The Flyers completed their three game road trip through the Southeast division last night, earning five of a possible six points and temporarily taking first place in the Eastern Conference. What did we learn from this southern swing?
Against the Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1 OT loss):
Following a season in which the Flyers lost three of four contests against the Lightning, coach Peter Laviolette still doesn’t know how to handle the trap. His previous strategy was to have the forwards skate in circles through the neutral zone until the defensemen felt they could make a worthwhile outlet pass.
His strategy this year was to do nothing. It wasn’t a bad idea, and earns points for creativity, but resulted in mind-numbing hockey for three periods. The trap became a topic for the annual general manager’s meeting today as a result of this game, with the outcome that the trap is still considered a valid system.
Considering the Flyers only generated 15 shots all game, I tend to agree with how many pundits responded to the strategy- why not just attack them like normal? This year’s Lightning team is ranked 24th in the NHL in goals-against-per-game (the Flyers rank 22nd) while the Flyers rank in 1st place for goals scored per game (inflated thanks to the Winnipeg and Columbus games). The trap may be a frustrating system of hockey to play against, but clearly there are enough holes that it should be exploitable.
Against the Florida Panthers (3-2 win)
If you throw out the Columbus and Tampa Bay games, this was arguably the first complete 60 minute effort from the Flyers in weeks.
One concern of late was that the Flyers were receiving most of their scoring from the Claude Giroux-Jaromir Jagr-Scott Hartnell line with intermittent support from the rest of the team. Balanced scoring from Matt Read, Danny Briere and Braydon Coburn helped alleviate those fears. Wayne Simmonds also earned his 100th point in the NHL on the Briere goal.
In spite of poor officiating against both teams, the Flyers’ penalty kill was superb, stopping all six attempts (including a 4:00 phantom high-sticking against Max Talbot). While the continued drop in even strength ice time for Sean Couturier is disconcerting, Laviolette has been making up for it with considerable PK time. Add in the fact that PK stalwart Andreas Nodl is still day-to-day, the strength of the Flyers’ special teams (ranked 10th in the NHL) becomes even more impressive.
Against the Carolina Hurricanes (5-3 win)
Although the Briere-Simmonds-James Van Riemsdyk line has not really “clicked” yet, the Jakub Voracek-Max Talbot-Read line (which I have begun calling “Mad Max and the Road Warriors”) followed a goal against the Panthers with two more goals. Up to this point, Voracek and Read had predominantly found success against weak teams while Talbot was spending most of his time on the fourth line. It’s promising to see this line develop into a potent force as a result of Laviolette’s line juggles.
Sergei Bobrovsky was given the start as the team played less than 24 hours earlier. He played decently, as two of the three goals allowed came from shorthanded attempts from Pat Dwyer, but did not have as strong an effort as Ilya Bryzgalov over the previous two games. He was nearly concussed by JVR, who absentmindedly railroaded him near the end of the second period, but Bobrovsky finished the game.
Speaking of JVR, the experiment of placing him on the point for power plays appears to be over, as both shorthanded goals occurred in this situation. As long as Chris Pronger is healthy, I wouldn’t trust anyone else in that position.
With the road trip over, the Flyers appear to be heading in the right direction with momentum. It’s unclear where Brayden Schenn and Erik Gustafsson will fit once their injuries heal, but it’s a good problem for Paul Holmgren to be facing at this point of the season. Their next challenge, the Phoenix Coyotes, visit Philadelphia on Thursday. It will be a chance for Bryzgalov to show up his former team for not having enough money to afford him.