The Philadelphia Flyers are four games through their six-game road trip, and there is has been one glaring problem: the defensive unit.
When Craig Berube took over as the head coach, he emphasized how speed has affected the game.
“We’re not in the 70s & 80s anymore. This is a skating era. We need to skate harder. It’s about speed.” – via Broad Street Hockey.
Since Berube took over behind the bench, the Flyers have become a harder skating team. While skating better has helped the Flyers, the speed on the backend is keeping them from contending for a Stanley Cup. At best, this is a bubble playoff team. Even if the Flyers do make the playoffs, they will be manhandled by a team who has better skaters than them.
Let’s be honest here, the Flyers had no business winning in Nashville. If Steve Mason had not made several key saves, including the one on Matt Hendricks, the Flyers would be 1-3 on this road trip instead of 2-2. Who knows how the game in Detroit would have ended up if the Red Wings had Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in the lineup?
During two of the four games thus far, the defensemen have looked like orange traffic cones. The Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars skated circles around the defensive zone all game. There are few defensemen on the Flyers’ blueline who can generate offense and that is where a huge issue rests with this team. Aside from Mark Streit, there is not a single defenseman on this team who poses an offensive threat. Most of the time, the only offense we see from the defense is skating to the redline and dumping the puck in the zone.
Even with Streit’s offense, he is prone to turnovers. Braydon Coburn can move well for a big man, but he will never generate the kind of offense that another team will fear. Kimmo Timonen’s game has regressed this year, and forwards have blown by him more times than I would like to count. Nicklas Grossmann is a stellar defensive-defenseman, but he does not possess the speed that many teams covet. Luke Schenn…he has had better seasons.
The top teams in the league all have defensemen who can jump start the offense and even threaten to join the rush. Look at every championship team since the 2005-06 lockout:
2007 – Anaheim Ducks – Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer
2008 – Detroit Red Wings – Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski
2009 – Pittsburgh Penguins – Kris Letang and Sergei Gonchar
2010 – Chicago Blackhawks – Duncan Keith
2011 – Boston Bruins – Zdeno Chara
2012 – Los Angeles Kings – Drew Doughty
2013 – Chicago Blackhawks – Duncan Keith
When a team has a player of Drew Doughty’s, Duncan Keith’s or Erik Karlsson’s caliber, it is another dimension to handle. Defensive strategies completely change when a player like Oliver Ekman-Larsson is in the lineup. Players like the ones mentioned do not grow one trees, but the Flyers’ defensive unit is second to last in the league in scoring. If the Flyers want to contend for the Stanley Cup, they will have to acquire better offensive-defensemen.