There’s a lot to like about the Philadelphia Flyers right now. They’re riding a six-game winning streak, the debatable offseason transactions have turned out nicely, and the team’s direction seems to be in dependable hands with the current head coach and general manager. On top of that the discussion has shifted from questioning if the team can make the postseason to can they possibly win the division thanks to three straight weeks of sweeping home-and-homes against clubs battling for the same playoff spots as the Orange and Black. The improvement in the team’s overall success this season can be attributed to the Flyers’ changing things up, but to get their once inept power play going they decided to play the hits.
During a pretty embarrassing 5-0 loss to the lowly New Jersey Devils in Philly back on February 6th the Philadelphia Flyers not only failed to produce a power-play goal, but they also gave up a shorty to Pavel Zacha. If that wasn’t sad enough the Devils’ penalty kill had outshot the Flyers’ power play 4-3 through Philadelphia’s first three power plays before the hosts rattled off three shots on their final power play that took place late in a five-goal game.
After that 0-for-4 performance the Flyers found themselves 18th in the league with a man advantage that converted 19.1 percent of the time. In need of something to spark the power play Michel Therrien and the team turned to a new formation that wasn’t all that new: Claude Giroux quarterbacking on the left side, Jakub Voracek working the right wall, a lefty shot (currently Sean Couturier) in the slot, and a right-handed shot (currently Travis Konecny) down low. It’s a setup that has worked with Giroux and the Flyers for years, but the team didn’t try this season until about a month ago. In the 11 games since they started using this setup the Orange and Black have potted 12 goals on 35 power-play attempts for a 34.3 power-play percentage over that time, which is good for second in the league behind only the Edmonton Oilers’ 35.1.
A few of the goals have happened just because Giroux is in his old spot and still has incredible hands and vision. He set up Ivan Provorov in the Flyers’ 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on February 15th a few days before he dangled on his knees to set up a Voracek tally off a stellar passing play against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Giroux also finished another absurd string of dishes for a power-play goal in Philadelphia’s first win of their recent home-and-home sweep against the New York Rangers.
Putting Giroux on the left side was something we’ve all been screaming about for awhile now so it’s nice that the Flyers finally put him back there, but it isn’t the only reason why the team has been killing it on the man advantage lately. The addition of utilizing passes and play creation from below the goal line as well as new personnel on the second unit is helping the Flyers’ power play become something other clubs can’t stop.
Working from below the goal line at 5-on-5 usually causes some problems for opposing defenses and goalies. Defenders have a harder time anticipating and denying the offense’s passes while goalies have their head turned away from the play with the offense setting up behind them. Goaltenders are also most likely going to have to cover a lot of ground side-to-side if a pass from below the goal line is one-timed or off the pass recipient’s stick quick. The Flyers have been using puck movement below the goal line a lot on the power play recently with three of their 12 goals over this run coming off one-timers set up with passes from below the goal line. Couturier scored nine seconds into the team’s first chance with the new-look power play off a one-timer that Giroux feed from below the goal line in Philly’s 7-2 win over the Washington Capitals on February 8th and Robert Hagg scored in garbage time off a Michael Raffl feed from below the goal line a few days later in a 6-2 win over the Florida Panthers. Giroux scored the most recent one-timer off a pass from below the goal line, as he cranked a Couturier feed past Elvis Merzlikins in the Flyers’ 4-3 overtime on February 20th.
The power play’s ability to convert on these plays from below the goal line is now goading teams into trying to jump the pass from the point or sidewall to below the net, which then creates more time and space for the Flyers’ power play to produce elsewhere. A perfect example of this was Travis Konecny’s power-play goal in Sunday’s 5-3 win over the New York Rangers. After a faceoff win in the offensive zone, Provorov moved the puck to Voracek on the right wall. With Giroux going into the right corner Jacob Trouba found himself needing to respect Voracek’s option of going down low to the captain, which gave Voracek a lane to get the puck to the net where Konecny was able to redirect one past Henrik Lundqvist while Brendan Smith lost inside positioning.
The new-look first power play has pushed James van Riemsdyk to the second unit, where he and Nicolas Aube-Kubel have helped to produce a few goals. Before Therrien switched up the setup on the man advantage Giroux was positioned on the right side of the offensive zone and often feed the puck to JVR in front. Whether the power forward tried to redirect a shot, catch and turnaround for a shot from in close, or looked for a pass cross ice it seemed as though anything JVR did rarely resulted in a goal or caught teams off guard. Perhaps thanks to less pressure due to the top unit clicking the former Toronto Maple Leaf has created two of these goals due to his plays at the right side of the net. In that 5-3 loss to Tampa Bay on February 15th the puck eventually worked its way to Matt Niskanen at the right point on a power play late in the game. With a Niskanen shot on the way, JVR was able to work his way to the side of the net like he has most of the season but without any attention from Tampa’s penalty kill. This allowed JVR to redirect Niskanen’s shot past Andrei Vasilevskiy.
He did the same thing against the San Jose Sharks in the Flyers’ 4-2 win on February 25th. He swung out to the right when Niskanen let go of a shot from the point on the first power play of the game, which led to him grabbing Aaron Dell’s shot and gliding it to a wide open NAK in the slot on a play where everyone expected him to shoot.
Speaking of NAK the forward has been on the second man advantage unit for only the last three games but he’s made an impact. Along with finishing JVR’s pass against San Jose Aube-Kubel was the primary reason the Orange and Black scored their opening goal on Sunday. After he received a Kevin Hayes’ pass at the bottom of the right circle NAK quickly tossed the puck back to Travis Sanheim at the point, who immediately put a shot on net. Sanheim’s attempt created a rebound that NAK didn’t finish, but his try did hit iron and set up Niskanen for the tally. Joel Farabee wasn’t bringing down the second power play, but Aube-Kubel has been very productive in his short time replacing the 2018 draft pick.
Reverting back to the old Flyers’ power play formation has paid off big time since its return. The wrinkles in puck and player movement as well as the adjustment in personnel on both units has helped to turn one of the team’s biggest concerns into a positive. If the Orange and Black can add top-end power play to the litany of other strengths this team has at the moment they have become an even tougher first-round out.