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There have been countless occasions over the past six months, whether it’s been on Snow the Goalie, The Press Row Show, or here in this very space where I have sung the praises of Alain Vigneault as a coach.
It is no secret that I view the Flyers bench boss as one of the best in the game today. An old-school guy who meshes well with the modern game. A guy who absolutely balances the use of analytics with coaching from his gut because he gets to know his players so well on a personal level.
He is a guy with an understanding of how to manage individuals within a team setting.
And yet, for the first time all season, I found myself in disagreement with the Flyers coach.
Of course, no one is ever going to see eye-to-eye on absolutely everything. What fun would that be? Why would you come here to read my analysis if the only tune I ever hummed was identical to the one the team wants you to hear? Conversely, you don’t come here just to see me be a contrarian 100 percent of the time either. There is always a delicate balance of the two.
Well, today, I’m here to tell you the coach is wrong.
Maybe he doesn’t want to show his hand after a tough 1-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday night (the latest the Flyers have gone in a season before suffering their first shutout loss since 1989 by the way). Maybe he doesn’t want to give credence to a burgeoning problem with his team right now. Maybe he figures he has enough fires to put out that he doesn’t want to help fan the flames of another one to make it even worse.
Whatever the reason, Vigneault’s denial that the Flyers power play is struggling is perplexing.
After going 0-for-3 against the Lightning, the Flyers are now 0-for-11 in the last four games and just 5-for-33 (a below-average 15.2 percent) in the last 10 games.
There was obviously some frustration in the Flyers locker room after their first shutout loss of the season, with players visibly annoyed by questions about the lackluster production when there is a man advantage.
When asked for his assessment of the power play, Jake Voracek said very little, but at the same time, oh-so-very much:
“We don’t score much. We have to start scoring. I’m not talking about the power play, sorry.”
Perhaps it’s all the tinkering the Flyers have done with the power play this season. Switching personnel. Putting players in positions on the power play they haven’t been accustomed to playing. Not affording the skill players the opportunity to work their way out of a funk in a way they are comfortable.
Here’s Sean Couturier’s assessment:
“We’re not finishing. I think we’re one and done a lot of times. We’re getting a little more control in the zone and that’s something to build on. We got to find a way to score some goals.”
Still, you could sense there was a bit of frustration in his words. Just the expression on his face when he was saying it let you know that this is something that is bothering the players. Especially those who get the bulk of the opportunities on the power play.
The one guy who paused before answering, a savvy, veteran move making sure he checked himself before responding with a more raw emotion, was Matt Niskanen, who tried to find a positive in the power play’s approach:
“The couple times we did have possession we tried that low jam play, and that is a good strategy. That can create chaos in front of the net and we had some bodies there and tried to jam it in. But a few too many times we did not have clean entries or get possession back after they pressured and caused a turnover.”
Nevertheless, the annoyance with an inability to produce on the power play – not just in this game, but for a wide swath of the season now – was palpable.
But, the coach tried to pull an Emperor’s New Clothes routine on my question about the power play at the press conference and I’m not buying it.
“The power play has been pretty good. I thought we were on a little roll there as far as getting chances that we do. I think we did score in four or five straight games, tonight though just like you know our penalty killing the last two games it was really good against Washington. I thought it was real good again tonight against a real strong power play. PK tonight give credit to their penalty killing. They were assertive, they were aggressive they were blocking shots, so then you need your skill to make a play and we just didn’t get the opportunity to do it.”
So, let’s parse this response, shall we?
First AV said the power play has been pretty good. I gave you stats earlier for the last four games and the last 10 games. Those were not good numbers by any means. For the season, the Flyers power play has connected just 18.7 percent of the time. That’s slightly below league average and ranks 19th in the NHL.
However, considering the power play got off to a hot start at the beginning of the season – they were 13-for-54 (24.1 percent) in their first 14 games – what they’ve been since has been one of the worst in the NHL (15-for-96 or 15.6 percent).
Another way to look at it is they have only scored two more power play goals in the last 31 games that they did in the first 14 games.
Sorry, AV, but the power play has not been good.
Secondly, he said the team was on a little roll and had scored on the power play in four or five straight games. Uh…
From 12/19-12/28 they were 6-for-18 on the power play with a goal in four straight games. They’ve played seven games since then.
