Four games into the season. Two losses, two shootout losses, a blown 3-0 lead, and countless missed opportunities. That’s the storyline so far in Philadelphia, and if those storylines are going to get any better, then Craig Berube needs to put some serious emphasis on positioning in practice, because it is far and away the top problem the Flyers have right now, and it’s not with who you may have expected.
Digging Their Own Grave
The forwards. I don’t need to bring up the issue of defense with the Flyers, because it goes back far enough and has quite honestly been beaten to death. However, I will say that the forwards get off the hook extremely easy when it comes to their responsibilities in the defensive zone, and it needs to be addressed because it is one of the Flyers biggest problems. It’s happened numerous times already this season and has costed the team multiple one goal games.
This was the goal Michael Ryder scored against the Flyers in their home opener last week. You don’t even need to play the video to see what is wrong, the thumbnail illustrates it perfectly (Notice the straight line of players radiating out from the net). Luke Schenn defends Ryan Clowe across the blue line and neutralizes and chance he has to fire the puck towards the net. Neither winger took responsibility to hang back, infact, both of them are staring at the puck not even paying any attention to Ryder coming across the blueline.
Just a game later, the same exact lack of defensive responsibility by the forwards. Take note that when Gallagher has the puck behind the net, all five Flyers collapsed below the hashmarks.
Jakub Voracek (the winger who is supposed to be covering the defenseman) is actually below the icing line. The puck squirted back out to a wide open Markov and all it took was a wrist shot through traffic to kickstart the comeback. If the forwards were in position, that puck would have been chipped off the glass and out.
Last but certainly not least, the game against Anaheim a few nights ago. This is a text book example of a Flyers defenseman doing exactly what he is on the ice to do, and the forward screwing up. The play develops as Andrew MacDonald clears the puck away from the front of the net and up the boards. If Michael Raffl was where he was supposed to be, he’d be able to chip that puck out of the zone and break out no problem. Instead, as MacDonald is about to clear the puck, Raffl is toward the slot, covering no one, leaving the point wide open. Instead of breaking out or clearing the puck, the Ducks moved the puck and got a shot off from the point that was tipped by Smith-Pelly and in.
An Ongoing Problem
It’s not new for the Flyers. It started last year after Craig Berube took over and it killed them in the playoffs as well (see Dan Girardi’s goal from game 3 against the Rangers), and it has already cost them three games this year (all the games mentioned above were one-goal games). There isn’t a stat you can pin to the problem either. Infact, the play of the forwards actually inflates the amount of turnovers the defenseman have and decreases the amount of turnovers the forwards have, despite it being the opposite effect. The defense may not be the best in the league, but it’s definitely not getting any help from the rest of the team.
The Flyers defense is no doubt the first one to catch the blame off of a bad loss or a bad goal, but it’s time to start looking at the responsibility of the forwards to accompany what the defenseman are doing. That is where Craig Berube needs to start looking if he wants to get back in the win column.
Matt is a contributor for the Philadelphia Flyers at The Hockey Writers. He has previously covered the Flyers for GrandstandU. He enjoys playing hockey and making music in his spare time.