Nolan Patrick attempts to control the puck against New York Rangers Lias Andersson during a preseason game at Wells Fargo Center (Kate Frese / Last Word On Hockey)

One month into the 2018-2019 season, the Philadelphia Flyers have a record of 7-7-1. They’re an inconsistent team thus far (as their record indicates). To date, they haven’t had a full 60-minute effort. Their 3-1 record on the recent west coast swing is hopefully a harbinger of things to come.

Philadelphia Flyers Inconsistency One Month In

The first two to three weeks featured some of the most unstructured play in the Dave Hakstol era. Forward support to their defenseman when losing possession was nonexistent. As a result, defenseman covered their check and their forwards check as well. Consequently, it was no wonder that goals against came in droves. What is more, cheating to regain possession and lazy backchecking were a constant. The past two weeks (give or take) have been largely improved in this regard. Like most teams, it is really difficult to win without proper structure in place.

5v5 Offensive Play

There is still far too much of an emphasis on low-to-high plays. However, the Flyers are third in the league in 5v5 goals for (33) through the first month. There seems to be a more consistent effort to get to the higher danger areas (AKA the slot) lately. Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom are making hay through behind the net plays (Lindblom in particular). The benefit of behind the net plays are two-fold: (1) It puts defensemen in the unenviable position of having to commit themselves behind the net. (2) These plays also force goalies to turn their head. This drives goalies bonkers and gets them reeling. It is paramount for the Flyers moving forward to harp on getting to the dirty areas and behind the net to put their opponents on their heels.

5v5 Defensive Play

Inconsistent team defense shows up in the disproportionate amount of goals that they’ve allowed through the season’s first month (33 which is tied for fourth worst in the league). Obviously, there is work to be done. Defensemen have to focus on: keeping their feet moving, stick on puck, stick on ice, body on body, puck retrieval, keeping their check to the outside, and winning the majority of their puck/board battles.

The forwards need to backcheck, keep their sticks in passing/shooting lanes, win board/puck battles, and provide support to their defenseman when there are turnovers in high danger areas.

A key part of team defence is to successfully complete a breakout with possession. This is an area of the Flyers game that has been and continues to be a bugaboo for Dave Hakstol’s teams. A disconnect between the forwards and defenseman is readily apparent. For instance, too often forwards fly the zone so they can receive a pass from the defenseman. The idea is to kickstart an odd-man rush. Unfortunately, that puts far too much pressure on the defensemen to make long outlet passes. Long outlets can be easily picked off by aggressive forecheckers. It’d be beneficial for the defenseman if the forwards were to get lower in the zone. This isn’t a hard and fast rule though. Take what’s available (the simple play) in order to kickstart transition.

Penalty Kill

One month in, the penalty kill is still plaguing the Flyers. Frequently this unit collapses into the box, doesn’t harass the puck carrier, and defensemen lose position between their man and the goalie. All of the above are a common thread of the PK system that’s been in place for years. A new component to the team’s penalty kill this season has been a concerted effort to thwart controlled entries into the zone. Flyers fans are flummoxed as to why this unit hasn’t improved one bit. Bill Matz of BSH Radio has said it best: “I’m just perplexed by how bad this penalty kill is.” The visual below showcases the scheme’s biggest flaw: net front coverage:

The maroon splotch right in front of the net is a troubling sight. Allowing that many shots above league average in the slot area is just asking for trouble. Unsurprisingly, the Flyers are only killing penalties 69.1 percent of the time (good for 29th in the league). Ron Hextall mentioned that he wants this team to take the next step this season. They won’t if their penalty kill doesn’t get remedied.

Power Play

The Flyers power play is not working this season. This is a sobering development. They are currently 23rd in the league and are converting on a measly 15.7 percent. They’re very predictable right now and teams are taking advantage as a result. One month in, they are looking for cross-ice passes in order to convert pretty plays into goals. It is happening at a high clip though and team’s know exactly what they need to defend. The previously mentioned behind the net plays would open things up for this unit and they’d be far less predictable if it were incorporated from time to time. Force the defenseman to commit to leaving the house and things will open up in the slot.

— Ted (@ThatGuy11920) November 7, 2018

Moving Forward

The continued development/progression of young players is what’s being counted on the most this season. Hopefully, this strategy bears fruit and the young players continue to adjust more to the NHL level. Players such as Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom, Nolan Patrick, Travis Sanheim, and Robert Hagg. Knowing what you can and can’t do at this level is of paramount importance. As long as the aforementioned players consistently grow and develop, the Flyers future is in good hands.

Credits

Graphics provided courtesy of Micah Blake McCurdy’s site HockeyViz, and the coachessite. 5v5 stats courtesy of NaturalStatTrick. PP & PK stats courtesy of the NHL.

Main Photo: Nolan Patrick attempts to control the puck against New York Rangers forward Lias Andersson during a preseason game at Wells Fargo Center (Kate Frese / Last Word On Hockey)


View the original article on Last Word On Hockey: Philadelphia Flyers Inconsistency Is The Story of First Month