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Meltzer's Line Play: The Power Play Units

Flyers contributor's look at who should be on units 1 and 2 of the man advantage

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer

Last season, the Flyers ranked a disappointing 18th in total offense; scoring 241 goals. However, the gap was manageable. 

A mere five more goals scored over 82 games would have put Philly in the NHL's top 13. By way of comparison, the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues ranked 15th offensively during the 2018-19 regular season.

A big reason for the Flyers' unimpressive offensive ranking was the team's uncharacteristically weak year on the power play. Last season's 17.1 percent success rate was the team's lowest since 2010-11 and second-lowest in the last decade. Before last year, the team had been had 19.5 percent or above in seven of the previous nine years.

For whatever reason, nothing seemed to click for any extended period. Eventually, under former power play coach Kris Knoblauch and interim head coach Scott Gordon, the team experiment with large-scale changes to the man advantage, including moving all personnel to their natural side (left-handed shooters on the left side, right-handed shooters on the right). They even briefly tried out a five-forward, zero-defensemen arrangement. Meanwhile, at different junctures, there were two defensemen on the second power play unit.

Will new head coach Alain Vigneault and new power play coach Michel Therrien go back to more familiar alignments, such as having Claude Giroux set up almost exclusively on the left half-boards with Jakub Voracek on the right? Will the team maintain the umbrella formation that it has regularly featured on the top unit in recent years?
Back in July, Therrien gave a hint as to some of his philosophies on running the power play. 

"One thing for me with the power play, I believe in being aggressive around the net. Get pucks and bodies to the net. Everywhere I've coached, that's been important in our success. There are different ways to do that with how you set up and move the puck, but you want the pucks in that [high-danger] area," Therrien said.

How will the Flyers power play personnel be arranged? That remains to be seen, but here are some thoughts as to how the units may look.

UNIT 1: JVR, Giroux, Couturier, Voracek, Gostisbehere.

When Giroux moved to the right side last season, his one-timer was neutralized. In the meantime, after shooting the lights out during the preseason, Gostisbehere had an off-year in the shooting department once the regular season rolled around. A more normal season from Ghost on the power play and getting Giroux back full-time to his long-established "office" should go a long way toward a bounceback year for the Flyers' top unit.

JVR is one of the NHL's better finishers at the side of the net and should thrive under Therrien's philosophy of funneling as many pucks as possible to the slot and netfront. Likewise, back-to-back 30-goal scorer Couturier could reap benefits with his down-low play. Voracek, always more of a playmaker than finisher, will be crucial in finding the open man. 

The Flyers top unit really doesn't have to reinvent the wheel; they just need to get back to executing the way they did in recent seasons leading up to last year. 

UNIT 2: Patrick, Lindblom, Hayes, Konecny, Sanheim.

As good as the Flyers first unit has been in most recent years, establishing any consistency of personnel and execution on the second unit has been elusive. This is partially because the first unit often spends roughly 90 seconds out of every two-minute advantage on the ice. Additionally, while there have been some offensively talented players on the second unit, few have been able to find a specific niche. 

Two seasons ago, the most successful portion of Nolan Patrick's rookie season came while he was subbing for Wayne Simmonds as the netfront forward on the Flyers' first power play unit. Although Patrick had never played netfront before and prefers to set up on the outside, he might benefit from a move back to the netfront spot.

It is likely going to take time for the second unit to establish chemistry, but patience is in order. Newcomer Kevin Hayes is a good setup man. Oskar Lindblom is adept at winning puck battles and finding loose pucks around the net. Travis Konecny is one of the team's more shooting-oriented forwards.

It is not set in stone that Sanheim will man the point on PP2. Ivan Provorov has gotten more PP2 time than Sanheim the last two seasons, while Matt Niskanen was a power play regular at previous junctures of his career. However, the choice here is Sanheim, who has only scratched the surface of his offensive abilities at the NHL level. 

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