Better With Popcorn

Despite loss, young Flyers gain valuable experience in playoff style hockey

For much of the season, fans of the Philadelphia Flyers have grown accustomed to high scoring games.

With a team loaded with offensive firepower in the form of 10 double-digit goal scorers and four 20 goal or more scorers, it hasn’t been uncommon for the team to unload a barrage of offensive firepower against their opponents.

However, those days appear to be in the past.

Since the beginning of March, the style of play has taken a drastic shift from the ‘Wild-West shootout’ mentality that seemingly summed up the Flyers. In its place, a more defensive minded approach has emerged.

Prior to the start of the final full month of the season, the Flyers had scored four or more goals 29 times in the 62 games that they had played.

In the 11 games since, the team has scored more than three goals only twice.

Welcome to playoff style hockey.

As the season winds to an end and the push for the playoffs transitions into the actual postseason itself, the days of the offensive outburst are going to be few and far between.

For teams who are unable to adapt to that style of play, well, their postseason experience will be a rather short-lived one.

The Flyers have managed to seemingly adapt to that style.

After allowing opponents to score four or more goals 24 times in the first five months of the season, the team has only allowed one team (the New Jersey Devils) to score more than four goals in a game in March.

Prior to Tuesday night’s 2-1 loss to the Florida Panthers, New Jersey was the only game the team lost in regulation in the month.

Obviously, the addition of Niklas Grossmann, Pavel Kubina and the emergence of a stonewall-like Ilya Bryzgalov have all helped the team to cut down on their goals against total.

It also needs to be noted that the team has displayed that they are willing to put their bodies in front of shots.

Since the start of the month, the team is 8-2-1 when they block 15 or more shots in a game. Coincidentally, they have a record of 8-2-1 in March.

While it may merely be an anecdotal statistic with little meaning in terms of wins-and-losses, it does display the team’s participation in protecting their own zone.

Many worried that if the Flyers became stronger in the defensive zone that their attack on the offensive zone would suffer.

While the team’s production may be down, it hasn’t been because of their focus on defense.

The team is still just as potentially explosive as they were at the start of the season.

Their opponents, however, are ready to handle it; they too have displayed that they are willing to fortify the defensive zone.

This was certainly the case against the Panthers.

“There weren't a lot of nice plays to be made,” head coach Peter Laviolette said after the loss. “We had to take what was available, a cross-ice or a seam pass. That is what we had to look to take."

For a few weeks now, this is how the team’s offense has had to operate. Open space is becoming a luxury and passing lanes are much harder to come by.

Once again, welcome to playoff hockey.

Lanes are going to be clogged, plays will be forced to the perimeter and shooters will have small windows to operate in.

Ultimately, it took a carom shot off an opponent’s skate to get the Flyers on the board.

While it would have been nice for the team to come away with a win against the Panthers, the group gained something more valuable than two points in the standings.

Experience.

For a young team, getting to play in these kinds of games will go a long way in April.

Nothing can prepare them for playoff hockey better than playoff hockey. That’s what their most recent opponents have given them and that certainly was true of Florida.

“Florida did an excellent job [. . .] tonight,” Laviolette said. “They were really a desperate hockey team looking for home ice [advantage in the playoffs].”

While the loss of points may have hurt the team’s chances of winning the division, it may give them perspective that will help them further down the line.

To paraphrase one of the most influential movies of all-time:

Two points? Well worth it.

The one flaw that may become a problem is that the Flyers continually have had to play from behind.

In the last three straight games the team has surrendered the games first two goals and have allowed their opponents to strike first in six of the 11 games in March.

If it continues to occur it’s going to be a major issue; if it’s another lesson learned then it can be chalked up as another valuable experience.

At this point, it’s still early to be a concern because they are winning, but it’s certainly on the verge of becoming alarming.

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