Forward thinking behind Flyers’ new power play

Sean Couturier

VOORHEES – Doing something over and over again and expecting a different result supposedly is the definition of insanity.

Given the craziness of this unexpectedly bad Flyers season, it probably was time to start thinking outside the box when it came to the team’s failed power play.

And so that’s why coach Scott Gordon chose Monday morning’s workout at the Skate Zone to experiment with a rather radical “five-forward’’ power play, one which he plans to employ (at least for a while) in Monday night’s game against the Minnesota Wild.

Essentially, the Flyers are replacing defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere with a fifth forward.

Jake Voracek basically moves into that role on the point, with James van Riemsdyk joining Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Sean Couturier in favorable positions to score.

Clearly, something had to be done. The power play currently is clicking at only 12.8 percent (30th in the NHL). The only time the Flyers have finished a season lower than that was their first season (1967-68) when they posted a 12.2 percent number.

None of this would be that big a deal except for the fact the Flyers currently have the worst record in the NHL (38 points).

“If we were in the playoffs, we probably wouldn’t be talking about it,’’ Voracek said. “The power play has bad numbers, it’s one of the reasons why we are in last place. But it would be a little bit different if we were in a different position as a team.

“That’s the way it is. If you have one of the worst penalty kills in the league, one of the worst power plays, that’s what is going to be talked about. Deservedly so.’’

Couturier said he noticed the New York Rangers tried this five-forward tactic during a game against the Flyers back on Dec. 23.

Philadelphia won that game and Couturier didn’t notice much of a difference in New York’s proficiency on the power play.

“We need a change, especially when it hasn’t been working for so long,’’ Couturier said. “Usually you try to stick to who you are, your identity.

“But at some point, when things aren’t working, you have to try new things. Hopefully we can figure it out.’’

What are the advantages?

“It’s just a new look,’’ he said. “It’s not like before we weren’t controlling the puck. It’s just we weren’t scoring.’’

The question now is, if the puck gets turned over, can five forwards find a way to prevent/break up odd-man rushes?

Philadelphia is ranked 28th in the NHL in shorthanded goals allowed with seven.

“You’re out there to score a goal, not defend,’’ Couturier pointed out. “So you don’t need as much of a defensive guy’s responsibility. But at the same time, you need to be more aware as the last forward up top, you’re the last man there.

“I think Jake is a responsible player. He knows, he’s been there in the past. We’ll see how it goes.’’

Voracek says the point is nothing new for him. He played it in Columbus prior to his trade to Philadelphia in 2011.

“I’m kind of familiar with what I have to do up there,’’ he said. “I just have to make sure we execute things well.’’

When the Flyers test drove it on Monday morning, there seemed to be slightly quicker puck movement. Good power plays create misdirection so that defenders don’t have time to slide over and block shots.

“It’s completely different because guys are on their forehands (such as Giroux on the right side),’’ Voracek said. “So you have a different look when you are on your forehand than when you’re on your off-wing.

“You have more ice to see. You have to time it a little differently.’’

On the new second unit, Gostisbehere is paired with fellow defenseman Ivan Provorov, along with Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny and Oskar Lindblom.

The second Flyers’ second unit in its previous configuration has only three goals (two by Konecny and one by Travis Sanheim).

Gostisbehere echoed what Voracek and Couturier said about a needed change.

“We had to get something going, we need some wins,’’ Gostisbehere said. “We have to change some things. It’s different looks, teams won’t be expecting it.

“You keep doing something and you think it’s going to get better. It gets a little crazy at that point. For us, I think, if we change some things, it gives us a new look and helps us out a bit, gives us some confidence.’’

There could be a short period of adjustment for Ghost.

“It’s definitely a different role for me,’’ he said. “It’s hard, but sometimes it’s a little simpler when you have a lot of young guys and they’re looking at you.’’

Gordon hasn’t been displeased with the effort on the PP. He just wants to try something different to restore that confidence.

“If you can get one (power-play goal) per game, you go from a two-goal team per-game average to a three-goal team per-game average,’’ Gordon said. “When you don’t get that goal, it looks like your offense is really struggling.

“We’ve had our fair share of missed opportunities but at some point we do have to score a goal on the power play.’’

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About Wayne Fish 2472 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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