Forecheck or be Forechecked
Flyers columnist Jay Greenberg looks at the balanced Flyers offense
An old hockey adage: Forecheck, or be forechecked.
The Capitals never possessed the puck for the first 40 minutes on Thursday night, then had it practically all of the final 20, turning what had been rout into a cliffhanger. Minor penalties by Luke Schenn, Steve Downie and Mark Streit became three power play goals before Downie begged for an icing and fortunately hit the empty net, making all well that ended well, though probably not for your heart.
“[Penalties are] a cause of it,” said Craig Berube. “But a lot of times you take penalties because you are not on the right side of things, don’t have the puck enough.
“When you don’t, you will take penalties trying to get it back. In my opinion the first period of Washington and the third period tonight we didn’t have enough attack because we didn’t have the puck enough.”
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The Flyers, pretty good when they have it, never have been better this season than they were for four-straight periods against Washington, a team from which Craig Berube’s club is trying to separate itself in the standings.
The only way for the Flyers to keep themselves in playoff position is to keep the puck, a thesis that, duh, may seem so obvious and that you may think we should keep it ourselves.
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But the Flyers suffer enough lapses that it’s not always so obvious to them, and besides not every successful team relies on puck possession. Some clubs, built to counter-punch, are better suited to lure the opposition into traps on the defensive side of the ice.
The Flyers, not blessed with great quickness on the back end, are not one of those teams. The support, and therefore defensive-zone decisions, have improved greatly since the early-season coaching change, which is how the Flyers have positioned themselves to make the playoffs. But if they are going to get there, it will be with full speed ahead to the offensive zone, not to the penalty box.
You know, and the NHL knows, that the Flyers are lacking the first pair, 25-28 minute a game defenseman that usually has been requisite on Cup winners, why Paul Holmgren spent as much as he did on Chris Pronger and tried to spend it on Shea Weber.
But while we all wring our hands over their major shortcoming put them together in appreciation of this: The Flyers might have the most balanced -- and therefore most solid-- offensive team in the league.
Their 177 goals scored going into tomorrow night’s game in Toronto is only the eleventh highest total in the NHL. But they lead it in 15-goal scorers with six.
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Those six, to become seven on Vinny Lecavalier’s next goal, are spread across three lines, making the Flyers a multi-dimensional team to check, a huge advantage come playoff time, which essentially already has begun.
The Flyers, who have had to win eight of the last ten to gain only four points in the race for the bottom wild card position and five on the lowest postseason spot in the division, are playing a Game 5 every night, Games 6 and 7 looming in the first two weeks of April.
There are too many teams in the race to enable one of them to lose consecutive games without seriously jeopardizing playing in the second season. So the Flyers have keep scoring, necessarily 18 players deep.
As inspired as has been Claude Giroux, only five points from being third behind Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel in NHL scoring after having zero goals and only seven assists in the Flyer captain’s first 15 games, the team has had game winners in two of the last three contests from Wayne Simmonds and Vinnie Lecavalier, plus goals from fourth liners Michael Raffl and Adam Hall.
With the move of Raffl to the fourth line, the Flyers go four deep with players who are scoring threats and who can pin you behind your blueline for upwards of 30 seconds.
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Though they lack the prototypical 26-27 minute-a-game defenseman to control their own end, they have become a prototypical offensive team of this four-line era, dictating a game as well as any team, at least when they remember to do it.
“That’s our game,” said Berube. “We compete along the walls, compete in the offensive zone, use everybody to try to wear teams down.”
Ten third-period comebacks this season are testimony to the Flyers’ relentlessness and 83.3 per cent penalty killing one more example of their resilience.
But 15.6 penalty minutes per game, 4.9 more than the average for the league, reflects a waste of practically five more minutes every night that should be spent on the attack.
The sooner the Flyers stop draining their energy with penalties, the closer they will be to maximizing their potential.
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