PHILADELPHIA – After three-plus years of Dave Hakstol, one would think the Flyers might have a defensive system down by now.
Yet entering Saturday’s 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils, the Flyers had allowed 31 goals in just seven games, ranked 30th ahead of only lowly Detroit.
To be clear, by defensive scheme we’re talking about all five position players on the ice, not just the defense pairings.
The word “structure’’ was bandied about quite often after Friday’s practice at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J.
When the Flyers don’t adhere to good position play, like causing bad gaps through the neutral zone, bad things often happen.
Defenseman Radko Gudas, who has been around a few years, believes that not making things too complicated is a key to following a system.
“We’re a pretty young team and we’re still learning,’’ Gudas said. “I think we need to stay with our system. We play great when we keep it simple.
“We need to get pucks deep, we got away from that. We started passing across. It’s not our game, not our strength.’’
Making risky plays tends to be the No. 1 culprit in straying away from the blueprint.
“Mistakes are costly these days,’’ Gudas said. “Guys are really offensive-minded. The goalie gear is smaller. The scores, as you can see, are really higher than they were a couple years back.
“I think staying with the system, playing the structure is crucial, even at this part of the season. The sooner the team gets it, the better for all of us.’’
Ultimately, the Flyers have to do a better job of communicating with each other. Not only on the ice but off it.
If a misplay is committed, it’s important to correct it as soon as possible. That means in-game, not waiting until after the contest is over.
“It’s talking to each other, it’s talking on the bench,’’ Gudas said. “A guy doesn’t chip it out, he comes back to the bench, he needs someone on the bench to go, ‘hey, man, we need to get that chip, need to get that play.’ Or we need to get a (line) change.
“Keeping each other uncomfortable, that’s a big thing. Not just on the ice, but the bench, too.’’
For Hakstol, it’s a matter of a player staying within his limitations.
“What you see at times are guys trying to do a little bit too much,’’ he said. “When you try to do a little too much, when you try to extend a shift, you try to make one more play. That’s when some negative things come right back at you.’’
Falling behind early in seven of their first eight games (including the first six, a franchise record) hasn’t helped any.
When in a one- or two-goal hole, players tend to want to do too much, be a hero so to speak, and get things even as quickly as possible.
“Guys want to go out and make something good happen,’’ Hakstol said. “They care. They want to have a positive shift. But you also have to go out, do your job, finish your shift, then let the next group go out and do their shift.’’
What Hakstol wants to cut down is when in a game quality scoring chances are offered to opponents.
“On the defensive side, it’s the timing of some of the ‘Grade A’ opportunities that we’re going up,’’ he said. “It’s not the volume of them. Because the volume of those chances has been reasonable.
“It’s the Grade A chances we have to clean up. We have to become tighter.’’
Around the NHL
Peter Laviolette has taken three different teams to the Stanley Cup Final (a win with Carolina, losses with Flyers, Nashville) but you know the coach still has his fast ball when he can get ex-Flyer tough guy Zac Rinaldo to score the game-winner in Friday night’s Nashville win over Calgary. . .It will be interesting to see how the NHL and its individual players will react to the legalization of marijuana in Canada this past week, as well as the fact that it is legal in states which are home to seven more NHL franchises in the U.S. Common sense would suggest that players stay away from the stuff for performance reasons, at least in-season. These guys are making millions of dollars and their careers will be relatively short. Make the best of it at peak potential while you can. . .While scoring is way up in the first two weeks of the season, don’t expect that pace to continue. By the time the playoffs roll around, goals will once again be at a premium.