Flyers Defense Lacking to Start Season

One of the positives coming into training camp and throughout the preseason for the Philadelphia Flyers is the transformation of the defense in head coach Dave Hakstol’s second season. With the return of Micheal Del Zotto from last year’s season-ending injury, the emergence of Shayne Gostisbehere and the addition of the reigning CHL defenceman of the year Ivan Provorov, the Flyers defense is now tailored to Hakstol’s desires.

Fast forward 4 games into the season, where the Flyers find themselves behind the eight ball at 1-2-1, the defense is one of the main culprits for this start. Certainly, the injury to Del Zotto, the de facto number one defenseman, was a major loss in the preseason. When Del Zotto is in the lineup it allows the rest of the defensemen to play in their proper position. Missing him for the first month or so of the season makes the Flyers defense less than desirable.

The Andrew MacDonald Factor

Gostisbehere suffers the most due to Del Zotto's injury. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Gostisbehere suffers the most due to Del Zotto’s injury. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With the injury to Del Zotto and the six-game suspension to Radko Gudas the Flyers’ hands were forced into playing guys out of the roles they are suited for. Without Del Zotto and Gudas, Andrew MacDonald slotted into the first defense pairing, with Calder Trophy runner-up Gostisbehere, on the opening night roster.

Right off the bat, the Flyers defense had MacDonald playing against other teams’ top lines and logging heavy minutes when he’s a player more suited to the third pairing, or better yet the press box. It also stifles Gostisbehere, who should be playing with more freedom to skate the puck up the ice. When Gostisbehere is paired with the mobile and responsible Del Zotto, he has the freedom to play the game that makes him dangerous to opposing teams. However, when paired with MacDonald, Gostibehere has to hold back and limit his playmaking ability for fear of making a mistake because MacDonald isn’t able to cover him the way Del Zotto does.

Provorov & Streit Pairing

Philadelphia Flyers
Provorov could benefit the most from taking his rookie lumps early in the season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

On paper, this looks like an ideal pairing. Put the 19-year-old rookie with the savvy veteran as a calming presence on the back-end. However, the pairing hasn’t worked out as well as planned. With that being said, it’s not so much their fault that it hasn’t worked out as originally planned. Because of the circumstances, Hakstol has to play the Provorov/Streit pairing more minutes than they would receive if Del Zotto and Gudas were in the lineup to help out.

Mart Streit at this point in his career is ideally a third pairing puck mover who can run the second power play unit as well as chip in on the penalty kill if need be. The 38-year-old’s body, especially after last years pelvic injury that required surgery, doesn’t allow him to be as mobile as he once was, which used to be one of his strengths.

Provorov, on the other hand, is a rookie, a rookie with a tremendous amount of talent and ability, but he’s being required to log too many minutes in key situations to start his career with the team. As the Flyers get healthier and Gudas returns from his suspension, players will begin to slot into roles more suitable for their skills and that will help the team as a whole play much better than we’ve seen in the last three games.

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