And yet, while it can be said that the once taut Craig Berube defense-first system has been loosened a bit, the Flyers still found a way to better their position in the standings.
While November was technically a better month as the Flyers accrued 20 of a possible 30 points, they did have seven games at home out of 15 while December, when they compiled 18 of a possible 28 points, they were only on home ice four times in 14 outings.
And yet, while the two months have produced similar outcomes in the win/loss columns, they couldn’t be more differing.
In those 15 November games, the Flyers outscored their opponents 37-33. That means the Flyers averaged 2.47 goals per game while their opponents averaged just 2.20 goals per game.
If you eliminate the November 1st drubbing against Washington in which the Flyers lost 7-0, the numbers are more disparate over 14 games, the same number as December, with the Flyers outscoring the opposition 37-26, meaning the opponents averaged just 1.86 goals per game.
But in December it’s been completely different.
The Flyers are still finding similar success, but the scoring has ramped up considerably.
In those 14 games the Flyers and their opponents have each scored 48 goals, an average of 3.43per team per contest.
A casual observer might call it coincidental – saying that the uptick in scoring for the Flyers has to do with the resurgence of Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds, finally compensating for an incredibly slow start with an equally incredible run of offensive production.
That same observer might reckon that the higher number of goals allowed had to do with Steve Mason regressing back toward his career numbers rather than posting the otherworldly numbers he posted during the November stretch.
Yet that casual observer, who might think those things, would be wrong.
So why then were there suddenly, on average, 2.53 more goals per Flyers game in December than November, a huge jump for sure?
What has happened has been a subtle change in the gameplan by Berube that was designed to create more offense but at the same time, if not executed properly, could be more risky.
The concept: Activate the defense more on the attack. Get them joining the rush, pinching along the walls and going backdoor to the net.
The result has shown some positive results for sure. Flyers defensemen have 11 goals in the last 12 games (accounting for 26.2 percent of the team’s goals in that time frame) and in the entire month of December they’ve posted 30 points, or an average of 2.14 points per game from defensemen.
Mark Streit has been the leader of that group, with nine points (4G, 5A) in December and has been the most noticeable offensively-active defenseman.
“We’re trying to be in the play more and it’s important that the forwards drive the net and open up the blue line,” Streit said.
The Flyers are finally getting the production out of Streit they had hoped for when they signed him last summer.
Badly in need of a puck-moving defenseman, the Flyers beat everyone to the punch to trade for the negotiating rights to Streit prior to the July 1 free agency frenzy.
They were able to lock up Streit, 36, to a four-year, $21 million deal, a pretty penny for an aging defenseman with good puck skills, a nice shot from the point but the negative was a so-so defensive game.
The Flyers figured it was worth the risk for the occasional defensive clunker by Streit to add his offensive production. After all, Streit had been among the top 12 defensive scoring leaders in the NHL in each of the previous five seasons he played.
However, the adjustment to Philadelphia was a little slow. Streit only posted nine points through the first two months of the season. He doubled it in December.
He’s on pace for a 37-point season, which would be his lowest total in a full season since 2006-07, however with the offense picking up in December, if he can keep up that pace, he can finish with a 50-point season, which is more what the Flyers were hoping for out of Streit.
And Berube’s system is starting to pay dividends in that regard, however, it has -at times -created gaps in defensive coverage elsewhere.
Sometimes defensemen are getting caught up ice, creating odd-man rushes the other way. Sometimes those defensemen are getting caught because of a bad bounce, but other times it’s going to be because of a bad pinch, or a misread by the defensemen who are trying to create offensively.
“They’re getting better but they’re not where they need to be with that yet,” Berube said. “We want them to be up in the play and chipping in on offense, but we want them to be smart and know when to go too. It’s a work in progress, but they’re getting it.”
In the meantime, while the kinks are being ironed out and the team is figuring out the timing of the tweak to the system, they’ve given up more goals – not because the goalies have been slumping, but rather because the percentage of scoring chances for opponents has been greater.
The key for the Flyers now is to figure out how to balance that more appropriately. For once they do, the Flyers will have proven that they can beat you in several ways.
They can shut you down as they did in November, they can outscore you, as became evident in December, or, if all else fails, one of the goalies can steal a win right out from under you – like Mason did in Vancouver Monday.
Any way you slice it, figuring all that out is part of the long process of building a successful team. And it sure looks like Berube and the suddenly confident Flyers are on their way.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers