Flyers’ special teams struggles key cause in standings drop

John Tortorella.

      VOORHEES, N.J. – When it comes to NHL special teams statistics, one set of analytics suggests the combined percentages of your power play and penalty kill should exceed 100.

      Through their first 23 games, the Flyers were a dismal 87.5.

      Worse, the power play has fallen back to 32nd (last) at a measly 13.9 percent.

      No wonder other teams don’t worry about committing penalties against Philadelphia. When a team only scores about once in seven opportunities with the man advantage, opponents take all the liberties they want.

      As for the Flyers’ penalty kill, the numbers aren’t better: 25th at 73.6 percent.

      Regardless of what they do in five-on-five play, if the special teams numbers don’t improve, neither will the won-loss record.

      The upcoming schedule won’t be doing them any favors either. The red-hot Devils visit on Saturday, followed by the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche on Monday.

      After Friday’s practice at the Flyers Training Center, coach John Tortorella acknowledged things have to pick up on both ends of special teams.

      With 24 games in the bank, there can no longer be excuses. If the players haven’t learned the new systems by now, it’s going to be a long season.

      The power play has been a big disappointment to say the least, especially with Tony DeAngelo being brought in to take over the quarterback spot.

      “Earlier in the year (on the power play), even though the percentages weren’t great, we were scoring a goal a game,’’ Tortorella said. “I just don’t see it the same way right now. We continue to work at it.

      “I think (assistant coach) Rocky (Thompson), the way he presents it is very simple. I think he’s a really good teacher. We get TK (Travis Konecny) back into the situation, (the injured) James (van Riemsdyk) was back on the ice, too. Maybe that will help it.’’

      The Flyers have scored just 10 power-play goals. On the flip side, Boston has already produced 25 PP goals in one fewer game.

      “If you ask me today am I thrilled about the progression with it? No,’’ the coach said. “Same with the penalty kill. The coaches aren’t either. But all we can do is try and get better. I guess that’s our mission.’’

      Alternate captain Scott Laughton, the closest thing the Flyers have to someone who actually wears a “C’’ on his jersey, went along with the notion there can’t be any excuse for not knowing assignments this late into the season.

      “I think we can be better,’’ Laughton said of the PP and PK. “We’re at the bottom of the league in both. It’s the difference in games, it really is. I think at the beginning of the year (goaltender Carter) Hart was bailing us out. We would get one (PP goal) and we would manage to win.

      “Our power play has to get some momentum for us. It’s not scoring and our PK – you’re playing the best players on the other side. We need to find a better way of blocking shots, clearing pucks. There’s room to grow. With special teams, it boils down to making the difference in most games. It (the power play) needs to be simpler, shoot more pucks and create that way because we don’t have a top guy down there (in the close-range shooting areas).’’

      There should not be the need for extensive videotape sessions in early December.

      “Now it’s pretty ingrained in us,’’ he said. “It’s definitely not a work ethic issue. I think it’s just playing a little smarter.’’

      Oh, and here’s another good idea for the Flyers: Don’t take so many penalties to begin with. They are second in the NHL with 301 penalty minutes. Some of that stems from the league-leading 17 five-minute majors but it’s still an ugly composite number.

      “We’ve taken a couple of those (dumb penalties), I know I have,’’ Laughton said. “It’s taking the right penalties at the right time. Torts has kind of preached it. If it’s a dumb penalty in the offensive zone, those are the ones that hurt you.

      “We have to do a better job, especially against these better units like Tampa Bay. You can’t give them five or six looks. It changes the momentum of the game.’’

       >Short shots

       Kieffer Bellows has cleared waivers and was assigned to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

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About Wayne Fish 1948 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.