Problems in Philly: Playing with the Wrong Idea

They were doomed from the moment the puck was dropped.

Saturday nights massacre at Prudential Center was probably one of the most embarrassing losses of the season for the Flyers, and from the drop of the puck, you just knew it wasn’t going to go well.

The Wrong Mentality.

With Claude Giroux already out of the lineup due to a laceration on his leg, the Flyers really needed to man up and show some mental fortitude despite the absence of their captain. What did they do? The exact opposite. The first two minutes of the game was a mess, they were getting walked all over, so what did they do? Made it worse. The problems had just begun.

Zac Rinaldo and Michael Raffl both took fighting majors within 22 seconds of each other, this left the Flyers with just nine forwards to rotate through on the bench, nine. The basement-dwelling, defensive minded New Jersey Devils had no problem capitalizing on this. They spent a multitude of time in the Flyers end of the ice, peppering Ray Emery with shots.

So much for a team effort. Rinaldo and Raffl quickly made it known that they were in it for personal gains rather than playing a team game. Are those fights warranted in that situation? Absolutely not. 3 minutes into a game where your team is already short two forwards is not the time to take yourself off the ice for 5 minutes. This isn’t the NHL of old, fighting doesn’t win you games, especially against the New Jersey Devils.

The story didn’t end there. After an abysmal 1st period, getting outshot 10-5 and getting outscored 3-0 (by no one under the age of 35, mind you), the Flyers found themselves in a 5-0 hole by the midway point of the second period. The team was finally able to secure some time in the offensive zone, and Andrew MacDonald found the back of the net off of a beautiful feed from Brayden Schenn.

Not even five seconds after the puck drops from the ensuing faceoff, Wayne Simmonds decides to drop the gloves. Once again, you ask yourself, “Why?” It doesn’t seem to make any sense. The first time all game that the Flyers show some life, and all a fight does is concentrate all the momentum into one place. For the record, Wayne Simmonds was soundly beaten in this fight, and it really did nothing whatsoever to change the course of the game. Oh, but it did take one of the Flyers top goal scorers off the ice for 5 minutes.

This team is frustrating to say the least. You see it in the faces of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Steve Mason, but that’s about where the ball stops rolling. When was the last time you saw Matt Read or RJ Umberger bursting with anger and frustration? You don’t, and that’s one of the serious problems that has plagued this team all season. No fire.

Those fights from New Jersey weren’t about frustration or setting the tone, they were about saying, “Hey! Look at me! I’m a big bad fighter!” There wasn’t any reason that they needed to happen. If Craig Berube and his troops wanted to set the tone without their Captain, they would have forechecked, controlled their breakout, been physical, and fed off of each other. That didn’t happen in the slightest bit. They looked completely lost.

Would the game have gone differently if those fights never happened? Who knows. It certainly would have lessened the load on some of the other guys, considering the Flyers were already short forwards, but once again, it’s just playing a game of “What If?”

16:41.

You may ask yourself what that heading means. Just a number, right? Well, sort of. 16:41 is Jakub Voracek’s icetime against the Devils, and it’s mind baffling.

As you probably know by now, both Claude Giroux and Scott Laughton were missing from the Flyers arsenal on Saturday night. Arguably, the Flyers most explosive player, and their point leader, should have been utilized to his full potential when the Flyers were short, so why wasn’t he?

I can’t tap into Craig Berube’s head, but I sure do not know what he was thinking here. Voracek had played over 20 minutes in each of the previous two games, and that was with Giroux and Laughton in the lineup. Remove those two from the lineup, and Voracek’s ice time drops by almost 4 minutes? How does that make any sense at all?

To give you an idea of where Voracek stood in ice time in the game, Sean Couturier had 21:16 TOI, Brayden Schenn had 18:24 TOI, Matt Read had 18:19 TOI, Wayne Simmonds had 15:02 TOI, and RJ Umberger had 15:25 TOI. That certainly isn’t utilizing your top scorer. To make matters worse, 1:47 of that ice time was powerplay time. His even strength time was 14:54, which was just a few seconds more than guys like Bellemare and VandeVelde.

The questions about playing time don’t end there. Michael Del Zotto and Andrew MacDonald both saw north of 20 minutes of ice time in the game, and Luke Schenn and Nick Schultz both saw 16-plus minutes of ice time in the game. However, arguably, the three most solid (I use that term relatively) defensemen the Flyers have, saw little ice time. Braydon Coburn saw 14:44, Nicklas Grossmann saw 13:50, and Mark Streit, who I would say has been consistent and very solid all season, saw 15:34.

It’s hard to justify giving Andrew MacDonald almost 21 minutes of ice time with the way he has played, especially as of late, while giving your top defenseman just over 15 minutes of ice time. It’s also even more tough to justify cutting Jakub Voracek’s ice time by nearly 4 minutes when he is undoubtedly the best player on the ice for either team.

Lost.

If you had to choose one word to describe the team, that’s pretty much what it adds up to. Their breakout is horrendous, the forwards are lost in the defensive zone, the team comes unraveled, and the coach is making decisions that no one can explain or justify.

A lot of people in Philadelphia keep wondering when things will turn around, but we’re now 39 games into the season, this isn’t last year. Claude Giroux is producing at an alarming rate this year, Jakub Voracek is on pace to lead the league in points, even Vinny Lecavalier is starting to put pucks in the net, and could very well match his goal total from last year. Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, and Wayne Simmonds are also all on pace to match or exceed their point totals from last season. So what’s wrong?

If you’re asking me, I blame a lot of it on systems. This team is pretty much the same team that went 38-20-9 last year after that daunting 4-10-1 start to the season, and while some players aren’t producing, none of the systems are adapting.

The Flyers can’t breakout. All you have to do is keep your eyes on one of the forwards in the defensive zone, they run around chasing the puck. A Flyer defenseman will corral the puck in the corner, throw it up the wall, with no forward there to catch it and start a breakout to the middle. It’s a simple positioning fix that has gone unnoticed. When they do finally get the puck out of the zone, the rest of the forwards mosey their way to the bench for a change because they just ran around for a minute and a half. It’s a vicious cycle.

Their penalty kill is too easy to beat. Go cross ice, it’s about as simple as that to score against the kill. The Rangers exploited it to a tee in last years playoff series, and ever since then teams have caught on. The Flyers on the other hand? Still working the same broken system.

It’s unorganized, it’s lacking fire, and it’s lacking heart. That’s been the moral of the story for the 2014-2015 Flyers so far. There’s still time for it to change, but if this weekend was any indication, there’s a long way to go, and some of those changes need to happen very fast.