DETROIT – The second half of the morning skate today was a lot like the second half of practice yesterday, which was a lot like the second half of the morning skate in Minnesota…
…and the practice before that… and the morning skate before that… etc.
Welcome to the world of a Craig Berube coached team. Things are pretty cut and dry. The way you practice, the things you practice, the meetings after practice – they’re all the same.
There’s no time for horsing around. There’s no time for silly little games. You are here to work and that’s it.
So, when the second portion of every time the team takes the ice not in a game uniform is dedicated to improving the power play, you can darn well be sure it’s being done that way for a reason.
The Flyers started the season with the worst power play in the NHL, ranking 30th in the league by going 6-for-64 (9.4 percent) in their first 16 games.
Since then, there has been considerable improvement.
In the 11 games since, they have gone 9-for-37 (24.3 percent) which is a pace that, if sustained over a full season, would have the Flyers ranked in the top 5 in the NHL in power play efficiency.
And although they are mired in a mini-slump (0-for-9 in the past three games) they really feel like things are better now than they were before.
“We were scoring a lot of goals there for a bit),” said Jake Voracek, referring to the eight-game streak in which the Flyers had at least one power play goal and scored on 9-of-28 chances (32.1 percent). “Even though we didn’t score in Nashville the power play created a lot of chances. We went on that 7-0-1 run and I think the power play is what made the difference.”
It did. When you are a team that is operating at such a fine line at even strength - the Flyers are only giving up 1.48 goals per game at even strength while scoring just 1.30 – special teams becomes the difference in the game.
The penalty kill is doing just fine, killing at 83.6 percent, or 12th in the NHL, but the power play has been, for the most part, where the offensive let down has come, as the Flyers rank just 23rd in the NHL, at 14.8 percent efficiency.
“We’re creating scoring chances, put the puck isn’t going in [as much as we like],” Kimmo Timonen said. “The power play shouldn’t be that hard. You have to outwork the penalty killing unit and get to the puck to the net. We have been better in the last 10 games or so, but we can be even better than that. I think you should get a goal in one of every three or four power play chances. You have to have that approach. We are creating the chances, but they don’t count. Only the ones that go in the net do.”
TImonen is, of course, correct.
And that’s why there is constant repetition of the power play at every practice. Berube knows it needs to be better. He sees it coming. He sees the slow, steady progression from worst in the league to 23rd in the NHL, but that’s not enough. It needs to get at least into the top half of the NHL for the Flyers to feel far more comfortable about the way they are playing.
And they’re not that incredibly far off. If they would have scored just four more power play goals over the first 27 games, they would be in the top half of the league.
And it’s probably likely, that they would have a few more points too, which could have then sitting in a playoff position right now, not chasing one from behind.
“It starts in practice,” Berube said. “They’re high-tempo practices. There’s not a lot of time for rest. There’s intensity. As a coach you have to harp on it all the time. There’s no resting. There’s no time for that.”
And so they work… and work… and work….
And the remainder of this road trip offers them ample opportunity to get the power play rolling again. Sure, tonight they take on the No. 2 penalty killing team in the league in Detroit (86.9 percent) but they do without their two best killers – Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Up next is Dallas (81.2) who ranks 18th, then Ottawa (78.0) who ranks 26th and as good a team as Chicago is, their penalty kill is dreadful (74.1) ranking 29th.
“It’s something you want to work on every day,” said Mark Streit. “You want to talk about it. Watch videos. Get better. It’s more important as the year goes on. Specialty teams make all the difference. You have to work on it constantly. It’s the difference between winning and losing.”
NOTES: Steve Mason gets the start in goal for the Flyers… Vinny Lecavalier didn’t skate again as he deals with back spasms and will miss his second straight game. He did ride the stationary bike though, so Dallas Saturday is a possibility… Todd Bertuzzi and Danny DeKeyeser are also out of the lineup tonight for Detroit… Flyers prospect Anthony Stolarz was named as one of three goalies to the Team USA World Junior Championship squad Wednesday... Berube likes the way Michael Raffl has played, but feels like he needs to start scoring. “He had a couple opportunities [to score] and missed the net,” Berube said. “We talked about him hitting the net. When he gets his opportunities he’s got to hit the net. He’s had chances to score but he either waits too long to shoot the puck or he misses the net, He’s got to do a better job there.”
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