Under interim coach Mike Yeo, the Flyers have suddenly located the back of the net, especially several players who had been in long offensive funks.
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily anything to do with that,” defenseman Travis Sanheim said the other day when asked about the coaching change affecting the team. “… I think it’s just confidence right now. I know I have a lot more confidence right now.”
Since Yeo replaced Alain Vigneault, the Flyers are 4-2-1, and in those seven games:
* Sanheim has six points, including his first two goals of the season. Before that, he had just three points over his first 22 games.
* James van Riemsdyk has five points, including three goals (two on the power play). Before that, he had gone nine straight games without a point.
* Oskar Lindblom (five points, including three goals) and Travis Konecny (seven assists) have also thrived in those seven games. Prior to the coaching change, Lindblom had one point and no goals in 21 games, while Konecny had two points in his previous 13 games.
The players say the systems used by Yeo and Vigneault are similar, but based on their production, something dramatic is happening, albeit a small sample size.
“We’re doing everything we can to talk to each individual,” Yeo said after practice Monday in Voorhees. “We’re doing everything we can to sort of put them in a [good] situation — whether it’s playing them with players we feel could benefit them and could bring out their skill and sort of use their identity. We’re just going to keep harping on a team game ... and that puts each individual in a better position to have more success. ”
Yeo used Sanheim, a smooth-skating defenseman whose offense was nonexistent earlier in the season, as an example.
“If our forwards are doing the right things, he’s going to spend less time defending,” Yeo said. “He’s going to have an easier time retrieving pucks, getting out of our zone clean, and getting up ice and getting into the offensive-zone attack. Obviously, it’s difficult to create offense as a defenseman when you spend 30, 40 seconds of your shift in your own zone.
“And when I look at a guy like TK,” he added, referring to Konecny, ”and some of the things we’re trying to implement in our transition and how we attack and how we counter and the speed we can generate, I think that’s something that can really help a guy like that get to his game. Obviously, when you think about TK, you think of speed and moving your feet.”
Sanheim said his newfound confidence is why he is “taking the extra second to make plays. Holding on to pucks rather than throwing them away. When I’m doing that, I’m at my best.”
He’s also joining the rush and making plays deep in the offensive zone.
Van Riemsdyk and Lindblom have gotten more time on the power play lately. Lindblom was usually on the third or fourth lines with Vigneault, but partially because of injuries, he has played mostly on higher lines under Yeo. Van Riemsdyk has been primarily a third-line winger for both coaches, but Yeo has promoted him to the top power-play unit.
In the last five games, van Riemsdyk has been on a line centered by Kevin Hayes. But Hayes was put on the COVID-19 protocol list Monday, and Scott Laughton could replace him at center.
Van Riemsdyk acknowledged players have been “used a little differently”under Yeo, and said the coaching change was a “chance to reset and get back to basics a little bit ... and maybe play a little freer in certain situations. I think our systems are similar, and Yeosy’s done a good job re-emphasizing specific things he wants to see and getting everyone on the same page.”
The Flyers have scored four or more goals in five of the seven games with Yeo, and they have averaged 3.7 goals per contest under him. The Flyers averaged 1.68 goals per game in Vigneault’s final 19 games, and they scored more than three goals in just one of them.
When the Flyers (12-12-5) host Washington (18-6-7) on Tuesday, they will be without three players (Hayes, Morgan Frost, Max Willman) who are in COVID-19 protocol. They are also missing Ryan Ellis and Derick Brassard due to injury.
“Whatever it is, we have to deal with it,” Yeo said. “I think that’s what good teams do. They don’t get wrapped up in distractions, they don’t get wrapped up in excuses. You take a situation like this and treat it as a challenge.”
Washington is also facing a challenge. In their 3-2 loss Sunday to the Los Angeles Kings, the Capitals were without four forwards who were in COVID-19 protocols: centers Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Bäckström, and wingers T.J. Oshie and Michael Sgarbossa. Physical winger Tom Wilson missed his fourth straight game because of an upper-body injury.