Right now, the Philadelphia Flyers have the worst goals per game average in the NHL, 1.83. Despite the fact that they have offensive weapons like Calude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, the Flyers have been unable to get into an offensive rhythm.
Prior to their back-to-back wins against the Predators and the Rangers this past weekend, the Flyers had gone four straight games without a goal at even strength.
As a whole, the Flyers forward core has posted an unsustainably low shooting percentage of 6% in all situations, and 5% at even strength. Their all-situations shooting percentage is the worst in the NHL and their even strength shooting percentage is 29th in the NHL.
Despite their offensive woes, the Flyers season is not lost. They have been saved by their goaltending on multiple occasions. The team is in debt to Michal Neuvirth and Steve Mason for giving the team four shutouts and for stealing multiple points.
However, what has silently killed the Flyers offense over the past month has been Dave Hakstol’s over-reliance upon his 4th line players. It is true that Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris Vandevelde are solid players who can give the team decent 5v5 minutes and hold their own on the penalty kill. But when they take ice time away from more skilled players, it should not be a surprise when the team’s scoring suffers.
Coming into the season, the Flyers looked to have Scott Laughton and Sam Gagner in place on their third line with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris Vandevelde in place on the fourth line. However, as the season has gone on, those roles seem to have switched. By this point in the season, Vandevelde and Bellemare are receiving more even strength ice time than Gagner and Laughton.
However, both for their careers and during the current season, Laughton and Gagner have been either equal or far better offensive talents than their counterparts. Take a look at the charts below:
|NHL GP||NHL Goals||NHL Assists||NHL Pts||G/60||A/60||Pts/60||ES TOI/Game (2015-16)|
The only forwards to average less ice time than both Gagner and Laughton are Taylor Leier, Nick Cousins, Colin McDonald, and Vincent Lecavalier. In fact, as the Flyers have called players up from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, they have placed those players on to Scott Laughton’s line and given them moderate ice time.
Despite the fact that Bellemare and Vandevelde are NHL regulars, there is still reason to believe that players like Taylor Leier and Nick Cousins have just as much, if not more, offensive skill as those players. If the Flyers scoring woes are going to be solved, it must come from skilled players, not grinders.
I understand why Hakstol has given Bellemare and Vandevelde increased ice time. They are responsible players who can be trusted in almost any situation and Hakstol is familiar with Vandevelde from his time at North Dakota. However, they are not highly skilled players.
Laughton and Gagner will not confuse anyone with Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but they have enough offensive skill to be productive players. Gagner is a proven point producer while Laughton is solid in all three zones and has shown signs of a developing offensive game.
It is understandable that Hakstol would innately trust veterans who are known for their solid play, but when a team desperately needs more goals, it makes little sense to continually send out the 4th line players.
The onus of the Flyers lack of scoring is on their top six forwards. If those players do not produce, there is no reason to expect the team to be offensively competitive. However, when scoring is an issue, the team cannot rely on 4th line players for large chunks of even strength play.