If the Flyers don’t find a solution to their power-play woes soon, they’re going to return Sunday to a Wells Fargo Center full of fans begging them to “Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!” even more insistently than they already do.
“They [the fans] are on it,” said Keith Jones, a former Flyer, and NBC Sports Philadelphia’s color commentator for the team’s games and an NHL analyst with TNT. “They’re right about it. ... They’re all going to be yelling, ‘Shoot it.’ I mean, everyone wants to fix this problem because a team that has a bad power play normally doesn’t have much success.”
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To the fans’ point, the Flyers are not shooting a lot on the power play. The Flyers have just 74 shots on goal in just under 106 minutes of power-play time this season (0.70 shots per power-play minute, fifth-worst in the NHL). By comparison, the Edmonton Oilers, who have the league’s best power play at 37.7%, average 1.24 shots per power-play minute.
As the Flyers have reached a new low — six straight losses, their longest skid under coach Alain Vigneault — so has their power play. In those six losses, they’ve gone on the power play 16 times and scored just once. That single goal came in the 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on Nov. 20, when the Flyers went on the power play five times.
In the month of November, the Flyers scored just three power-play goals despite having the man advantage 40 times. They now have four goals over the last 50 power plays (8%) and are 8-for-61 (13.1%) this season, sixth-worst in the NHL.
But power plays aren’t all about goals, the players pointed out when the unit started to slip early in the season. They’re just as much about changing momentum. However, it’s reached a point where it’s a win if the unit simply avoids giving the other team a boost.
“I’m concerned,” Jones said, describing his reaction whenever the unit heads out there. “And I have very little confidence that they’re going to produce a goal. In fact, I’m worried that they’re going to take momentum away.”
And with each power play that goes by without a goal, the importance of scoring grows while the ability to create momentum shrinks, Jones said. Now, those dangerous chances that don’t go in start generating frustration rather than swinging favor. This was evident in Travis Konecny’s reaction after Mackenzie Blackwood made a great save on his snap shot in the second period against the Devils, as well as on the power play in the third period, which created good chances but was followed by a Devils goal a few minutes later.
“Now they have to score,” Jones said. “Nothing’s going to cure it until the goals start going in again.”
What’s going wrong?
There isn’t just one thing that’s causing the Flyers’ power-play troubles. The list includes problems with strategy, execution, communication and, maybe most important, confidence.
Scott Hartnell, a former Flyer and current NBC Sports Philadelphia analyst, isn’t much for analytics — “I don’t really understand them,” he said. But he understands enough to know that if you’re last in a category like power-play zone entries, that’s not good. The eye test also isn’t revealing good signs to him, either.
“I just feel like they’re having so much trouble setting up, they’re expending so much energy trying to get that puck back, where if they do miss one little pass, then it’s all the way down,” Hartnell said. “There’s frustration. You’re tired because you had to battle for the puck.”
It’s unusual that the Flyers are having as much trouble as they are, Jones said, because they have some of the strongest faceoff guys in the league. The problem for the Flyers has been maintaining possession after faceoff wins.
“So that puck’s sent down the ice,” Jones said. “You’ve already wasted 20 seconds. And now you’re already starting to push and press because you want to make something happen as quickly as you can.”
Hartnell has noticed the unit has gotten away from things that have worked in the past, like the drop pass they always did to Giroux and Jake Voracek. While Voracek, who has 10 power-play points this season with Columbus, is no longer with the team, Giroux is, as are a number of new players with power-play experience.
With fewer shots from the flanks, there are fewer pucks for those in front of the net to battle for. However, when they do, the Flyers are struggling to retrieve the rebounds and missed shots. To Jones’s eyes, those in front of the net need to fight harder, especially with the new cross-checking rules, and they also need to do a better job of screening the goalie and creating havoc.
What’s the solution?
The Flyers players and coaches are well aware of how bad it’s gotten. Ivan Provorov, who has been playing the point on the top unit, said they need to find a way to be better. Giroux, the left wing on the top unit, said there’s a lot of room for improvement. And Vigneault said that “obviously” something is not working.
Vigneault said that change starts with him. He knows he has players who have made power plays work in the past — over the past eight years, Keith Yandle has had at least 18 power-play points in every season (he has just two in 2021-22). Giroux has averaged 24 power-play points over the last five seasons per 82 games, and James van Riemsdyk, who Hartnell called one of the best net-front guys in the league, has averaged eight power-play goals during that stretch. Giroux has just four power-play points this season, while van Riemsdyk has scored just once with the man advantage.
While Hartnell respects Vigneault for “putting the onus” on his shoulders, both he and Jones think that the players need to find it within themselves to force a change. And, if they don’t, some new faces should be cycled in.
Jones said Scott Laughton is the perfect example. He was playing well against the Devils, so he could have provided a much-needed spark to one of the units. It would also have been both a reward for Laughton because, as Hartnell said, it’s a “privilege” to be on the power play, and an incentive for the players who get replaced to work harder to not lose their spots.
“And it’s not like you’re sitting a guy that has 15 goals,” Hartnell said. “You’re sitting a guy that hasn’t scored on the power play and has had a lot of opportunities. And maybe it’s time to put somebody else out there.”
As desperate as the situation seems, it’s not new, and there’s not any one solution. If there was an easy solution, it wouldn’t be a problem that’s stretched over seven seasons, according to general manager Chuck Fletcher.
“We haven’t had a good power play since ‘14-15,” Fletcher said. “Power play, since I’ve been here, has been an everyday question.”