Flyers needed more from their defense

Posted: May 02, 2014

NEW YORK - It feels funny, trying to make a definitive point about anything given the events of the last 2 weeks. The Flyers were underdogs in their playoff series against the Rangers. The series took seven games to complete. The score in the seventh game was Rangers 2, Flyers 1, and the Flyers were pushing pretty hard in the third period to get the tying goal. It isn't as if they got blown out.

So you are left with impressions, mostly. And there is this picture that keeps repeating, if you try to remember back. It is hard to know what it might have looked like on television, but in the arena, it was there, again and again. It was the picture of a Rangers forward, forechecking aggressively, swooping in with speed, all arms and legs and closing speed, 50 feet way, then 20 feet, then 10 feet in a blink - and of the Flyers defenseman, doing his best to rescue the situation, to avoid the oncoming missile.

Usually, the defenseman did fine. But the play he was forced to make was often the safe one, back behind his net. The Rangers had a great advantage in zone time and overall puck possession for most of the series because of it. They swarmed the Flyers in the second period last night, the period when they got both of their goals.

As defenseman Luke Schenn said after the game, "One goal is the difference. We had a tough second period and that ended up being the difference tonight."

But here is the question: Why were the Rangers allowed to be so aggressive with that forecheck, so aggressive, so often? Again, you don't want to put too fine a point on this because the series did go to the limit and because the Flyers did have three wins and a significant number of excellent moments along the way.

But the Rangers had more. The reason was that swooping, punishing forecheck.

"I think the forecheck was outstanding, the way we put pressure on their 'D' and they had a lot of turnovers because of that," said Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers' goaltender. "That is something we had the whole series. We put a lot of pressure on them. At the same time, we have to give them credit. They never gave up, even though we had a lot of puck possession. They always kept coming back and found a way to get back into games."

All true. There are no scapegoats here, and that is not the intention. But the reason the forecheck worked so well was that the Flyers' defense could not make the Rangers pay often enough on the counterattack. They did not get back to the pucks as quickly as you would hope, and they did not make enough of the kinds of passes out of their zone that would start the rush the other way and cause the Rangers to think twice about being so aggressive.

Braydon Coburn, who had a good season, saw his play deteriorate as the series wore on. So did Andrew MacDonald. Schenn, on the other hand, played some of the best, most mistake-free hockey of the year - and maybe of his career. Overall, though, the Flyers need to get better on defense - and, again, this is not a condemnation, just an observation in a series that went to the limit.

There are names, young names in the organization: Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, Shayne Gostisbehere, more. The expectation is for a transformation in coming years. But there is a here and now in the meantime. The Flyers are paying a lot of money to the defense they already have - and when you spend big free-agent money on veterans such as Vinny Lecavalier and Mark Streit, the message is not that this is some kind of a rebuilding project. The Flyers can talk about how proud they are of coming back from the 1-7 hole they dug this season, and that is true, but the words of Bill Parcells seem apt here. The words, "no medals for trying."

In the here and now, the defense wasn't quite enough. In that second period, when the Rangers so dominated, "we were just on our heels," Schenn said. "You have to give them credit - they played fast . . . Without [goalie Steve Mason] making big saves, we wouldn't even have been in it in the third period."

Key words: "They played fast . . . "

The Flyers need to counter that, if they are to take the next step.


On Twitter: @theidlerich

Blog: philly.com/DNL

Email: hofmanr@phillynews.com

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