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Special Teams Focus Kicks off latter stages of camp

New looks to the first and second unit as Flyers begin building special teams

by Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer

VOORHEES, NJ - Over the first two days of the Flyers training camp, the team focused on battle drills and skating conditioning. 

The primary focus then shifted to systems and 5-on-5 structure as the team prepared to play four games, including a split-squad set, over the span of five nights. 

With so little preparation time and quick turnaround, there was no time available to do special teams work under the direction of new power play coach Kris Knoblauch.

Additionally, the sheer number of players in camp during the first week meant a lot of different line combinations were used in separate sessions. With a slew of young players in camp to evaluate, many of the Flyers "core" group of veterans - including team captain Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Sean Couturier - did not make their first appearance of the preseason until Thursday night's road game in Boston. 

For all of these reasons, Flyers coach Dave Hakstol was neither surprised nor overly worried when the team went 0-for-9 on the power play in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Bruins. The team had difficulty getting set up in the attack zone, much less generating puck movement and scoring chances. 

"I'm not too concerned about that. We've had personnel in and out of the PP with both units. We've yet to work on it, so that's not my greatest concern," Hakstol said after the game.

Following a teamwide day off on Friday, the Flyers resumed practice at the Skate Zone for consecutive morning sessions prior to a home-and-home set with the New York Rangers. On Saturday, with the training camp roster reduced to 29 players (including three players unavailable due to injury), the team finally had an opportunity to devote roughly the last one-third of the session to special teams work. Video: Giroux and Voracek on a new look power play

"We'll get some different perspectives - different looks - when we are on the power play. Today was the first time. We don't have [Brayden Schenn]. We have seven guys who are going to need a couple of practices to get used to it. We'll work on it a little bit," Jakub Voracek said.

Under the direction of longtime power play coach Joe Mullen, the Flyers used a specific set of offensive zone entries and preferred puck rotations. Using a four-forward/ one-defenseman umbrella once setup on the top unit, Claude Giroux set up shop on the left half boards, with Wayne Simmonds at netfront, Schenn (and previously Scott Hartnell) playing from the left hash marks to over the middle, Voracek sliding down from the right point to the right circle and Shayne Gostisbehere (previously Mark Streit and, before that, Kimmo Timonen) sliding from the left point to center point as plays developed. 

It remains to be seen what tweaks Knoblauch will employ to zone entries and the means of generating scoring chances once set up in the offensive zone. However, Knoblauch also appears to be a believer in a four-forward setup on both the first unit and second unit, whereas the team was previously more likely to have two defensemen at the points on the second unit. 

"There's a bit of a feeling-out process," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said. "The 'umbrella' is what a lot of teams seem to be going with now. But I think you've got to have different looks. Sometimes different looks open the umbrella. We've got a process to go through here and we've got to be better. Bottom line."Video: GM talks about injured players and latest moves

In Saturday's practice session, Valtteri Filppula moved into the first unit spot previously occupied by ex-Flyer Schenn. The rest of the top-unit personnel remained familiar, with Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds and Gostisbehere manning their usual areas of the ice. 

The second unit saw Jordan Weal as the point-to-circle slide man on the right side, Couturier on the left boards, rookie Nolan Patrick at netfront, Travis Konecny over the middle and Ivan Provorov manning the left to center point. 

As the team moves to the latter stages of the preseason, there will be an increased focus on getting special teams in synch for opening night. Further experimentation with second-unit personnel and attacking patterns on both units would not be a surprise. For now, however, the players are at the early stages of the process.

The Flyers resume training camp on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. at their practice facility in Voorhees, NJ

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