Sporting a high faceoff percentage isn’t just a source of pride in the NHL, it’s a necessity.
The Flyers know this because they’ve been among the league leaders the past couple years and no doubt that contributed to their success last season.
But strangely enough, this season is a much different story.
The Flyers have been losing more than their fair share of draws, especially in critical times and areas, like in third periods and in their defensive zone.
The rib injury to center Sean Couturier, which has kept him out of action since the second game of the season, hasn’t helped the situation.
Philadelphia led the NHL in faceoff percentage last season at a rather glowing 54.1 percent.
This year? Good grief. A rather horrible 23rd in the NHL at 46.9 percent.
As a result, the Flyers’ puck possession time has suffered. When you keep giving free passes to the opponent, eventually it’s going to come back to bite you, as it did the Flyers in surrendering four third-period goals in Thursday night’s 5-4 shootout loss in Boston.
Coach Alain Vigneault addressed the matter during a Saturday morning media Zoom call from Beantown.
“It is something we discussed yesterday and will tonight before the game,’’ Vigneault said. “There are 50/50 puck battles we can get to. We are, and they are also, a very good faceoff team. We’re a better team when we start with the puck.’’
Center Scott Laughton accepts some of the blame.
“It (faceoff percentage) needs to be better,’’ he said. “My faceoffs haven’t been great throughout the whole year. I continue to work on it and try to get better.
“We’ve talked about it as a group, just being faceoff ready, making a play so we can get out of our zone. It’s a work in progress but we’ve always been a good faceoff team so I’m confident in our group.’’
It’s also about more intensity getting to the puck.
“In the D-zone, we’re not winning enough one-on-one battles,’’ Vigneault said. “Not having enough support for us to get the puck back and go on the attack. We need to be stronger, more competitive.
Vigneault also wants to see the Flyers improve their forechecking intensity. Things like faceoffs and forechecking have been overlooked a bit because of the 3-1-1 record.
“Our forecheck, which enables us to create turnovers, scoring chances, hasn’t been as effective in the offensive zone and in the neutral zone,’’ Vigneault said. “Just some minor stick positioning. If we get better, we’ll be way more effective and that will help our team.’’
Added Laughton: “We have to make it harder on teams – we’re backchecking too much and putting too much pressure on our defensemen and goalies. I think we can be better as a whole group, make it harder for their ‘D’ to break out pucks and create offense that way.’’
>Coach assesses Hayes’ play
Although Kevin Hayes entered Saturday night’s game one off the NHL scoring lead with seven points, Vigneault said he would like to see Hayes play a bit more of a complete game on both sides of the puck.
“He’s one of our forwards who’s created the most offensively,’’ Vigneault said. “That I’m pleased about. I have been talking with him to be dependable defensively.
“Be in the right spot five on five, the right spot defensively on the penalty kill. Kevin’s a very knowledgeable man about this game. I do feel in some games he’s leaning toward the offensive side. He mentioned to me he’d like to be a lot like ‘Coots’ (Couturier), dependable 200 feet.’’
Vigneault had Hayes as a rookie six years ago when the two were together with the New York Rangers.
“He was very dependable defensively,’’ Vigneault recalled. “And his offense grew. (Now) he’s looking for it more. Sometimes that affects his defensive positioning. He just needs to be a bit tighter in that area and he’ll be a real effective player for us at both ends of the rink.
>Lineup stays same
Vigneault said the lineup for game two of the Boston set will remain the same for Saturday night. Carter Hart is scheduled to start in goal. Vigneault said he might make one small adjustment on his forward lines. The defense pairings, including Travis Sanheim with Ivan Provorov on the top unit, will not change.