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Forecheck or be Forechecked

Flyers columnist Jay Greenberg looks at the balanced Flyers offense

Friday, 03.07.2014 / 2:00 PM / News
By Jay Greenberg  - philadelphiaflyers.com
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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.”

WATCH VORACEK'S GAME-WINNER...

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.

 Watch all of Berube's post-game comments...


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.

A CLOSER LOOK AT THE STATS...

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.

 FREEZE GAME: ASF on the Flyers third-line threat.

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.

To contract Jay Greenberg, email jgreenberg@comcast-spectacor.com.

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 MTL 64 41 18 5 172 142 87
2 NYI 66 42 21 3 211 185 87
3 TBL 66 40 20 6 217 173 86
4 NYR 63 39 17 7 197 155 85
5 DET 62 36 15 11 182 160 83
6 PIT 63 36 18 9 182 158 81
7 WSH 66 35 21 10 194 164 80
8 BOS 63 31 22 10 168 165 72
9 FLA 65 28 23 14 159 185 70
10 PHI 65 28 25 12 173 187 68
11 OTT 62 28 23 11 176 167 67
12 NJD 64 27 27 10 144 165 64
13 TOR 65 26 34 5 175 199 57
14 CBJ 63 26 33 4 163 201 56
15 CAR 62 24 31 7 144 167 55
16 BUF 64 19 40 5 123 215 43

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Voracek 65 19 46 6 65
C. Giroux 64 18 42 1 60
W. Simmonds 65 26 18 -1 44
M. Streit 65 9 33 -5 42
B. Schenn 65 12 23 -6 35
S. Couturier 65 13 16 4 29
M. Del Zotto 53 9 17 -3 26
M. Read 65 6 20 -7 26
M. Raffl 50 15 5 6 20
V. Lecavalier 46 7 10 -9 17
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
S. Mason 13 13 8 .926 2.24
R. Emery 10 10 4 .893 3.15
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