The 4 Recurring Problems of Peter Laviolette's Flyers Tenure

The 4 Recurring Problems of Peter Laviolette's Flyers Tenure

The 2013 NHL season was about as frustrating as it gets for the Philadelphia Flyers, digging themselves an early hole that proved to be too big to climb out of in a shortened schedule. On top of that, the team was hit with a bevy of injuries, particularly on the blue line, and the roster full of young players simply wasn't equipped to turn things around quickly enough.

Without question, those factors made Peter Laviolette's job extremely tough, and as it became more and more evident that the Flyers were not going to make the postseason for just the second time in more than two decades, the murmurs of his job security began to emerge.

Ultimately, we know Peter Laviolette was not fired and won't be fired before the start of the 2013-14 NHL season, and rightfully so. He's been extremely successful in this nearly four seasons as coach, leading the Flyers to within two victories of the Stanley Cup after relieving John Stevens in year one and then following that up with back-to-back 100-plus point seasons before the struggles this year. One underachieving year should not push him out the door.

However, that does not mean Peter Laviolette should be absolved from all Flyers sins. After all, the team has failed to approach any semblance of that first-year playoff success since, getting trounced and muted in the second round in consecutive postseasons, first by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins and then by the New Jersey Devils last year. Then you have the season that just unfolded, and it does make you take pause.

One of the things I have found alarming even amid the success of the Flyers under Laviolette — this season notwithstanding — is the recurring issues with his teams. These four problems in particular have seemed to almost define the negatives of Laviolette's teams while manning the bench for the Orange and Black.

Too many defensive breakdowns

While we all know the Flyers have not had the most reliable men between the pipes over the years, the goaltender's job is exponentially more difficult when he's constantly facing odd-man rushes and/or unmarked shooters. Peter Laviolette's aggressive forechecking system, which calls for defensemen to pinch whenever they can, has led to an awful lot of odd-man rushes going the other way, leaving the Ilya Bryzgalovs and Brian Bouchers (and Michael Leightons, Sergei Bobrovskys, Ray Emerys, et al) of the world out on an island.

Worse still is the amount of defensive breakdowns that routinely occur in the defensive zone when there is no odd-man rush to speak of. How many times over the past three seasons in particular have we seen two players head to the puck, leaving an opposing offensive player all alone? Or a forward (Zherdev) failing to backcheck? Too many to count, that's for damn sure.

This wasn't an issue when Chris Pronger was healthy and Kimmo Timonen was a few years younger, as Pronger and Matt Carle were a shutout tandem along with Timonen and Braydon Coburn. Now with Pronger injured, Timonen slowed, Carle departed and Coburn overworked, the Flyers have been more discombobulated in their own end than ever. It's a problem that has been routine for the past few seasons and one that proved lethal with so many injuries and inexperience on the blue line.

At some point, the coach needs to adjust his system to his personnel, yet Laviolette has never really reined in his aggressive style in favor of a more conservative game plan with more defensive responsibility for all his players on the ice, particularly the forwards coming back to help out in their own zone.

Face-off struggles

A staple of the Flyers teams from the Eric Lindros days up until the changing of the guard to the Mike Richards/Jeff Carter era was the dominance in the face-off circle. Lindros himself was an excellent face-off man, as were Rod Brind'amour (one of the best face-off guys of all time) and Joel Otto, all the way down to Keith Primeau. Any time the Flyers had an important defensive-zone draw in the third period, you'd see one of those guys out there to take and more often than not win the draw.

That has not been the case with the Flyers since Laviolette has taken over, and it's one of my biggest pet peeves for the organization. Just like there have been more defensive breakdowns than anyone can take, there have been countless times we've seen the Flyers lose an important face-off and in turn surrender a goal. That can be crippling. To top it off, it hurts in the offensive zone as well, where possession is necessary to, you know, score.

In his first season, the Flyers weren't terrible in the circle, winning just over half of their draws and sitting at 13th in the league. However, it's been ugly since, dropping to 17th in 2010-11 and then really falling off with the departures of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter — both average guys in the circle but then the best on the team — dipping to 24th in the league by winning just 48.3 percent of draws last season and staying about the same this year, finishing 23rd in the NHL at 48.5 percent.

To his credit, Claude Giroux did improve in the circle this past season and looks poised to continue to get better, and it certainly isn't easy teaching guys how to win draws. But it is incumbent upon the coach to find a way to get his centers more adept at the dots and to teach his wingers to help out more, whether it requires bringing in a specialist or working on it hard at practice or whatever else. It's tough to be a consistently good team if you're always chasing after the puck.

