Adjustments. Adjustments. Adjustments. That is the crying call for every NHL team as it prepares for any upcoming contest. In order to best position themselves for victory, clubs scour and analyze scouting reports, game film, and recent encounters against its opponent. Through emphasizing an apparent weaknesses of their competition, players can fully carry out its intended game plan.
If anything, the first 3 games of the 2013 season have offered Coach Peter Laviolette the opportunity to determine the makeup of his core lineup. In doing so, two notes will become apparent in regards to his all out forechecking system that he preaches. First, It can be effective when everyone does the assignments they are given. The Flyers have had prolonged stretches where they have instilled their will in controlling the play and have sustained puck possession. However, the team has proven to be unsound defensively, allowing the opposition to capitalize on simple mental mistakes. Critics will quickly point out numerous areas, such as horrific special teams and undisciplined play, that have led to the Flyers early season demise. Yet, the root of the problem may lie much deeper.
General Manager Paul Holmgren has shifted his attention to produce a defensive unit that dwarfs Khloe Kardashian. Heading into training camp, the 8 prospective players that were trying to crack the lineup averaged out to 6-foot-2 and 219 pounds each. While they are the epitome of intimidation, they also appear to be skating in quick sand.
Kimmo Timonen and Andrej Meszaros, two of the Flyers better skating defensemen, have not been what fans have grown accustomed to seeing. For the veteran Timonen, father time is gaining fast in his rear view mirror and has caused him to lose a step or two in the past few years. That is to be expected for a 37 year-old warrior who, in spite of his health concerns, has constantly fought throughout his entire career to remain on the ice. As for Meszaros, the 2011 Barry Ashbee Trophy winner as the Flyers top defenseman, has dealt with various injuries throughout his time in the league. Coming back into the lineup from offseason surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon, he has looked solid in his return. Yet, he still has a considerable amount of rust that needs to be shed, which can only be accomplished one shift at a time.
In losing races for the puck and being unable to establish advantageous positioning, this group has left goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to fend for himself. Case in point was the first goal that the Devils scored in the contest Tuesday night. In the opening minutes of the first period, Dainius Zubrus punched the puck past Meszaros at the Flyers defensive blue line, skated past the flat footed defender and worked the puck back to the point. As the Flyers scrambled to thwart the attack, the puck was thrown at the Flyers net, where Bryzgalov made the initial save. However, the coverage was severely flawed as Travis Zajac was left all alone in the slot to easily fire the puck past the sprawled out goaltender.
Laviolette will surely perform his due diligence in trying to rectify the areas of need that are plaguing his club. There is no question concerning that. This team is one of the better prepared ones in the NHL and it all starts with its fiery head coach. Players may be shifted around to try to find the right formula on special teams; they may be benched for unruly and inexplicable play. But the defensive zone breakdowns have been caused from lack of speed on the back end. The current top 6 defensemen will never be confused with Bobby Orr, unless of course the great #4 was wearing his skate guards.
In order to shield this blatant weakness, the coaching staff should stress the importance of solid gap control. By doing so, it will help negate the ability of faster opponents from gaining a full head of steam as they charge up the ice. They will also rely heavily on the aid from back checking forwards. This will promote a cohesive unit in which the responsibilities of each individual will be well defined and clear.
It is important to remember that it is not the lack of effort that is plaguing this club, but rather poor execution of an established game plan. Once that is corrected, the Flyers will rise out of its slumber.