When the opportunity comes, seize it.
The basic concept is something that the Philadelphia Flyers have struggled with capitalizing on during the 2016-17 season. The Orange and Black gave up another power play goal on Monday, their seventh in their last 15 penalty kills.
“I would say it is a big part of the NHL these days,” Steve Mason said when asked about the importance of special teams play. “We have to find ways to come out on top in the special team battle because, they are such an important part of the game. We had our opportunities on the power play and unfortunately were not able to convert it more than once. They have the opportunity in the third, we have to kill that off.”
Mason gave up four goals, but none of them softies: a slapshot from the slot, a 2-on-0 breakaway, one where he was screened off the faceoff by two of his own defensemen and one where he was screened on the power play. It wasn’t the best of nights defensively for the Flyers, although it was about par for the course this season.
Their defense wasn’t the only issue either; the power play has been a shell of itself this season. Philadelphia has two of the NHL’s leaders in power play goals with Brayden Schenn (15) and Wayne Simmonds (14) flip-flopping atop the leaderboard, as well as the NHL’s power play point leader in Claude Giroux (28).
“I think the puck was moving well,” Giroux said on the team’s power play chemistry. “We had the chances we wanted to have, the plays we wanted, just didn’t go in.”
Shayne Gostisbehere has played much better after struggling to get pucks on net throughout the early part of the season, but he his two goals from the point haven’t helped the team much this season.
Ghost’s goals are down and much of that goes to the ineffectiveness to get pucks through. His power play production isn’t down, however, as he’s put up 19 points on the man advantage compared to 22 points last season.
The team’s first unit has also had tendencies to be too predictable at times, most of that coming from having Giroux and Gostisbehere play catch at the top of the power play and trying to get puck through for Schenn and Simmonds.
Jake Voracek, the team’s point leader with 54 points, has been the team’s most consistent player not named Wayne Simmonds. He’s bounced back after a tough start to the 2015-16 season and some spurts in 2016-17, but his game looks like it’s back to where it’s been in years past.
The team’s power play still has the fourth-most goals this season with 48, which is just five off the NHL lead, but their lack of even-strength scoring puts that much more pressure on the power play to succeed.
Time and time again, the Flyers have not capitalized on being the most dominant power play in the NHL and it’s due to the team’s ineptness on 5-on-5.
The Flyers are currently -30 in goal differential with 170 goals for and 200 goals against. When you have to rely on your team’s power play to be the main producer on offense, their struggles and slumps are magnified because the bulk of the scoring disappears.
They were phenomenal on the power play during the 10-game winning streak, scoring nine goals in 10 games from Nov. 27 to Dec. 16 and only giving up four goals against on the man-advantage.
The Flyers’ best special teams play this season came during the 10-game streak. They were shorthanded 46 times during that streak and only gave up four goals. Flash forward to their most recent stretch, where the team has given up seven over their last 15 attempts and sits at 23rd in the league on the penalty kill (79.5% kill rate).
So what does the head coach have to say about the struggles on both sides of the puck?
“We did a very good job tonight through three and a half minutes of PK,” Dave Hakstol said. “Their play got through a seam. They made a good play through a seam. Their guy made a good shot short side. Obviously, we got to do a little bit better but no it’s not a change in personnel.”
He was satisfied with his team’s power play puck movement as well.
“We had some real good power play opportunities, obviously that’s one area we got to swing the game our way,” he said. “Especially during that stretch in the second period, but when you have that amount of power play back to back to back it can come at you fast.”
“… The power play in a lot of ways in that period did their job,” he continued. “They got us back in the game, they pushed the momentum back our way and we were able to gain the lead off of it. But we weren’t able to hold that through the end of the period.”
The power play couldn’t deliver at the most important times and neither could the penalty kill. Defenseman Radko Gudas knows it’s tough to be a good PK-unit in the NHL, but isn’t sure on what the team is doing wrong.
“I am not sure,” he said. “I have to take a good look at all of the goals. We have to make sure we are better at killing the pucks, that’s for sure.. and probably communicating better in our zone.”
Was the 10-game winning streak the perfect disguise for a subpar team this season? Probably, but the Flyers have had every opportunity and then some to win games this season.
“It could have been a lot different story if on the power play we buckled down,” Schenn said. “We weren’t good enough and we know that, no matter how many chances we got tonight.”
The opportunities came and weren’t seized. That’s the tale of this year’s Philadelphia Flyers.
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