The Philadelphia Flyers regular season ends this Sunday against the Carolina Hurricanes. The beginning of this season was a struggle in which we saw Peter Laviolette fired after the Flyers began the season 1-7. Under the tutelage of new coach Craig Berube, the Flyers have gone 40-23-9 and are once again headed to the playoffs.
I wanted to take this opportunity to compare and contrast what the Flyers are doing different under Berube as opposed to Laviolette. I’ll break it down by position and attempt to illustrate how the Flyers became playoff bound once again.
Under Laviolette (2012/13) -
Above you will find the Flyers player usage chart under Peter Laviolette. The color represents the players CF%. The more blue the circle, the better the CF%. The size of the circle denotes total time on ice. So, the bigger the circle, the more time on ice that player played. With that out-of-the-way, what can we take away from that chart? Well for one thing the Philadelphia Flyers started in their defensive zone an awful lot. To the point where it seems to affected their CF% because there is a whole lotta red on that chart. For a coach who wanted his players to play an attacking style the Flyers didn’t seem to do a whole lot of attacking. With the exception of the Flyers top line, every forward for the Flyers had a CF% under 50.0%. In some cases you even see brick-red for players like Zac Rinaldo, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Maxime Talbot. There is something to be said for player skill when it comes to a player’s CF% and it was clear that the Flyers just weren’t very good in Laviolette’s last full season as coach. ALSO, look at Couturier’s zone starts. *tear*
Under Berube (2013/14) –
Whoa, has the chart changed in Berube’s stead. Look at all those offensive starts. Pretty clear that the Flyers have had a much easier go of it when it comes to puck possession. Lots of strong possession numbers from the top line including the rookie Michael Raffl. You even have Sean Couturier, who was buried in the defensive zone under Lavy, and Matt Read inching closer to that 50.0 CF% even with them being used primarily as a shutdown line against Flyers opponents. Pretty impressive numbers across the board for the Flyers forwards under Berube. They have done a much better job of dictating play in their opponent’s zone and keeping the puck on their stick. By no means are they an elite team judging by these numbers but they seems to be more comfortable in the positions they are put in by Berube. If I were to put more weight over one of these factors, them being player usage or individual skill, I’d point more to the latter but it seems pretty clear looking at that chart that Berube has had a significant impact on this team.
Under Laviolette – Using the above chart for reference, the Flyers were hurting on the blue line under Laviolette. When you’re running out guys like Bruno Gervais, Oliver Lauridsen, and Kurtis Foster the results can’t be good, and they weren’t. Those players collectively averaged a CF% of 45.4. That is not going to get it done for you. Those kind of possession numbers illustrate a clear issue for the Flyers leaving their own zone. I mean, if you watched the games last year you could see that problem crop up constantly. At times the Flyers allowed opponents to pitch a tent in their part of the ice. The fact that Peter Laviolette had a part in this team winning 23 games should be commended because I don’t know how he did it with these players.
Under Berube – With the signing of Mark Streit and the acquisition of Andrew MacDonald at the deadline the Flyers were able to strengthen their blue line. Even before Amac got here, the defense had significantly better numbers this year than last. The biggest improvement clearly belongs to Braydon Coburn, ( 47.4% to 51.1% ) whom I attribute his improvement to the fact that he had better line mates. Like I said, I believe player usage can have an effect on CF% but it definitely helps when you have better skill players playing alongside you. Even though the Flyers still have issues leaving the defensive zone (I’m looking at you Luke Schenn) it’s not as bad as it was under Laviolette.
Under Laviolette – We are all familiar with the disaster that was Ilya Bryzgalov. He was subsequently bought out of his ridiculous contract by the man who signed him, Paul Holmgren. The most curious thing surrounding Bryz’s tenure with the Philadelphia Flyers was how the fans treated him compared to Steve Mason. And what I mean by that is if Mason has a bad game, a lot of fans come to his defense by saying the guys playing in front of him are not very good. A criticism that was not used often when Bryz was having such a terrible season. I’m not exactly sure why that is. Maybe because Mason won the Calder Cup and is 25 as opposed to Bryzgalov being in his 30’s? Either way, I’m not defending Bryz by any stretch of the imagination. He was bad, really bad. He sported the 4th worst SV% in the league at 5on5 and was 2nd to last in SV% in all situations. But when you look at the CF% for players like Oliver Lauridsen, Bruno Gervais, and Kurtis Foster, who saw significant ice time in the lockout shortened season, it’s hard not to feel bad for Bryz. A lot of people make the case that Mason’s struggles is a direct result of the defenseman in front of him. Well I hate to tell yah, but compared to what Bryz was playing in front of, Mason might as well be playing in front of six Kimmo Timonens. Anyway you try to spin it though, Bryz was just not good, regardless of who was in front of him, and justifiably was let go.
Under Berube – With a new coach comes another new goaltender. Steve Mason played great in limited time at the end of last season thus creating an opportunity for the Flyers to buyout Ilya Bryzgalov. It was a move met with lots of skepticism by people familiar with Mason. Excluding his stellar rookie campaign, his SV% in those 4 seasons following was 89.9%. Not exactly the stats one expects from their #1 goaltender. To Mason’s credit, he has played well enough this season placing 14th out of 26 qualifying goaltenders in SV% at 5on5. In all situations Mason’s SV% places him 15th. Steve Mason certainly has been an upgrade over Bryz but he remains inconsistent. I wrote an article regarding his Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde act between the pipes earlier this season which you can see here. In regards to his inconsistency I went ahead and tallied his SV% from his starts in March and because of the Olympics, combined January and February. For March, Mason had a pretty good 91.4 SV% but in Jan/Feb he posted a dreadful SV% of 88.4. In my conversations with Flyers fans on Twitter there seems to be a consensus that his performance in these playoffs will really dictate the fans confidence in him going forward.
So was Laviolette really to blame for the Flyer’s slow start? Probably not, but after the acquisitions the Flyers made and the hype surrounding the team someone had to be the scapegoat. It’s a shame it had to be Lavy.
But here we are. It’s been quite a turnaround for a team that had its captain get questioned about his leadership after his slow start, a fan base who called for a Marie Antoinette style beheading of its general manager Paul Holmgren, and having to rely on another new starting goaltender in Steve Mason. Fans and media alike who follow this team have had to endure all the ups and downs but we are back in the playoffs for the 19th time since 1993/94.