The Flyers have finally solidified their defense by adjusting the back end of the lineup to be less offensively focused and more defensively balanced. While this move has successfully created the defensive balance it aimed to achieve, it has absolutely drained the team of its offensive capabilities. As mentioned in part 1, there have been some questionable moves upfront that may be contributing to the lack of offensive production, but the biggest changes have been on the back end. While the changes that have been made regarding the setup of the defense have been the right changes to make by the coaching staff, the team is not utilizing its personnel properly to ensure an adequate level of offensive production.
The Flyers have carried eight defensemen this year, one more than is normal for a NHL team. With this many options on the back end, the Flyers should be able to piece together lineup that is defensively responsible and enables offensive movement. How can they do this? First it is important to understand they type of defensemen the Flyers have.
The are three categories defensemen fall into:
- Offensive Defensemen (OD) – Players who skate well and are able to move the puck. They can jump into the play with ease in the offensive end. Defensively, they look to gain control of the puck and use their offensive skill set to get out of trouble. When they cannot, they tend to drift out of position which opens up the team defensively. Shayne Gostisbehere, Andrew MacDonald, Michael Del Zotto.
- Defensive Defensemen (DD) – Players who will not contribute much offensively, but will keep the opposing team in check. They excel at blocking shots, taking away passing/shooting lanes, and winning board battles. While they my not be the fastest skaters or best puck handlers, they will ensure the puck is cleared from the defensive zone and dumped in deep. Radko Gudas, Nick Schultz
- Two Way Defensemen (TWD) – These are defensemen that are both defensively responsible and are able to chip in offensively consistently. While their ability may range from average to elite, one side of their game does not out perform the other. Mark Streit, Brandon Manning, Ivan Provorov.
Given these option, how can the Flyers better utilize their defensive option under their current strategy of playing a balanced defense. The key is to find pairs that complement each other well. For example pair on OD with a DD, two TWD’s together. It is also necessary to create a lineup that allows for pairings to be adjusted mid game. Taking this into consideration and honoring the Flyers current defensive scheme, their optimal defensive pairings would look something like this:
Pair 1 – Ivan Provorov – Mark Streit
By allowing the young defenseman to play with a seasoned veteran his development will be helped. Both are two way players that will be able to hold their own in the defensive end and help offensively making them an attractive option in any situation.
Pair 2 – Shayne Gostisbehere – Nick Schultz
Considering the goal is to spark the offense, Shayne Gostisbehere must be inserted into the lineup. However, his utter lack of defensive responsibility this season requires him to be paired with a defensively responsible player that can offset his aggressiveness and the mistakes that result from it. While Gudas may seem like the obvious choice, he needs to be used as part of the shutdown defensive pairing. The next player on the depth chart that can fill this role is Schultz, who also moves the puck slightly better than Gudas. This will benefit Gostisbehere offensively as the slightly better puck movement Shultz provides will allow him to create more offense. This pairing should be used primarily in offensive situations.
Pair 3 – Brandon Manning – Radko Gudas
This pairing will be the shutdown pair for the flyers. While Manning does show promise in his offensive game, his development is tracking towards that of a defensive defenseman. By pairing him with Gudas, Manning can both open up offensively and further develop his defensive skills. This could ultimately solidify him as a true TWD. Considering his best chance to stay on this team, is to fill Schultz’s role once his contract expires, this pairing will have long term benefits for the team, especially if his defensive minded partner does in fact unlock Manning’s full offensive potential. This pairing is one that will see a lot of ice time when protecting a one goal lead late.
Scratches – Andrew MacDonald – Michael Del Zotto
The scratches are the odd men out at this point. While MacDonald has been a regular in the lineup, this is more a ploy to make him more attractive to either find a trade partner or, more likely, have Las Vegas take him in the expansion draft. Looking out for the long term for the team, the sooner MacDonald and his contract are off the books the better, but coming down the stretch it is time to play the best lineup available. MacDonald is not part of that lineup. On the other end of the spectrum we have the capable, sometimes injured, often times scratched Del Zotto. To me he is the Flyers 7th defensemen. If they need more offense he can be slotted into the line up in Manning’s pairing with Gudas. Manning then would replace Schultz in the lineup who would become the scratch in Del Zotto’s place. This would keep the pairings balanced and should equate to a similar defensive performance.
These personnel changes will help the Flyers tremendously as they will keep the back end solidified and provide offense. With a group of defensemen that are able to complement one another well, the forwards will have the support behind them to open up. This will lead to more opportunities and more production for the Flyers. This higher production combined with the new defensive effectiveness will lead to more wins and more points.