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MELTZER: More power to ya

Power play tweaks have paid dividends for Flyers early in the season

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer

For much of the young 2019-20 season to date, the power play unit centered by Sean Couturier and featuring his regular 5-on-5 linemates Travis Konecny and Oskar Lindblom has been the better of the Philadelphia Flyers two groupings on the man advantage. 

Flyers coach Alain Vigneault, in fact, dislikes labeling the Couturier group -- which has also regularly included defenseman Matt Niskanen on one point and Ivan Provorov on the other -- as the "second unit". Vigneault prefers to call it "the Couturier unit." 

The long-running undisputed first unit, with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek as constants. James van Riemsdyk at netfront and Shayne Gostisbehere on the point is no longer numbered even though it still normally takes the first shift on the man advantage, Vigneault calls this grouping the "Giroux unit."

With Gostisbehere (0g, 2a on the power play,1g, 3a overall) struggling to produce offense, power play coach Michel Therrien has periodically moved Gostisbehere off the Giroux unit in favor of Ivan Provorov.  

That decision paid dividends on Saturday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto dominated the game early, racking up 10 of the game's first 11 shots and doing so in less than half a period. The Leafs also grabbed an early 1-0 lead.
 
At 14:47 of the period, the Leafs were called for a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty. With Provorov out on the Giroux unit, the Flyers struck to tie the game 15 seconds later. 

Provorov's center-point shot pinballed into the net off Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly to draw the Flyers' even at 1-1. The double-deflection itself was sheer good fortune for the Flyers but was preceded by sharp puck movement and a shot by Provorov with traffic in front. Giroux and Jakub Voracek got the helpers.Video: TOR@PHI: Provorov nets PPG off double deflection

The Provorov power play goal was a major momentum changer in the game. Over the final 55 minutes of the game, which Toronto ultimately won 4-3 via an 11-round shootout, the Flyers outshot the Maple Leafs by 38-16 margin. 

After the game, Vigneault discussed the reasoning for the switch to put Provorov on the unit that starts most of the Flyers power plays.

"He skates real well and I like the way he moves laterally on that power play. It opened up a couple of lanes. Our first goal, say what you want, there was a lane open, might have been two lucky bounces on that first goal, but it is all about getting pucks through and towards the net, and that is what he did," Vigneault said.

The Flyers also made another tweak on the Giroux unit; one that they have employed from time-to-time but held to more regularly against Toronto. Giroux moved over from the right half boards to the left side.

For most of his NHL career, Giroux has been a prolific point producer on the power play with the left side being his "office" for set-up passes and one-timers. Midway through last season, former power play coach Kris Knoblauch and then Flyers head coach Scott Gordon had Giroux and Voracek switch sides.

The move to put the right-handed shooting Giroux and left-handed shooting Voracek on their natural sides was partially done for the benefit of van Riemsdyk. It is a little easier for left-handed shooting JVR to station himself near the side of the net and receive passes from Giroux and Voracek on their natural sides. Otherwise, he'd either be at a more severe angle or else have to try to cut across the goal line. Basically, it's the mirror image of the arrangement the Flyers had for many years with the right-handed Wayne Simmonds at netfront.

Additionally, on a player's natural-handed side, it's easier to play pucks along the near-side walls because the player can remain on his forehand. Those are the potential benefits, but there are also potential drawbacks.

As a believer in funneling as many pucks as possible to the net, Therrien largely maintained the arrangement with Giroux on the right side. Periodically, to throw a different look at opponents or during 5-on-3s with more space to move around, Giroux would move back to his old office on the left. On Saturday against Toronto, he was stationed almost exclusively on the left side.

Early in the second period, with Toronto's Jason Spezza in the penalty box, Giroux dangled in the left circle and then took the puck straight to net, beating Frederik Andersen for his first power play goal of the season and a 2-1 Flyers lead. Due to the angle involved, this is a much easier play to make when attacking on the forehand from his off-wing. The same principle applies to shooting one timers. Video: TOR@PHI: Giroux scores PPG from in tight

"I've played both sides the last year but obviously I've been on the left most of my career. There are some adjustments but either way can work," Giroux said on Oct. 23.

The Flyers finished Saturday's game at 2-for-6 on the power play. A missed opportunity on a 4-on-3 power play in overtime proved costly after Toronto prevailed in the shootout. Nevertheless, both sides of special teams have been overall strong points for the team so far this season.

After Saturday's game, the Flyers rank 8th in the NHL with a 23.5 percent power play success rate (12-for-51); a huge early upgrade from last season's 17.1 percent rate (tied for 22nd). The penalty kill, which will be the subject of an upcoming article, ranks 12th at 82.5 percent success (33 for 40). Last year, the Flyers ranked 26th with a 78.5 percent success rate.

The Flyers look to get back into the win column as they continue their three-game homestand on Tuesday when they take on the Carolina Hurricanes. Puck Drop is 7 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center. (NBCSP & 97.5 The Fanatic). 

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