Who are these guys and what did they do with the Flyers?
For fans of the Philadelphia Flyers, the last week has been like the world was shifted on its head.
With a group who has struggled all year to stifle an opponent’s offense, the fact that the team has recorded three shutouts in one week is an amazing accomplishment that never seemed possible.
In all honesty, it was actually kind of weird.
To make matters even stranger, the team concluded the string of games by scoring a total of one goal over six periods in back-to-back road games this past weekend.
Considering that the Flyers are arguably the NHL’s most potent offensive team, the showing was rather unusual.
Perhaps… a little too unusual.
While it may seem silly, it would irresponsible not to wonder; could this be an instance similar to that of invasion of the body snatchers? Is this actually the Philadelphia Flyers!?
No, aliens from outer space probably didn’t come to Earth and take over the bodies of professional hockey players from Philadelphia, in the process turning them into a defensive powerhouse incapable of allowing goals.
All one has to do is watch Sunday’s 4-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils to realize that.
However, it does beg the question of why the team has all of a sudden developed a desire for the defensive.
Much of the Flyers new found success in the defensive phase of the game should be credited to seemingly rehabilitated goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.
After receiving copious amounts of criticism (the majority of it well-deserved), the staff’s elder Russian net minder has begun to utilize his positioning skills to make it largely impossible for his opponents to score.
Coupled with his size and agility, the developments have (hopefully) allowed Bryzgalov’s game to finally come together.
However, that isn’t the only reason the team’s goals against went down this past week; the team’s defense needs to be credited as well.
Even though the unit was short Andrej Meszaros and de-facto group leader, Kimmo Timonen, the d-corps still pulled together and made it difficult for opponent’s to attack the Flyers zone.
With a willingness to throw the body, the team punished opposing attackers and limited their shot attempts by blocking shots.
However, against the Devils this wasn’t the case.
In the four games that preceded the Devils game, the Flyers blocked a combined total of 79 shots in addition to only allowing two goals.
On Sunday, the team only blocked three shots and allowed four goals.
While it doesn’t tell the whole story, it gives you an idea of what went wrong.
When the Detroit Red Wings visited Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night, they recorded 39 shots on goal and successfully scored on two of them.
The Flyers, on the other hand, managed to block an astonishing 24 shots.
That means that if the Flyers had only blocked half of the amount of shots that they actually blocked, the Red Wings potentially could have attempted 51 shots on goal.
This could have drastically changed the 3-2 final score.
Going back to Sunday, many have noted that the Flyers offense was the team’s biggest problem. While that certainly is true, the defense also struggled to show up.
With Sergei Bobrovsky playing in place of Bryzgalov, it may be assumed that the team’s inability to keep the puck out of the net was because of Bobrovsky.
That wasn’t the case.
Bob played well and utilized strong positioning much like Bryzgalov has. The only thing Bob didn’t have was the same kind of defensive support.
It’s important to keep in mind that there is a lot of hockey left to be played; ups-and-downs are bound to happen.
While it’s unfortunate that the Flyers lost another game to a division opponent, the game magnified what the team’s defense needs to do to be successful.
By being physically engaged, both in the hitting sense as well as blocking shots, the Flyers defense can help their goaltenders by eliminating the amount of shot attempts they need to stop.
This will hopefully limit the amount of goals against.
Obviously, the offense will also need to start scoring goals, too and they will need to do so without it coming at the expense of the defensive phase of the game.
In addition, the goaltenders need to continue to utilize strong positioning so that ‘bad bounce’ goals remain a concern of the past.
If all those dynamics can come together over the next month, the Flyers have the talent level to be a dangerous opponent come playoff time.
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