Skip to content
Our Archives
Link copied to clipboard

Power play par excellence

Joe Mullen has perked things up.

During Flyers games, second-year assistant Joe Mullen sits at press level, higher than the nose-bleed sections, and is closer to the roof than the ice.

Don't let his location fool you. Mullen, the Flyers' "eye in the sky," has a great view. He can see plays develop and can analyze what the team needs to do to make its power play work.

The power play is Mullen's baby. Two-plus months into the season, that baby has matured into one of the NHL's most successful units.

It has been attacking like Don Rickles in his prime - and has been one of the main reasons for the club's climb in the Atlantic Division standings.

Heading into the weekend, the Flyers' power play was third in the NHL with a 26.6 percent success rate - just below Detroit (27.3 percent) and Boston (27 percent) - and was a staggering 27 for 77 (35.1 percent) at home.

In other words, the Flyers are having the type of power-play success Mullen enjoyed during his 16-year Hall of Fame career.

Playing alongside such stars as Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Paul Coffey, Rick Tocchet and Kevin Stevens, Mullen scored 150 of his 502 career goals on the power play. That's the 40th highest power-play total in NHL history.

With those kind of credentials, when Mullen speaks in practices or meetings - or between periods after he takes an elevator ride and goes to the locker room - his players listen. Attentively.

"We're here to help each other," said the soft-spoken Mullen, 51, in his thick New York City accent, "and we have mutual respect for each other."

Mullen, who stresses quick puck movement and lots of shots, addresses the team between periods and explains an opponent's defensive tendencies and what the Flyers can do to make the power play click.

Under Mullen's guidance, the Flyers' power-play finished second in the league with 21.8 percent success rate last year. Only Montreal (24.1 percent) was better, but the Canadiens have dropped to 13.7 percent this year.

The Flyers' power play struggled in this season's first five games, going just 3 for 28 (10.7 percent). It is not a coincidence that the club lost all five games.

During the early power-play struggles, the club was trying to get too cute with its passing and wasn't shooting enough.

That's changed. The Flyers aren't looking for the perfect shot anymore. They're taking more shots, scoring on rebounds, getting a big body (hello, Mike Knuble and Scott Hartnell) in front of the goalie and keeping the puck in the opponents' end for most of the power play.

"Joey does a good job of presenting what the opposition is trying to do and the opportunities we might have against them," said coach John Stevens, whose team watches lots of power-play video, "and then we turn it in the hands of the players."

Simon Gagne, Knuble and Mike Richards, three of the Flyers' top power-play performers, praised Mullen for his ability to adjust on the fly. If Mullen sees something that needs immediate addressing during games, he can talk to assistants Craig Berube (who has done a masterful job with the penalty-killing unit) and Jack McIlhargey on their headsets behind the bench.

"Joey's up top, and the game looks easy from up there," Stevens said. "You can see things that you probably can't see from the bench. And he's in communication with the bench - not just about the power play, but about everything. Sometimes, it's just simple puck recovery and [the need] to battle hard around the puck, and sometimes it's, 'They're taking this away, let's try this.' "

The Flyers have an unusual amount of quality power-play depth, with Richards, Gagne and Knuble on the first unit, and Jeff Carter, Hartnell and Joffrey Lupul on the almost-as-dangerous second unit. They have thrived even though power-play specialist Danny Briere has played in just nine games because of injuries. Without Briere, Richards has moved from the point to up front.

The power play is stronger than last year because Gagne has made a sensational return from a concussion and because it has four puck-moving defensemen who can play the point: Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Matt Carle and Luca Sbisa. Defenseman Randy Jones should also aid the unit when he returns from an injury.

"We've got more point guys we can use this year," Mullen said.

And just the man to point them in the right direction.