Better With Popcorn

Stop The Line Shuffling

Allow me, for a minute, to draw a parallel. Another hockey team in a rut has forced its head coach to change the lines on a nightly basis.

"Truth be told, [coach] is doing what every coach would do. He feels he has to fix the problems, so he starts trying all sorts of new ways to fix the problems. The irony is that last season when the team was playing well, he seemed to leave the lineup alone, creating a calm consistency..."

"Most would feel this lineup, on paper, would be better."

This situation sounds awful familiar, doesn't it? It happens to refer to another team that has vastly underperformed after creating quite a stir in the offseason. This would be Lindy Ruff, putting his paws on the lineup on a nightly basis, trying to fix the Dallas Stars, according to Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News.

The Philadelphia Flyers, after winning three straight games, took a rare five-day break in mid-November. That win before the break was a 4-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche, in which the Flyers barely held on to win. The cracks were clearly evident. That time off merely exacerbated those deficiencies.

Since Wayne Simmonds started the season on a torrid five-goals-in-four-games pace, he has scored just three goals in 19 games since. Sean Couturier has not scored a goal since November 8, and has gone without a point since November 15. Vincent Lecavalier has not scored a goal since November 1. Matt Read has tallied a goal just twice this season, with none lately. Same goes for R.J. Umberger.

As the old saying goes, you can rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, but it will still sink, regardless of how the deck looks. Not to say that this roster is a complete disaster of that caliber, but it's looking close.

Forget about the horrific defense for a second, and focus on this—if Jakub Voracek (32 points in 23 games) was not scoring at the pace he is currently, this team might be worse than the Buffalo Sabres, who loom just one point behind the Flyers. You know, the Sabres, who have scored a grand total of 43 goals all season, and have a goal differential of -33. The Sabres, who have given away any chance of doing anything this season in hopes of drafting Connor McDavid.


If there is anything to learn from this debacle, it's that head coach Craig Berube needs to chill out. Accountability is all well and good, and the periodic benching/role limiting that he has enacted so far has been sending messages of "get it together or else."

The most successful teams ride through struggles by keeping lines together over a span of time, even when they don't work to optimum efficiency. The best example of when this paradigm should have been implemented was Friday's game in Philadelphia.

Wayne Simmonds, Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl played a sensational game together, generating the most scoring chances out of anyone. As a line, they generated seven of the Flyers' 26 shots. Quality scoring chances, too.

Seemingly for no reason at all, for the final shifts, down 3-0, Berube shifted Raffl to the top line, leaving Brayden Schenn to play on that "second line." This was the most productive line in the midst of a shutout, and it gets changed seemingly in a meaningless manner with just minutes to go? Why not reward that effort with confidence?

Berube's coaching practices can indeed be called into question with the "fireman mentality" that Stars coach Lindy Ruff has equated his season to. Too many fires, not enough water to fight them all. GM Ron Hextall has preached continually that this team is better than they are showing.

Last year, this may have been the case. Nobody scored in the early going, forcing the Flyers to start the season in the worst way they ever have. Ever. They ended up falling to the New York Rangers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they showcased a deep breadth of scorers, placed on lines in roles that made sense.

Analytics aside (and they're bad, with a 39% Corsi-for, insulated with 55% offensive zone starts), does Vincent Lecavalier playing five minutes a night make sense? He can be frustrated all he wants, but play better, and you might turn this team's fortunes around.

Same goes for you, R.J. Umberger (40% Corsi-for). Three points in 23 games is unacceptable. This is also coming from a guy who was disappointed with his playing time a year ago in Columbus, forcing his departure. There might not be any fit for either of these players, who seemingly can't play with anyone.

Berube has tried playing them together, almost to try and turn their misfortune into sudden fool's gold. They did not look half bad with Laughton between them, but there may not be any solution this season.

When will that confidence return to this lineup? Will it ever? Are there enough talented tools in this lineup to forge ahead and make a difference? A shakeup move might be necessary to try a new combination. Perhaps this might be contrary to the "don't-touch-it" philosophy, but in time, it might be the only option left.

Blockbuster trades proposed by writers aside, only Ron Hextall holds the keys to true change. Will that change involve Berube, who insists that these struggles are predicated on compete level, or will it involve the players, who continue to disappoint nightly?

With the gauntlet of California teams ahead this week, we might know this sooner rather than later.


Jordan Kuhns
Featured Writer
Twitter: @jckuhns@TCLFlyers