The Flyers’ attack and power play have looked better in three of the four games under interim coach Mike Yeo.
Is it a mirage or a product of a new mindset/system under Yeo and the new power-play director, assistant Darryl Williams?
“The last couple days, we’ve talked about trusting your teammates and knowing they’ll be in the right spot,” right winger Travis Konecny said after the Flyers’ power play went a combined 3-for-6 in wins over Vegas and Arizona over the weekend. “... Our mindset is attacking. Don’t always need to set up. Funnel pucks to the net and get guys going there.”
Under Yeo, the Flyers have scored 14 goals — five against Colorado, four in Vegas, and five in Arizona — over three games, along with a meek 3-0 loss to New Jersey.
“We haven’t been perfect, and for sure it’s a work in progress,” said Yeo on Monday after the Flyers, who just finished playing five games in seven nights, had their first full practice since he was named the interim coach a week earlier. “But I do hope that one thing that has been evident, because it has been very evident to me, is the work ethic. You see the way our players are tracking back, the way they’re competing and battling.”
Before Yeo replaced Alain Vigneault, the Flyers had scored three goals or fewer in 17 straight games.
They are emphasizing shorter passes to keep the gaps tighter, stronger play with and without the puck, better transitioning out of their zone, and always being together on the ice — or as Yeo said, if you paused a video, you should see four or five Flyers in the photo’s frame.
“I thought we were more connected; we weren’t as spread out in the zones,” said defenseman Justin Braun, whose team hosts New Jersey on Tuesday. “Coming out a little cleaner, getting through the neutral zone a little quicker. We still have things to work on, but I thought in those two wins, we accomplished that.”
New Jersey (10-11-5) has 5-2 and 3-0 wins over the Flyers (10-12-4) this season.
“They’re a fast team, and if we get spread out, they’re going to find the holes,” Braun said. “We have to work as a five-man unit. ... I didn’t think we were doing that too well during the losing streak.”
Braun said the systems under Vigneault and Yeo are not that different. “Just a few details that we’ve changed, but we can’t start from scratch with the amount of practice time we have, so you try to implement little things as we go.”
“It was nice to get a practice in today and try to learn on the fly,” winger James van Riemsdyk said, adding that subtleties on positioning and the way the players exit the zone are among the changes thus far.
Van Riemsdyk, who has three goals over the last two games, said the 4-3 Friday win over talented Vegas lifted a weight off the players. It ended a 10-game losing streak in which they had been outscored, 46-18.
When the team is losing, “there’s a little bit of hesitation” in your game,” van Riemsdyk said. “It’s such a fine line to be successful and productive, so certainly having that good result against Vegas and finding a way to win that game was huge. It kind of lets a little bit of that mental load creep off us. Then you get back to feeling good, and sometimes that’s all it takes — a bounce or two to go your way as a player or a team. It can kind of get rolling from there.”
Vigneault’s firing “kind of grabs the attention of everybody left standing,” van Riemsdyk added. “... It’s unfortunate that someone has to lose their job, but obviously now we have to move forward as a team.”
“We’ve taken some steps,” Yeo said, “but it’s going to take time. ... Until we start seeing it shift after shift, guy after guy, that’s when you know it’s going to be there.”
The offense figures to get more of a boost when left winger Joel Farabee returns from an apparent shoulder injury — he practiced Monday in a non-contact jersey — and physical right winger Wade Allison, who is with the Phantoms after recovering from a high ankle sprain, is deemed ready to be promoted. Yeo said Allison has been “buzzing all over the ice, so his skating looks good. He’s already made an impact with their group, so it’s good news.”
Center Derick Brassard, who skated Monday before practice, is also trying to make his way back from a lower-body injury, and Yeo said the Flyers will be cautious on deciding when he returns.