VOORHEES, N.J. – There they were, a full half-hour before the scheduled start of the regular practice on Wednesday, working on their beleaguered power play.
Associate coach Rocky Thompson oversaw this somewhat emergency session after another night of his guys shooting blanks in a 4-1 loss against Carolina.
If the Flyers are to maintain their lofty, unexpected position in the standings – third at the moment – they’re going to have to get this man-advantage thing working again.
Clicking at a 10-percent rate just isn’t going to make it.
“Rocky’s trying to figure it out with them,” coach John Tortorella said after the practice at the Flyers Training Center. “They have not stopped working at trying to figure it out. They’ll continue and that’s all you can do.
“We can complain about it, talking about the numbers. Everyday they’re trying to get better. We’ll see what happens.”
The Flyers went 0-for-2 against Carolina and are 0 for their last 10. Prior to that, the Flyers had been mired in a 1-for-28 skid.
Tortorella recalled a similar situation when he coached the Tampa Bay Lightning nearly 20 years ago.
“I remember way back in my Tampa days, we had some struggles there,” he said. “It’s one thing about our athletes, they want to get better. They want to practice and get better. Our power-play guys know it’s been a letdown. They don’t like that feeling. So they want to work at it, they’re very receptive.”
Tortorella said he might consider bringing defenseman Cam York back on the power play due to the team’s struggles in that department.
Thompson and Tortorella are trying to keep the same personnel on each of the two units. That’s probably what you’re going to see in Thursday night’s home game against the New Jersey Devils.
Cam Atkinson has yet to score a power play goal in 22 games. He’s not been a big PPG guy in his 13 NHL seasons, hitting only double-digits once (10, 2015-16 at Columbus). But he understands the importance of a valid team number on this essential part of the game.
“We just have to keep practicing,” he said. “Get our reps, get our touches. Playing with the same people, you kind of build up chemistry. The most important thing is getting a (point) shot set up right away. Getting the puck back after a shot, that’s when you start feeling good about yourself, making plays and that’s when plays open up.”
Joel Farabee likes the way things are being structured moving forward.
“I think the best thing you can be on the power play is be predictable,” he said. “One of the things we focused on today was focusing on the one side. Just trying to get as many pucks to the net as possible. Things aren’t clicking right now, and that’s when you try to simplify. I think anytime you can get a quality (point) shot through, it benefits just because the kill guys have to turn around and see where it went. On the power play, you have the advantage of being on top of them.
“Any shot is really a good shot. When you shoot a lot, you test the penalty kill and have a better chance of getting the puck back.”
>Couturier, others still need more time
Both Sean Couturier and Atkinson lost considerable time due to extensive surgery and Tortorella said they still need more time to get back to full speed.
“I wasn’t with him (Couturier) everyday when he was healthy prior to two years ago,” Tortorella said. “It’s going to take more time. I think it’s going to take more time for Cam, he’s struggled after missing a year.
“I think he (Couturier) just relies on his savvy, just being a great pro to getting moving here. There’s some work to be done. We expected this. We’ll let him go at his pace. I try to limit his minutes but sometimes I just needed him. But there’s still quite a bit of work to do there.”
Meanwhile, both veteran defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Marc Staal missed at least a month of action. More time needed for these two as well?
“I think ‘Risto’ has played well in the amount of time he’s missed,” Tortorella said. “Staal, for an older guy (36) with that injury and coming back, there’s been some struggles as far as the pace. He still gets in the way. It will take some time.
“Risto, I’m encouraged. He’s made some mistakes along the way, which everybody does. But I’m encouraged, given the amount of time he’s missed – to come right in and get those minutes and do the things he’s done.”
>No moves anticipated
At the moment, with Noah Cates (lower-body injury, out six to eight weeks), the Flyers are down to the bare minimum of 12 forwards. With their American Hockey League affiliate Lehigh Valley Phantoms being just over an hour away, there doesn’t seem to be any urgency to call up some reserves.
“Not for tomorrow’s game,” Tortorella said. “We’ll see how this plays out. We’ll see how guys (such as Bobby Brink, Morgan Frost, et al) respond with their time. We’ll make a call then.
“They know there’s internal competition because Lehigh is right down the street. It’s one thing that’s great about our situation, (we can) get them right away.”