Then he credited the other team’s penalty kill. And while, yes, that does happen sometimes – where the other team just gets the best of you, and maybe that was the case for Tampa, who, to their credit, has now won 10 straight games – but at some point, you need to find a way to cash in more consistently.
Special teams makes or breaks a game a lot. The Flyers got great penalty killing, as they have all season at home, but the power play came up small yet again.
Part of the problem is an inability to get scoring from down low. And if you listened to Vigneault, he did admit this was the case with his team, just not in the question I asked about the power play specifically.
“You know you need your skill players to make a play for you or you need to get a dirty greasy goal by throwing, getting people in front of the net, we tried but we weren’t able to.”
That’s got to be a knock on the power play.
He later went on to talk about a change on the power play where Voracek has replaced James van Riemsdyk as the net-front presence. It’s an odd choice, as Voracek is a noted playmaker and passer, so to take him out of a playmaking position and put him in a scoring position is curious.
But, considering van Riemsdyk has come up small on the power play and Nolan Patrick still hasn’t played a game this season, and Oskar Lindblom is lost for the season, if not longer. The Flyers are running out of big-bodied options to get in the way in the crease.
This is likely the thing Voracek doesn’t want to talk about with the power play. He’s being asked to do something he’s not comfortable doing, but he doesn’t want to criticize the decision publicly. That’s totally understandable, but AV is obviously frustrated with van Riemsdyk’s inability to be a scoring threat with the man advantage.
“Yeah, I mean (Jake has) size – a lot like JVR – that’s an important part of where the goals are scored from and I figured with his hands and his size it should be a challenge for the opposite goaltender. (JVR), who has been one of the best net front guys in the league for quite some years, for whatever reason this year on the power play, he’s not finding it and that by trying Jake there might give us another look. We didn’t capitalize today and we’ll try and figure out something for next week.”
Does that mean the Jake experiment as a net front guy is over? Maybe. Does the top power play need an overhaul of who is on it? Maybe not.
“We’ve been pretty consistent at keeping, (Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov) on it,” Vigneault said. “That one other piece, sometimes it’s in and out. Obviously tonight it could have made a difference, it didn’t. Hopefully it does the next game.”
But who will it be the next game? Will JVR get another chance, or is he pretty much out of chances and is just a $7 million enigma at this point? Will they put Giroux and Voracek back on the wings and maybe try a guy like Couturier as a net front guy instead? He’s got some size and strength there. Kevin Hayes is another option, but that would be at the expense of removing Voracek, Couturier or even Konecny from the top unit, and that’s not something AV really wants to do.
It’s a conundrum. One the Flyers need to fix, and quick. The schedule doesn’t get any easier with both of last season’s Stanley Cup finalists on tap this week (Boston on Monday, St. Louis on Wednesday), and with the team barely hanging on to the final playoff spot (the Flyers are tied with Columbus in points, but have played one fewer game. Florida, meanwhile, is only one point back with a game in hand), time is of the essence.
There was a lot of fight off the ice, too.
Kyle, you should have just let it go. It wasn’t worth it. Especially now that you’ve gone viral:
Kyle literally can’t stop fighting. Took the fight from the stands to the bathroom. @roughnrowdy
(Via ig:bbbroseph2 ig:the_sage13) pic.twitter.com/yKIQIlmACL
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) January 12, 2020
What I want to know is did they agree to take the fight to the bathroom? Or did one guy follow the other there? And where was security during all this? No one sees this happening? No one makes sure it doesn’t spill over to another part of the arena, even if it is the crapper?
Stay hot, everyone involved.
Odds that Kyle is from Delco: 8/5.
Speaking of Fighting
The #OskarStrong fight has now gone outside the hockey arena.
That’s Trey Anastasio from the jam band Phish with his dad just before taking the stage last night at the Capital Theatre with his solo band The Trey Anastasio Band.
Trey is a huge Flyers fan and wanted to let us know that “everybody’s screaming when they saw the shirt.”
If you’re a Phish fan, you get that.
Speaking of getting it, Trey Anastasio does for sure.
For more Flyers coverage, follow Snow The Goalie on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Also be sure to tune into The Press Row Show as Anthony SanFilippo and Russ Joy provide pregame and intermission coverage of every Flyers home game from press row of the Wells Fargo Center via the Crossing Broad Facebook page, YouTube Live, and Twitter, and their Twitter accounts Follow @SnowTheGoalie Follow @AntSanPhilly Follow @JoyOnBroad