Series: How Can the Flyers Improve Given Their Current Situation? – Defensive Tweaking Part 1

Of the two issues facing the Flyers their defensive play has been the bigger concern.  The offense has been streaky, but has done enough to keep the team in the playoff race.  The defense however has been consistently subpar by NHL standards up until the last three games.

Over the course of the season, the Flyers have given up 160 goals to the 139 they’ve scored. They also rank 25th in GAA giving up 2.95 goals per game.  While some of this is due to the below average season both Steve Mason (.900 Sv%) and Michal Neuvirth (.893 Sv%) are having in net, some of their poor goal tending statistics can be attributed to the team playing in front of them and the tactics they employ.

For most of the season the Flyers have played a set of defensemen that are predominantly offensive minded and excel at moving the puck.  In essence, the Flyers defense is most effective when they can collect the puck in space, move it out of the defensive zone and play at the other end of the ice. This tactic is one that I am not a fan of, especially against strong offensive teams like those in the metropolitan division, and will lead to the following issues.

  1. Their aggressiveness in the offensive end often leads to missed coverages due to forwards not recognizing the point position needs to be covered, leading to several odd man rush situations defensively.
  2. Due to their ability to skate with the puck, the defensemen are less likely to use an outlet pass and more likely to attempt to skate the puck to the neutral zone when attempting to breakout of their own end.  This leads to a greater number of dangerous turnover situations in the defensive end as one defenseman is already beat when a turnover occurs.  Unless a forward is caught deep, then there is most likely only going to be one defending player to attempt to disrupt the scoring chance that ensues.
  3. When the team gets penned in, the front of the net is often times left with a poor net front presence.  This is due to the fact that when two offensive minded defensemen are caught in their own end, they have a tendency to chase more than a stay at home defenseman would.  As they get pulled out of position gaps and passing lanes open up in front of the net and we see a back door goal given up, something the Flyers have done countless times this season.

In order to try and try to solidify their defense, they Flyers have set up their defense in a more neutral manner where defensive defensemen at minimum equal the number of offensive defensemen and it has benefitted them greatly defensively.  Over the last three games since the change the team has only given up 4 goals.  If the Flyers can continue this performance, they will win a lot of hockey games in the future.  The issue though has now been offense.  During the three games where the defense has been much improved, the Flyers have only scored three goals, one of which was an empty netter.  Additionally, they have been shutout in their last two games.

While this stretch has included some questionable personnel moves up front, tweaking the defensive pairings and utilizing the eight defensemen they carry in a way that fully maximizes their effectiveness, the team’s offensive output will improve.  This will be discussed in the next portion of this series.

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