 19-10-4 record since their franchise-worst 1-7 start.

"We're moving in the right direction, but we need . . . our young guys to grow and get better," Berube said.

The Flyers have the look of a playoff team, but they do not appear to be serious Stanley Cup challengers. That is unless some of the younger guys take the next step. Center Sean Couturier has made major strides in his offensive game and his physical play during the last month - and appears headed in the right direction.

But the Flyers need more consistency from the still-developing Schenn brothers, Luke and Brayden, and from veteran defensemen Braydon Coburn and Andrej Meszaros. They need Scott Hartnell (eight goals) to rebound in the second half and Mark Streit - who has picked up his offensive game - to be better in his own end.

They also need Vinny Lecavalier to get healthy. Give Lecavalier credit for playing through pain, but ever since he returned from a back injury, he has not looked like himself. The Olympic break, which starts Feb. 9, should do wonders for the 33-year-old forward.

For all their needs - oh, if only Nashville hadn't matched that Shea Weber offer sheet - and for all their deficiencies, the Flyers should be commended for becoming relevant after their disastrous start.

The Flyers finally appear to have playoff-worthy goaltending, and if Holmgren can add another piece or two before the March 5 trade deadline - a sniper at wing (Calgary left winger Mike Cammalleri?) and a proven defenseman should be high on his wish list - this could be a dangerous team if it gets to the postseason.

And dangerous is not the adjective folks were using to describe the Flyers after their sad-sack start.


Inside the Flyers: Numbers Game

Heading into Saturday's game, the Flyers were at the halfway point - 41 games - of their season. Here are some of the key players and their projections for a full year, along with their personal bests:

    Goals    Points    Projected    Career Best   

            Goals   Points   Goals   Points   

Claude Giroux       11    37    22    74    28    93   

Wayne Simmons      13   27   26   54   28   49   

Jake Voracek      9   27   18   54   22   50   

Brayden Schenn      9   24   18   48   12   26   

Scott Hartnell      8   20   16   40   37   67   

Matt Read      10   19   20   38   24   47   

Steve Downie      3   19   6   38   22   46   

Sean Couturier      7   18   14   36   13   27   

Vinny Lecavalier      9   15   18   30   52   108   

- Sam Carchidi


scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull

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