Flyers Defense Corps – it is a hot topic. The Flyers have to fix it. Holmgren has to address it.
I read nearly every story I can find on the Flyers and the “defense” is talked about a lot. No one seems to be writing about what the exact problem is though. They just say it needs to be addressed.
How do you fix a problem if you don’t know exactly what it is?
I am not an expert, not a writer, nor even a frustrated hockey coach. I am just a Flyers fan. I watch every game. This year was a tough year - a really tough year.
I got over my disappointment early on and I tried to watch where our players were on the ice.
In my close scrutiny of the Flyers, I kept noticing a disturbing trend in some of our defensemen. When the Flyers entered the offensive zone – the defensemen rarely supported our forwards.
If one of our forwards momentarily lost control of the puck our defensemen would back up out of the zone. You may be thinking – yeah that’s what they are supposed to do. I disagree. They should support the forwards and hold the blue line until they “have” to back up. Often our forwards would regain control of the puck but our “D-men” were no longer in the zone ready for a pass and the play suffered. Or the opposing team was allowed a very easy opportunity to clear the zone and start a rush.
I believe this is a big reason we scored so much less this year.
To compound the problem, the defensemen kept on backing up, and backing up, and backing up. They didn’t seem to stop until their skates were in the goalie’s crease. This crowding of the crease probably didn’t help the goalie “see” the pucks being fired at him. We allowed more goals this year also.
To summarize, they didn’t support the forwards offensively and interfered with the goalie’s sightlines defensively. Not a good recipe for success.
Later in the year, these same defensemen got hurt and missed the last couple of weeks of the year. A group of young AHL call-ups and scrap heap guys replaced them in the lineup.
A funny thing happened then. The replacements held the blue line in the offensive zone. No backing up from this group. You may have heard Jim Jackson say “…and Huskins pinches again” or “…Gustafsson holds the line and the Flyers still control.”
All of a sudden our forwards got a few more chances and started scoring goals. The Flyers started winning - a little too late to make the playoffs. But, oh well. Watching the Flyers was fun again.
Another bonus was these newer defensemen didn’t back up into the crease. They challenged guys much further out than the previous crew. The goalies had better sight lines and were able to stop a lot of pucks. Watching the Flyers was fun again.
I believe our “defense” problem is a problem of “fit.” Guys like Coburn, Meszaros, Grossmann may be good players but they don’t fit with Laviolette’s “JAM” system. They constantly back up instead of “Jamming.”
Recently Travis Hughes wrote a story here about Coburn being on the trading block. He described why this was a bad move for the Flyers. I would like to respectfully disagree.
Coburn has trade value. He will fit very well in another team’s defensive system. He is not a great fit in Laviolette’s offensive system. When Coburn was paired with Timonen he did pretty well. Otherwise he has been disappointing.
Do Meszaros and Grossmann have any trade value? It is easy to say we should trade them instead of Coburn, but who is clamoring to get them? Does either of these guys push a marginal team to the Finals?
A final thought on our defensemen – I really like Gustafsson. He made huge strides this year and really thrived at the end of the year with the extra minutes he logged. He then went and played in the IIHF World Championships and did very well there while winning a gold medal with Sweden. Most of the Flyers’ writers still think of him as a call-up. I think he is ready to log top-4 minutes. He fits Laviolette’s system. Believe it or not – I think the Flyers will fare much better with Gustafsson in the top 4 than with Coburn.