The Flyers have started the season 2-5-0 and currently sit in 13th place in the Eastern Conference. Yes, it is early and the team certainly has the time to turn things around, but there are some concerning signs for a team that has been a perennial contender in recent years.
While many are quick to blame the goaltending for the Flyers’ woes, and that certainly has been a problem in recent years, a new problem has emerged this season. The Flyers have seen what was once one of the best defence corps in all of hockey decimated by injury, defection, and old age. Quite simply the current Flyers defence is a shadow of what they opened the 2011-12 season with, and it has effected the team in nearly all aspects of the game.
Nowhere has the effect been more pronounced than on special teams, where the Flyers find themselves 23rd in the NHL in powerplay efficiency at just 13.8%. While they find themselves 27th in penalty kill efficiency at a horrendous 67.7%. With penalties across the league way up this season and referees employing a very strict enforcement of the rule book, special teams have become extremely important, and the Flyers lack of success in these areas is a major cause of concern. By comparison the Flyers were at 19.7% and 81.8% last season.
Firstly, in looking at the Powerplay we see that the Flyers have suffered a major loss in Matt Carle, who had 38 points last season, and played over 2:30 per game on the powerplay. The Flyers have also lost their third leading point getter on defence last season, as Andrej Meszaros has been lost for over a month with a shoulder injury.
This has left the team to use Kimmo Timmonen for over 5:30 per game on the powerplay this season, and has season his overall ice time increase by over 2 minutes per game. Now, I personally feel that Timmonen has been an outstanding defenceman for the past decade, and has been one of the most underrated players in the league over that time. However he is now 38 years old, and is quickly declining. He is quite simply not the same player he was 2 years ago, or even last season. Timmonen has just 1 powerplay point this season. Andrej Meszaros and Kurtis Foster have been other options on the point for the Flyers this season, but as stated Meszaros is now injured, and Foster’s defensive miscues have seen him be a healthy scratch at times. No other defenceman has scored a single point for the team on the powerplay this season. The flyers have a great group of forwards, but without strong powerplay quarterbacking, they have not been able to get the unit in synch this season.
On the Penalty Kill the Flyers are also suffering. In 18:04 of Shorthanded ice time on the season, Timmonen has been on the ice for 5 goals against. His age and the big minutes have really caught up to him in the defensive zone, as he is not nearly as mobile and effective at this stage in his career. Nicklas Grossman and Braydon Cobourn haven’t faired much better as they have been on for 4 goals each in 18:04 and 19:45 of ice time. Perhaps the best of the regular penalty killers has been Luke Schenn who has only been on the ice for 2 goals against in 15:18 of shorthanded ice time. Overall the group is quite simply not as deep nor as good as when they had Chris Pronger, Andrej Meszaros, and Matt Carle were available to help handle key minutes.
The Flyers are also hoping to get Marc Andre Bourdon back to help them, but it is unclear when he will be back as the young blue liner is currently suffering from a concussion suffered while playing in the AHL during the lockout. However he is also not a solution to the team’s woes as he’s likely to be a bottom pairing defender.
What the Flyers need right now, is an elite defender who can play huge minutes, and can help on both the penalty kill and the powerplay. The club has never replaced the elite defender lost in Chris Pronger, and the defection of Carle and injury to Meszaros has just made the problem worse. Meszaros will certainly help this club in about a month, when he is ready to return, however he is not a saviour. Paul Holmgren saw the problem and tried to address it in the summer, unfortunately for the Flyers, the man they targetted to fix this issue is still playing for the Nashville Predators, and finding another elite two way defender to fill this gap is extremely difficult. However, Holmgren must do something to address the special teams problems, before this shortened season slips away in Philadelphia.
…. and thats the Last Word.