VOORHEES, N.J. – Just when it looked like the Flyers had figured out some of their hit-and-miss power-play problems, along came the playoffs.
In the 69 regular-season games before that, the Flyers had improved dramatically from the 2018-19 season, when they were a pitiful 23rd in the 31-team NHL at 17.1 percent. In 2019-20, they improved to 14th at 20.8 percent.
When the postseason arrived after the long pandemic break, everything fell apart. They went just 4 for 52 (7.7 percent) in the playoffs, including an embarrassing 0 for 13 in the seven-game Eastern Confernce semifinal defeat by the Islanders.
Now, with a new season almost upon us, coach Alain Vigneault realizes continued emphasis on the man advantage remains important.
The strategy might even include some personnel changes.
On Friday during training camp at the Skate Zone, the Flyers addressed the power play for the first time in earnest.
One big change saw Kevin Hayes move up to the first unit while Jake Voracek, a fixture in recent years on the top five, dropped down to the second five.
Vigneault also experimented with point man Shayne Gostisbehere on the opening unit, although it is widely assumed Ivan Provorov will be starting there in Wednesday night’s season opener.
“Today was the first day we did work on it,’’ Vigneault said during a media Zoom call. “We are going to spend the next two days also working on it, and also in intersquad games.
“It is obviously an important part. I believe this year we have a little bit more internal competition going on and it should make for a good power play. Prior to the shutdown, our power play was clicking. It obviously was off as far as finishing when we went into the bubble. When we analyzed our stats, we still got some good looks. We just had a tough time finishing.’’
He can say that again.
Vigneault, however, could have more to work with this season. Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom have returned from health issues, giving the Flyers more flexibility on their second PP unit.
“I think what we have this year is a couple more options,’’ Vigneault said. “Oskar didn’t get power play today, but it is an option. We also drew out Nolan out there today. Those were options we didn’t have last year. Joel (Farabee) also got a chance and so did Morgan Frost. We’re looking at a couple of areas, a couple of different things.’’
In addition to Hayes and Gostisbehere, the Flyers had Travis Konecny, Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier on the first unit and the configuration could show some promise.
“Obviously I think we had an above average year with the power play last year (in the regular season),’’ Hayes said. “Playoffs didn’t go the way we wanted it to.
“We got some good looks but we didn’t put the puck in the net. It doesn’t matter how many good looks you are getting if you don’t score, it doesn’t help your team.’’
No doubt a few timely power-play goals might have swung the Islander series around in the Flyers’ favor.
“That’s last year,’’ Hayes pointed out. “It’s a whole new year. Doesn’t matter how good or bad you were. I thought today was a good step in the right direction.’’
Good teams seem to find a way to get it done with the extra man. Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay was remarkably consistent. The Bolts finished fifth overall (23.1 percent) during the regular season and fifth during the playoffs (22.7).
Forming chemistry and getting good positioning will be key.
“We had a couple meetings,’’ Hayes said. “Got guys in the places that coach wants them to be. I thought our unit looked pretty good.
“You got five guys that look at themselves and want to provide offense to this team and want to help our power play night in and night out. I thought for Day 1, we had some good looks. We tried to build some chemistry with ‘G’ (Giroux) and Coots (Couturier)on the flank. TK (Konecny) is really elite down low and Provy (Provorov), he does what he does best.’’