The biggest move this past offseason for Philadelphia Flyers’ general manager Ron Hextall was a deal that sent Brayden Schenn to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for a pair of first-round picks and forward Jori Lehtera. For the return of a roster player and two first-round picks in exchange for a player who struggled at 5-on-5 over the last few seasons, Hextall felt the deal made sense for Philadelphia and pulled the trigger.
Despite his subpar even-strength numbers, Schenn has been very productive on the power play over the last few seasons. After he put up 11 power-play goals in Dave Hakstol’s first season as the Flyers’ head coach in 2015-2016, Schenn posted a league-high 17 goals on the man advantage last year. However, with only four of his goals coming at 5-on-5 last season and a contract with a cap hit of $5.125 through the 2019-20 campaign, it’s understandable if Hextall wanted to move Schenn.
With Schenn off the roster, the question became who would play in the middle of the Flyers’ offensive zone 1-3-1 setup on the power play. To start the season, the answer is apparently Valtteri Filppula. With just 24 power-play goals in 11 full seasons in the league, and regarded as a pass-first type player attempting to slot into a shoot-first role, there are definitely concerns about putting Filppula in the slot on the top power-play unit.
The success of the swap of Filppula for Schenn won’t come down to just these two players. Luckily for Filppula, the Flyers hired former Erie Otters’ head coach Kris Knoblauch as an assistant coach to run the power play this season. As illustrated by Charlie’s piece on The Athletic a few days ago about the second power-play unit, Knoblauch has already implemented several changes to the Flyers’ man advantage that has provided results.
Along with Knoblauch, Hextall and the Flyers are banking on the trio of Jakub Voracek, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Claude Giroux to return to form after ‘down’ years last season. The three look to be back to heading in the right direction this season, as Voracek has nine points in the team’s first five games, while Gostisbehere has eight and Giroux has seven.
Keeping all these moving parts in mind, let’s look at how Filppula has fared in his first five games in the slot on the Flyers’ first power-play unit.
Filppula’s play on the man advantage
Flyers at Sharks, October 4: 3-for-5 on the power play
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Filppula’s first game filling in for Schenn created mixed results. Although the team produced three power-play goals on just five power plays, none of those goals were thanks to Filppula. It was the first of two games where Filppula failed to possess the puck in the slot on the man advantage, but that doesn’t mean he was invisible on the power play.
On the first power play halfway through the opening period, Voracek tried to feed Filppula in the slot but had his pass broken up by Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Filppula then jumped on the loose puck and backhanded a shot from just above the goal line that was saved by Martin Jones and cleared by Chris Tierney. He also grabbed a pair of loose pucks to extend power-play cycles in the win and had his best playmaking play at 5-on-4 through the first five games, when he hit Wayne Simmonds while he streaked into the slot. Unfortunately, Simmonds bobbled the puck and couldn't get a shot off.
Flyers at Kings, October 5: 0-for-5 on the power play
In the second game of the season, Filppula had a pair of strong chances from the slot, but neither were in the mold of the Giroux-to-Schenn we saw so often last season. The first came late in the first power play for the Flyers, where Gostisbehere set up Filppula in the high slot for a one-timer that Jonathan Quick saved through traffic. The other one started when Voracek possessed the puck at the right point and threw the puck through the slot, where Filppula got more of his stick on the shot-pass than a usual redirection and sent the disc over the net. Filppula also nearly benefited from a Knoblauch wrinkle, as Giroux attempted to hit the Finnish forward with a pass from below the goal line.
Unfortunately, Drew Doughty read the play and got a stick on the pass attempt just before Filppula connected on a one-timer. Filppula also successfully jumped on two loose pucks that followed a pair of Voracek dump-ins. Overall, the forward saw the puck more than the Sharks’ game and his teammates looked for him more, but it didn’t result in anything on the scoreboard.
Flyers at Ducks, October 17: 0-for-5 on the power play
Of the first five games this season, this was probably Filppula’s worst so far on the man advantage. He failed to register a single shot attempt and mishandled a few prime opportunities despite seeing over three minutes of power-play time. With six offensive zone touches outside of a faceoff win, Filppula had a pair of turnovers and missed on a pair of one-timers. His best play on the power play in the win was when he redirected a Gostisbehere shot from the point that hit bodies in front and went wide of the net on Philly’s fourth power play of the evening. Filppula saw more chances to produce in the win, but he fumbled away a good portion of those chances and failed to find space in the slot for Giroux to set up a one-timer.
Flyers at Predators, October 10: 2-for-5 on the power play
Unfortunately, there were still a handful of negative plays to go along with Filppula’s two power-play goals that came on the Orange and Black’s final two power plays in the loss. He once again had a pair of turnovers with the puck in the offensive zone on the power play and he also led Giroux into a turnover as the pair of forwards had a miscommunication just inside Nashville’s blue line late in the third power-play opportunity. All in all, this was a game Hextall and company were probably happy to see, as it showed that moving Schenn in the summer could not be as detrimental to the Flyers’ power play as once predicted.
Capitals at Flyers, October 14: 1-for-2 on the power play
It’s difficult to judge Filppula’s power-play production in this game, as he saw under 1:30 of power-play time spread out over two fragmented chances. On the first power play, Filppula hit Voracek with a cross-ice pass at the point that led to Voracek passing to Gostisbehere, who sent it right back to Voracek for a one-timer that missed wide of the net.
On the second power play, Filppula bobbled a pass from Giroux as the captain entered the offensive zone, which led to Filppula circling back into the neutral zone. This led to the team exiting the offensive zone, which led to Voracek streaking into the zone to start his highlight-reel assist to Simmonds. Filppula only had three offensive zone touches on the power play in the win, one of which was an unsuccessful attempt to corral a pass from Giroux, which somehow led to a power-play goal just seconds later.
Compared to Schenn
It’s only been five games, but here are how Filppula’s stats stack up to Schenn’s first five games from last year at 5-on-4:
- Filppula’s five games: 2 goals, 0 assists, 5 shots on goal, 6 shot attempts, 18:54 time on ice
- Schenn’s first five games in 2016-17: 2 goals, 1 assist, 4 shots on goal, 11 shot attempts, 22:49 time on ice
Schenn threw more pucks towards the net, but recorded one less shot on goal in nearly four more minutes at 5-on-4 in his first five games last season. Again, very small sample size and Filppula has a long way to go to duplicate Schenn’s power-play totals from last year, but he isn’t off to the worst start.
By season’s end, Filppula will most likely not produce as much on the power play as Schenn did last season. However, thanks to a few new tactics on the man advantage and possible bounce-back seasons for three players on the team’s first power-play unit, the orange and black may still have a threatening power play after the departure of Schenn.