Slow starts

Admittedly, this problem is much more specific to the past two seasons, not Laviolette's entire tenure. In fact, in Laviolette's first full season on the bench, the Flyers scored the third most goals in the NHL in the first period (76) and surrendered the seventh least amount of goals (59) in the opening 20 minutes. However, it's been a huge problem the past two seasons, and the Flyers actually only scored six more goals in the first period in 2009-10 than they surrendered.

Last season, the team continually got off to a slow start and dug themselves holes, surrendering the second most goals (78) in the first period in the entire NHL. In fact, even with the team's potent offense during the 2011-12 season, the Flyers surrendered more goals in the first than they scored — which was a lot: 74 to be exact, fourth in the league.

Those struggles reappeared this season, with the Flyers yielding the fifth most goals in the first period this season (46) in the first 20 minutes. Oftentimes, it looked as though the Flyers simply weren't ready at the drop of the puck and didn't get moving until someone scored on them. It was infuriating. And with all the effort it took to play catch-up, the Flyers were often winded in the third, which led them to give up the fifth most goals in the third period (52) this season as well, something that wasn't the case in years prior.

It's something that's been a trademark for this team two years running now, coming out flat before turning it on. And that's something you simply can't do over the long haul for sustained success. Somehow, Laviolette has to do a better job getting his players prepared to play before falling behind.

Too many penalties

There are simply no caveats to this one. Over the past four years, the Flyers have taken more penalties and been down at least a man more than any other team in the NHL, with 2010-11 the only time the team showed any discipline whatsoever. The numbers don't lie:

2009-10: 402 minors, most in the NHL; 80 majors, most; 9 misconducts, ninth most; 4 game misconducts, third most; 496 total penalties, most; 1,350 penalty minutes, second most; 16.6 penalty minutes per game, second most.

2010-11: 347 minors, ninth most; 49 majors, middle of pack; 11 misconducts, ninth most; four game misconducts, seventh most; 416 total penalties, ninth most; 1,119 penalty minutes, seventh most; 13.6 penalty minutes per game, seventh most.

2011-12: 382 minors, most; 58 majors, third most; 21 misconducts, most; 2 game misconducts, 10th most; 472 total penalties, most; 1,318 penalty minutes, most; 16.1 penalty minutes per game, most.

2013: 213 minor penalties, most in the NHL; 35 major penalties, second most; three game misconducts, third most; 270 total penalties, most; 755 penalty minutes, second most; nine bench penalties, most; 18 bench penalty minutes, most; 15.7 penalty minutes per game, most in the league.

The past two seasons have been particularly egregious, with the Flyers committing an absurd amount of penalties, amounting to nearly a period's worth of penalty minutes per game. That's a lack of discipline on the team, plain and simple, something that has never been corrected. As a result, that has led to the Flyers being shorthanded entirely too often, which not only wears out your penalty-killers and top defensemen — not mention puts more pressure on what has been a tenuous goaltending situation — but it screws up your lines and shift rotations as well. Oh, and it gives the opposition better odds of scoring or at least tilting the ice in its favor.

It’s hard to get momentum going and pucks in the net when you’re on a parade to the box.

While it's true that each season brings a new team and new challenges, it is the coach's job to fix recurring mistakes. The Flyers certainly have had a huge number of roster shakeups, quite literally changing the entire makeup of the franchise in Laviolette's tenure. Given that, he's done a very fine job as the head coach. Still, these recurring trouble areas, no matter the team, are cause for concern, and if the Flyers get off to a slow start the way they did this season come the fall, they very well could put Laviolette's job in peril.

Reverend Paul Revere, aka Joe Boland, is a sports blogger out of Philadelphia whose life revolves around sports 365 and a quarter days per year. Keep up with Rev at his own personal blog, The House That Glanville Built and on Twitter.

Flyers' power play rediscovers swagger in win over Canucks

Flyers' power play rediscovers swagger in win over Canucks

BOX SCORE

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The Flyers got some swagger back Sunday night.

But especially so on the power play, which entered Sunday's clash just 2 for 19 over the last six games.

Two markers on the man advantage helped the Flyers edge the Canucks, 3-2, at Rogers Arena in Vanvoucer (see Instant Replay).

