During Saturday night's win, Bill Meltzer alluded to something that I'd noticed earlier on in the season on a couple of other goals about the Flyers and their defensive struggles.
Flyers got caught with too many players on one side of the ice. Pitkänen takes advantage off E. Staal pass. 1-1.— Bill Meltzer (@billmeltzer) February 3, 2013
As it's been pointed out a few times, the Flyers are controlling play at a respectable rate among teams so far, and Ilya Bryzgalov has been a Top 10 goalie in the league's early going. So why are the Flyers 19th in goals against per game? Overly common defensive breakdowns may have something to do with it.
In particular, that trend that Meltzer mentioned--with too many of their players on one and the puck on the other side--seems to have reared its head a few times. Let's take a look at three of those that really caught my eye, including the one Meltzer points out above from Saturday.
(Disclaimer: I have never played or coached hockey at any level and I'm far from an expert when it comes to this kind of thing, i.e. breaking down film. Just calling these off as I see them. Constructive criticism is, of course, always welcome if anyone sees anything differently.)
(click above for video)
You can see this developing as Meszaros follows Zubrus back behind the net and around the boards. Here's where the defense is looking as Zubrus reaches the goal line. (Click any image to enlarge.)
Y'know how I was so easily able to figure out who was on the ice here? That picture might give you a hint. Five guys all facing the puck, with four all on its side and one (Fedotenko) headed that way. How are they looking as Zubrus sends it back to the point?
Well, you've got Read, Fedotenko, and Meszaros, who all seem to be crowded near the top of the circle admiring Bryce Salvador's one-time windup. Meanwhile, Couturier (far right) seems to have realized something's about to go terribly wrong, as you can see him shuffling to the side there, and Coburn (second from right) runs into some Devils forward (I believe that's Kovalchuk) and takes himself out of the play for a second or two.
That, unfortunately, is all they really need. Salvador's low shot clanks off Bryz's pads and goes right out into the slot, where hey wait a minute where'd that guy in red come from and why is no one anywhere near him
Five guys end up on the right side of the goalie and the puck ends up at his left after a rebound. That's a solid recipe for the back of the net every time. Fargle.
Let's go reverse angle on this one. Mike Green gets the pass out at the point. As that happens, the Flyers' defense looks like this. (Pardon the crappy screengrab quality.)
That's Mike Knuble there on the left, in Green's face about halfway between him and Bryzgalov, and he ends up coming up to the point to challenge Green. All four of the other guys, meanwhile, are on the right side of the cage.
Here's what the video looks like just a few frames later as Green is making his pass to Brouwer.
Wait...what? Kimmo and the Schenns (which sounds like a great sitcom, by the way) basically pivot like a swinging door over to the left side of Bryzgalov, where the puck is. At best, they're all pretty much covering the guy in the slot , while Brayden is maybe in a position to stop a potential pass to Nick Backstrom, standing on the right. At worst, they're doing all those things while screening their own goalie.
Meanwhile, Jake is...I have no idea what he's doing, but he heads out closer to the point AND closer to Green, which seems excessive with Knuble out there but hey what do I know. In any event, four guys who just seem follow the puck to the left side of the ice.
As for Backstrom there, on the right side of Bryz? He isn't even the guy who gets the puck here.
Brouwer, at far right, corrals the puck right about here, and takes a second or two to center it up and shoot it. At this point the Brothers Schenn have begun trying to get back to him, to no avail. Just for good measure, though, here's where they actually are as Brouwer winds up to snipe it past Bryzgalov.
Fat Schenn has decided to try and get low to block the shot (not a horrible decision with Bryz leaving the 5-hole open there, but debatably not his best possible choice of action there), while Slimmer Schenn has pulled up in front of the forward in the slot who's looking for a tip-in. You wonder if that would actually be a good time for either of them to go for the puck, but I digress.
On the ice: Max Talbot, Brayden Schenn, Voracek, Coburn, Bruno Gervais
First of all: no clue what the hell Bryz was doing on that puckhandling attempt, and that definitely played into this. In any case, he throws it into the left corner there. Honestly, there's not a whole lot to break down from here. Maybe it's the superstar effect or something, since Eric Staal is really good and when the Flyers see him start handling the puck they all gravitate towards him like a magnet.
He's got the puck here--and isn't even facing the goal yet--but here's how it looks at this point, with only three of the guys even in the picture and none of them really that close to him.
Now here's where they were when I hit play on the video, from that point, and paused it barely a second later.
...the f**k did all the guys in the orange shirts come from?
In any case, Staal skates around Jake's attempt at blocking a pass/low shot in his direction and gets a pass between Schenn and Talbot to who else but Pitkanen, also known as the guy streaking in from the side of the ice that no one on the defense is currently even close to inhabiting.
Way to be, team. Bryz tries to come way out to play it but Pitkanen beats him to the corner of the net.
I noticed this a couple of times while shorthanded too, and while I don't want to kill them on it there because the penalty kill is hard enough as it is it's something to think about.
So what's to actually make of it? Honestly, not sure. There are no real recurring personnel trends among them. Only three players show up on the ice for two of these (Voracek, BSchenn, and Coburn), and I'm not horribly worried about the defensive abilities of either of them. I'm hesitant to pin it on coaching, too, though maybe a lack of experience with one another defensively could be a small part of it. But whatever the cause is, someone's gotta figure out how to get some of these guys to not float over to the puck whenever they see it. For a team of which three of its top four defensemen would classify as "stay-at-home defensemen" (Coburn, LSchenn, and Nick Grossmann), we should be seeing more of guys actually staying at home and stopping goals.