Scoring on special teams has not been a problem for the Flyers.
They are fourth in the league on the power play, fifth on the penalty kill and lead in shorthanded goals. That is usually enough to ensure they will win games. But the problem has been that they are struggling to score at even strength during regulation play.
"I think special teams are critical and I think special teams are going to really enhance your chances of winning and make the difference in hockey games, but in and of itself I don't think you can rely on them just like I don't think you can just rely on your five-on-five play,'' said coach John Stevens.
With that in mind and with the New York Islanders in the Wachovia Center tonight, the Flyers spent some practice time yesterday juggling lines and focusing on even-strength play. They have gone three-plus games without scoring a regulation, even-strength goal.
"We are creating chances five-on-five, we just don't think we're creating them at the rate we are capable of,'' Stevens said. "Even if you look at the last Carolina game [on Saturday], we had some really good opportunities that didn't end up in the net and a few didn't even end up with shots on the net, so the message [in practice yesterday] was, let's tighten up the details in what we're doing.
"Don't just go to the net, stop at the net; don't just shoot, shoot to score. We're just not finishing at the net."
As always, Stevens tweaked his lines, moving Joffrey Lupul to the second line with Scott Hartnell and Jeff Carter, and Scottie Upshall to the third line with Glen Metropolit and Andreas Nodl.
Some of that had to do with even-strength opportunities and some had to do with trying to get Lupul more ice time and contributing more on offense.
Lupul is averaging just about 15 minutes a game, but there are games when he is down around 12 minutes. He has eight goals and five assists. Playing him with Carter probably will mean more time on the power play as well as even strength. Lupul played a bit last season with Hartnell and they had some chemistry together.
"I think it's good for him to be with us,'' Hartnell said. "We're lighting the lamp; well, I'm not, I've been snake-bitten the last couple of weeks. But they'll start going in and when they go in, they tend to go in bunches.
"[Lupul] is a great player around the net, he's got really soft hands and right now he's just, I don't know what he's doing, but we've got to get back on the right page, and me, him and [Carter] had a good practice and hopefully we'll carry it into the game.''
Lupul hasn't been complaining but neither will he shy away from expressing a bit of frustration at his ice time this season. He would also like to score more goals, but he sees the two as intertwined.
"I definitely would like to score more," he said. "The minutes haven't been as high as I'd like. It's tougher to play offense in that situation, but I would definitely like to find a scoring touch and get on a roll here.
"I've felt really good, actually,'' he said. "The past five or six games I've felt like I had my legs and felt strong out there. But hopefully with a little more opportunity the scoring will come.''
had an MRI on his gimpy back yesterday and the results showed there is no damage. He has missed the last three games with soreness and back spasms and will not play again tonight.
"He remains day-to-day, with an upper-body injury," general manager Paul Holmgren said. "We are hopeful that the anti-inflammatory medicine he has been taking will bring relief soon."