“It all comes back to finding a way to produce – and they did that tonight,” said Flyers coach Dave Hakstol, who had called for his power-play participants to rediscover that swagger.

Hakstol’s club won for the first time in its last nine games in Western Canada. More importantly, the Flyers (28-24-7) moved within a point of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently shared by Florida and Boston, in the Eastern Conference.

Thanks to the power-play success, the Flyers built a 3-0 lead in the game’s first 23 minutes and then hung on, atoning for a sub-par effort in a one-sided loss to the Oilers in Edmonton on Thursday night.

The Flyers converted two of three power plays while blanking the Canucks on all four of their man advantages. The loss prevented the Canucks (26-28-6) from getting closer to a Western Conference playoff berth.

“I thought we were playing some pretty good hockey of late, but the pucks weren't going in,” said Flyers center Brayden Schenn, who scored the winning goal on the power play at 2:38 of the second period. “Tonight, we tightened up defensively again from Edmonton's game and were able to score a few more goals. It's a huge two points going home."

Wayne Simmonds, also on the power play, and Jakub Voracek scored the Flyers’ other goals.

“We needed a win,” Simmonds said. “Especially after the game in Edmonton, this is good for the morale."

Shayne Gostisbehere assisted on all three goals, recording the first three-point night of his career.

Schenn’s winning goal came only a minute and 27 seconds after Voracek gave the Flyers a 2-0 lead at 1:11 of the second by sending Sean Couturier’s huge rebound into a gaping net behind Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller. Voracek’s goal was his first in 10 games. He had not scored since Jan. 25 against the New York Rangers.

How did long sought-after goal make him feel?

"Like I scored a goal,” deadpanned Voracek. “We won the game. That’s the way I looked at it. It doesn't matter who scored the goals. Special teams were huge tonight. I liked our power play. We were going all 60 minutes. This one kept us in the race."

The Flyers were a well-rested team thanks to a two-day break between games and a three-day break before the start of the road trip. The Canucks, on the other hand, were playing their second of back-to-back home games with only a day’s rest following a grueling six-game United States road trip. But there was still considerable suspense over the final 30 minutes.

Markus Granlund and Jannik Hansen tallied for the Canucks, who are known as comeback artists, at 3:43 and 12:42 of the second, respectively, before the Flyers shut Vancouver down the rest of the way. Voracek indicated the Flyers were not nervous in the final frame.

"I don't think we changed anything to be honest,” he said. We were pretty tight in the neutral zone. We didn't give them much. When we had a couple of breakdowns, [Michal Neuvirth] was on his act.”

Neuvirth stopped 18 of 20 shots as the Flyers outshot the Canucks, 28-20. He enjoyed a much better start Sunday, holding the Canucks scoreless in the opening period after allowing four goals on his first 12 shots on Thursday in Edmonton. One of his better saves came with just over a minute into the game as he got his toe on Markus Granlund’s dangerous chance from in close.

"I felt good,” said Neuvirth. “I have been practicing well and playing with confidence. The last game, it didn't work out. I put that one behind me and restarted my mind and got back to work tonight.”

“I thought he was excellent,” said Hakstol. “He was calm and settled in there. You can go back through that 60 minutes and you can pick out three or four pretty darned good saves.”

Neuvirth excelled while making his fourth consecutive start and sixth in the past seven games overall.

“It feels good,” he said of the heavy workload. “It feels better when we win.”

But he was not about to get too excited. The Flyers have a tough clash at home Wednesday against NHL-best Washington and a road game Saturday at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field against the rival Penguins as part of the NHL’s Stadium Series.

“We have a tough schedule coming and we have to be ready,” Neuvirth said.

Sixers Twitter rejoices in the Kings' pick swap after DeMarcus Cousins deal

Sixers Twitter rejoices in the Kings' pick swap after DeMarcus Cousins deal

All hail the pick swap.

When word got out that the Sacramento Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans, Sixers fans on Twitter rejoiced.

On July 10, 2015, the Sixers traded away the rights to Artūras Gudaitis and Luka Mitrović, and, in return, received an unprotected 2019 first round pick, Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry, Jason Thompson and the right to swap first-round selections in the 2016 and 2017 drafts.

The Cousins move appears to significantly weaken the Kings, who are 24-33 and just 2.5 games better than the Sixers, so the pick swap looks healthier than ever.

But, for now, enjoy some samplings of Sixers Twitter from after the trade.

Here are some of the best tweets.