Flyers could learn something from Florida’s successful blueprint

Flyers general manager Daniel Briere

      Trends come and go in the National Hockey League but taking a few lessons from a potential Stanley Cup champion usually stands the test of time.

      And it’s no exception with the Flyers watching the Florida Panthers, who stood one win away from their first championship as play began on Saturday night in Edmonton.

      The Panthers had a chance to become the first team in 26 years to sweep a Final title and lot of their success had to do with fundamentals, something the Flyers should have been keeping an eye on.

      For starters, the Panthers have a good mix of size, veteran leadership, effective special teams play and an ability to hang onto leads once they get one, especially late in games.

      Philadelphia could do itself a favor by trying to replicate what Florida has done.

      Here’s one statistic which caught our eye: Of the starting 19 Florida players in Game 3 against the Oilers, only three were former draft picks. Most of the rest were acquired by trades or free agency.

      So while it’s great for a general manager to develop his own youthful talent, it certainly doesn’t hurt to keep checking that free-agent signing period (starting on July 1) list and also thinking about possibly swapping some assets for proven talent.

      Out on the ice, the numbers regarding special teams speak for themselves. As of Game 3, the Oilers for the postseason had a power-play success percentage of 31.1 percent (most of that in previous rounds), which was second behind the Colorado Avalanche, plus a kill rate of 93.1 percent. The Panthers were right behind the Oilers in kill percentage at 90.2 percent.

      In the head-to-head matchup, the Panthers’ kill crew has been dominant, largely keeping Edmonton superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in check.

      The Flyers really don’t need to fix their penalty killing for next season. They already have a very competent crew, with a surprising 83.40 percent success rate good for fourth in the NHL behind only Carolina, Los Angeles and the New York Rangers.

      It’s on the power play where things need to pick up. Philadelphia was an awful 12.20 percent in the regular season, last among all 32 NHL teams and unofficially the least successful in franchise history.

      Acquiring a couple guys who can find the back of the net on the power play should be at the top of Flyers general manager Daniel Briere’s list when July 1 rolls around (By the way, Florida’s Sam Reinhart is an impending unrestricted free agent and 27 of his 57 goals were on the PP).

      Just look at the list of teams which finished “ahead” of the Flyers in this all-important category, starting with No. 23 Ottawa and going all the way down to No. 31, Columbus. Those two —  plus St. Louis, Anaheim, Calgary, Montreal, Chicago, Buffalo and Pittsburgh – all failed to make the playoffs.

      Coach John Tortorella tried just about every trick up his sleeve to improve the situation but to no avail. When he’s sitting in on any meetings to decide which players to go after in free agency or trades, he should announce: “For goodness sake (or perhaps a bit stronger language), please get me some help on the power play.”

      As for that ability to hang on to leads, the Flyers were pretty darn good when they led after two periods (24-2-3). But the Panthers have been close to sensational. They are a crazy 66-0-4 over the last 70 games when leading after two periods.

      What’s the significance of this? Well, for starters, the Panthers know not to get caught up ice when they’re leading in the last 20 minutes of a game. They don’t take stupid penalties. The Panthers make it a point not to attempt risky passes. That’s partly why Edmonton has the puck a lot less time than it’s accustomed to.

      When all is said and done, on the first day of training camp in September, Tortorella should have a video ready to show his players with specific clips from the Final of how (and how not to play) like the Panthers did.

      Why not learn from the best?

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About Wayne Fish 2473 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.