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Let's face it: Flyers must be better on faceoffs

PETER LAVIOLETTE knows puck possession is the name of the game. The Flyers lacked it in Game 2. Faceoff statistics do not always paint the fullest picture, but for the Flyers, they were a plain way of explaining part of their trouble.

PETER LAVIOLETTE knows puck possession is the name of the game.

The Flyers lacked it in Game 2. Faceoff statistics do not always paint the fullest picture, but for the Flyers, they were a plain way of explaining part of their trouble.

Now, as the series shifts back to the Wachovia Center tonight with the Flyers in a 2-0 hole, faceoffs are one aspect of their game they know needs to be better.

Overall, the Flyers won just 26 of 64 battles within the red dots.

Most staggering, though, is the fact that the Flyers won just six of 23 faceoffs in the neutral zone - where the winner almost always goes unimpeded into the opposition's offensive zone or blasts the puck in to set up the offense.

"Faceoffs are an important part of the game," Laviolette said. "Puck possession - we're either chasing it or having it and looking to attack. So, faceoffs are always a key. Especially when you lose one and we give up a goal."

That's exactly what happened on Boston's first goal on Monday night. Mike Richards was booted from the faceoff circle by the linesman and Scott Hartnell was forced to take the draw. Hartnell lost it cleanly to Patrice Bergeron, who sent it back to defenseman Johnny Boychuk. Before Hartnell could look up, the puck was in the back of the net.

It is always harder to win faceoffs in the offensive zone, most players will tell you, because every draw can lead to a scoring chance. The Flyers weren't half-bad in Game 2 in Boston's end, going 10-for-21 in front of Tuukka Rask.

"It's obviously big," said Darroll Powe, who centered the Flyers' third line. "Any time you win a faceoff, you start with the puck instead of chasing it down. We want to make sure we have the puck as often as possible, and faceoffs are where that starts."

In their own end, the Flyers won exactly 50 percent of the draws. Powe was the Flyers' best centerman defensively, winning four of five.

"They've been pretty solid on the faceoffs," Powe said. "A lot of times, it's just about making adjustments as you go. Really, we just need to bear down and win those battles."

Bergeron, who won 73 percent of his faceoffs, was a constant thorn in the Flyers' side. He was an impressive 4-for-6 in the offensive zone and 9-for-9 in the neutral zone.

Faceoffs become harder to win as the game goes on. But for the Flyers, it was one of the reasons they were frantic defensively in the opening 20 minutes. Richards, who cannot possibly do everything for the Flyers, was 0-for-8 in the first period.

It's just another void the Flyers have yet to fill without Jeff Carter (foot), who once swatted a puck out of the linesman's hand and directly into the net in a game earlier this season.

"We're talking about things we don't have, and I don't want to do that," Laviolette said.

"We can get better at it," Richards said. "If you get the faceoff, you start with the puck instead of chasing it. First game wasn't too bad. Second game, we didn't do a great job. It's always easier at home."

Tonight, it should be easier for Laviolette to get the matchups he desperately yearned for in Boston. Laviolette admitted yesterday that he didn't change his lines, but often tried to double-shift Richards - or even Claude Giroux - to have them on the ice when Bruins hammer Zdeno Chara was on the bench.

"We need to win our home games," Laviolette said. "They're the ones you're supposed to win. They held serve, now it's our turn."

Gagne getting closer

Flyers forward Simon Gagne, who has been out since April 20 with a fractured big right toe, which required two screws to be surgically inserted on April 23, said he is finally walking without crutches.

Gagne, who was one of the Flyers' hottest forwards with 10 goals after the Olympics, could resume skating as early as this weekend.

"I'm able to walk on the foot a little bit, trying to walk normal, and it's getting better every day," Gagne said. "I haven't started skating yet, but it's getting close."

Gagne will meet with the doctor again on Friday and have another MRI exam of his foot to determine the progress of the healing.

"We'll decide from there, but I am confident I will start skating this weekend," Gagne said. "It's playoff hockey. Maybe in the regular season you would take more time than usual. Right now, I am pushing myself every day to get better. I am going to try my best to get back into [this] series."

Slap shots

The Flyers are just 2-12 in playoff series when trailing the series 2-0. They have lost the first two games of the series on the road eight times and have gone on to lose the series all eight times . . . Only the Flyers' extra players skated yesterday afternoon at the Skate Zone . . . Approximately 500 tickets remain for tonight's game . . . The HBO Sports documentary about the Stanley Cup-winning Broad Street Bullies premiered last night.

For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at http://go.philly.com/frequentflyers.

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