The day after the Flyers’ 5-4 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, interim coach Mike Yeo had a stern conversation with the team, angry with players’ lack of “winning attitude.”
If Yeo didn’t a see change in work ethic, then it would be time to get “dirty” — players would lose playing time and responsibilities, especially as the roster’s health improves and competition for spots increases.
That message was received on Saturday in the Flyers’ 4-3 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in which the team played with a physical edge and closed out a third period. Despite improvements at 5-on-5 , however, the Flyers power play went scoreless in four opportunities.
“Just like we talked about the other day as far as we have to start sending hard messages, that goes for the power play, too,” Yeo said. “And if guys aren’t doing the job, then they’re going to have to come off.”
Since Yeo took over as interim coach on Dec. 6, the Flyers’ power play is ranked 28th in the league with a 14.1% success rate. They’ve scored one power-play goal in their last six games on 16 opportunities.
The usual suspects have had roles on the power play for the majority of the season, including top-six forwards Claude Giroux, Cam Atkinson, Joel Farabee, Travis Konecny, and James van Riemsdyk. Defensemen Keith Yandle and Ivan Provorov have also spent most of the season quarterbacking each of the Flyers’ units.
In practice on Monday, those players remained on the power play, but Yeo is experimenting with different wrinkles. As he did in Saturday’s game, Yeo utilized defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen as a net-front presence on the second unit. Defenseman Travis Sanheim could be next in line for a shot on the power play.
“I can tell you that it’s in discussion right now, that’s for sure,” Yeo said. “He should be ready to grow into this and mature enough to handle it. I know in the past, there was times where we talked where we put him there and then the rest of this game dropped a little bit. But I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I think he’s playing at a real high level and that competition should be there.”
While capitalizing on the power play is a point of emphasis for the Flyers, the turnaround starts with trying to generate momentum that can be carried into 5-on-5 play. The Flyers’ power play has struggled with clean zone entries, which can lead to a demoralizing two minutes that bleeds into the ensuing time at even strength.
“You lose a faceoff, puck goes down, you try to break out and get into the offensive zone, you turn the puck over, go back down,” Yeo said. “You do that two or three times and you really haven’t ... it sort of feels like a wasted opportunity. The other team builds confidence off that and like I said, we lose momentum.”
Connauton ‘doing a lot better’
Halfway through the third period of Saturday’s game against the Blackhawks, defenseman Kevin Connauton was shaken up when center Kirby Dach hit him in the head from behind along the boards. Connauton had to be helped to the locker room and he did not return.
At practice Monday, Connauton was the only player of note who did not participate. However, Yeo shared that Connauton appeared to be doing “a lot better” after seeing him at the practice facility on Sunday.
“I’m not sure what the timeline is for him,” Yeo said. “He’s not gonna play [on Tuesday]. But I do think there’s a chance he could maybe get on the ice. So real, real positive.”
In 14 games with the Flyers, Connauton has not registered a point and is minus-three.
Mayhew in, Willman out
After sitting out Saturday as a healthy scratch, winger Gerry Mayhew will return to the Flyers’ lineup on Tuesday against the Vegas Golden Knights. He will assume a spot on the fourth line at left wing in place of Max Willman and alongside center Patrick Brown and right winger Zack MacEwen.
While Mayhew has spent most of his time with the Flyers on the third line, Yeo said he isn’t looking for Mayhew to alter his energetic, speedy style of play.
“I think that’s a big thing for any player is every one of them has a game,” Yeo said. “You shouldn’t have to change your game based on who you’re playing with. So I feel that he can add a lot of speed and maybe even a threat of scoring a goal with that line and still have the ability to get in on the forecheck and do all the little things right.”
In 20 games this season, Mayhew has scored six goals. Dating back to his debut as a Flyer on Dec. 29, Mayhew is tied for third on the team in goals with captain Claude Giroux and winger Oskar Lindblom.
Goalie Carter Hart (35 games played, 2.94 goals against average, .910 save percentage) will start in net against the Golden Knights.