The Flyers’ second-power play unit was powerless last season, scoring just two goals the whole season when the entire No. 2 group was together.
That unit entered the weekend with five goals in the first eight games this season and had outscored the so-called first unit (three goals).
Credit the players for buying into new assistant coach Michel Therrien’s system.
Credit Therrien for tinkering with a power play that was just 22nd in the NHL last season, converting 17.1 percent of the time despite having such weapons as Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds (for a while), Jake Voracek, James van Riemsdyk, Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny, and Shayne Gostisbehere.
This season, albeit a small sample size, the Flyers were sixth in the NHL heading into the weekend, clicking at 25.8 percent.
“They’re the ones that deserve the credit because they’re the ones executing it,” said Therrien, who has replaced the dismissed Kris Knoblauch as the power-play boss.
The second unit helped key the 6-2 win over Vegas on Monday, getting goals from Konecny and Matt Niskanen, who was acquired in an offseason trade with Washington.
“I think we have a couple more different looks, and we’re a little more of a threat with Nisky, who is right-handed and has his one-timer over there,” Konecny said. “We’re moving the puck and just trying to get pucks to the net, and if we can score off the rush, then why not take it to the net?”
Couturier has dropped down to the second unit this season, and Niskanen has also made a difference on that unit with his veteran smarts. The unit also includes the blossoming Oskar Lindblom, who was a part-time power-play participant last season; Konecny; and Ivan Provorov. Nolan Patrick and Simmonds or van Riemsdyk (and sometimes Travis Sanheim) were among second-unit performers last year.
The first unit lately has been composed of Giroux, van Riemsdyk, Voracek, Joel Farabee, and Gostisbehere.
Both units have the same players who play on the first and second lines, giving them more continuity because they are used to each other.
Therrien, a former head coach with Montreal and Pittsburgh, doesn’t distinguish between the units. Neither does head coach Alain Vigneault.
Both feel they have two No. 1 units, which is far different from last season.
“I don’t call them No. 1 or No. 2, and AV is the same way,” Therrien said before the Flyers’ 4-1 win Thursday in Chicago. “It’s just a philosophy I wanted to change a little bit from last year.”
In the offseason, Therrien studied video of the power play and decided the players weren’t aggressive enough, and maybe could be shooting a bit more “at the right time,” he said.
“I watched the power play from last year and I wanted to change the mindset a little bit of the guys on the ice,” Therrien said. “We wanted to have different looks and didn’t want to be predictable.”
Therrien said “there are going to be times when the power play isn’t scoring much, but I want a power play to be aggressive and give us momentum. Sometimes it’s not about scoring, but you go hard to the net and go about your business and it can give you momentum even if you don’t score.”
Couturier said Therrien has been a positive influence.
“He been great. He emphasizes getting pucks to the net and being all business out there and not being loose,” the ninth-year center said. “Try to have that killer instinct when you’re out there.”
The second unit has done a great job with its entries and carrying the puck into the offensive zone.
“That’s ideal,” Niskanen said, “but sometimes the smart play is to chip it to your buddy with speed and retreat. It depends how the penalty kill is playing it. If they’re stacked at the blue line, it’s hard to carry it in. It all depends how your breakouts set up. I think the key is to just have as many options as possible.”
So far, the options have been plentiful. So far, the Flyers’ second unit – uh, one of their two top units – has helped make the power play dangerous again.