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.

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

MONTREAL -- Eric Fehr and Jake Guentzel scored in the second period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins past the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Defensemen Ian Cole and Olli Maatta also scored for Pittsburgh, which won its second game in a row after a three-game skid.

Sven Andrighetto scored for Montreal, which lost its second straight and has only two wins in its last six games. The Canadiens' offense remained in a rut coming off a 1-0 loss Monday in Detroit.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray was back in form after Monday's wild 8-7 win over Washington, making 19 saves. But Carey Price's woes continued as Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 26-20. Price allowed three or more goals for the eighth time in 10 games (see full recap).

Red Wings' Vanek, Nielsen score in 6-5 SO win over Bruins
DETROIT -- Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen scored in a shootout, lifting the Detroit Red Wings to a comeback 6-5 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.

The Red Wings rallied from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits in the first period, and with 3:04 remaining in regulation, Gustav Nyquist scored to pull them into a tie.

In the shootout, Tuukka Rask and Petr Mrazek stopped the first shots they faced before Vanek scored for the Red Wings and Brad Marchand countered with a goal for the Bruins. Nielsen, who like Vanek joined the team last summer as a free agent, scored on the team's third attempt and Vatrano missed the net with a chance to extend the 1-on-1 duels.

The Bruins were dominant early before blowing a chance to keep Detroit at a distance in the Atlantic Division standings (see full recap).

Burns, Pavelski lead Sharks past rival LA Kings, 3-2
LOS ANGELES -- Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels scored in the San Jose Sharks' seventh win at Staples Center in their last eight trips, 3-2 over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.

Joe Thornton had two assists and Martin Jones made 22 saves for the defending Western Conference champion Sharks, who wrapped up their regular-season series against their biggest rivals with three victories in five games.

After Burns scored his 19th goal in the opening minutes, San Jose hung on through a scoreless third period to continue its recent domination in downtown Los Angeles, including three victories in last season's first-round playoff series.

Tanner Pearson and Marian Gaborik scored for the Kings, who ended a seven-game homestand with four defeats (see full recap).

McDavid scores in overtime to lead Oilers past Panthers 4-3
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Connor McDavid scored the winning goal in overtime as the Edmonton Oilers won their fourth game in a row, 4-3 over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.

McDavid, who also had two assists in the game, got a breakaway late in overtime and got the puck away with 2.6 seconds left. Florida's James Reimer made the glove save, but the puck was ruled to be across the line via video review.

Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu and Jordan Eberle also scored for the Oilers, who have their longest winning streak since December 2015.

Vincent Trocheck, Michael Sgarbossa and Greg McKegg had goals for the Panthers, who have lost two straight (see full recap).

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

BOX SCORE

The Sixers weren’t supposed to beat the Raptors, were they? This was going to be an “easy” game for the visiting team, which was coming to Philadelphia on a back-to-back that started in Brooklyn. The Raptors are a playoff team, and second in the Eastern Conference at that. Not to mention, they had defeated the Sixers in their last 14 meetings.

Maybe easy would have been the case the last time the two teams played back in mid-December. For the Sixers, though, things have changed since then and a 94-89 win over the Raptors on Wednesday proved this recent success is not fleeting (see Instant Replay).

“I don’t think it’s a fluke,” Joel Embiid said. “We’re competing. We’re winning games. We’re playing great defense. We finally found what we’ve been looking for.”

The Sixers had been missing clearly-defined roles and a defensive identity (see story). Now that Brett Brown has whittled down his roster to 10 players and laid out a starting five and second unit, the team has been gelling in those two aspects. The Sixers have won seven out of their last nine games, with the Raptors being the highest caliber of competition.

The Raptors entered the game averaging 111.5 points per game, first in the East and third in the NBA behind only the Warriors and Rockets. They had scored less than 100 points in just seven games this season. Additionally, the Raptors had been held to under 90 points by a single opponent: the Spurs. Not bad company to be in. 

Embiid led all players with 26 points (including 12 for 14 from the free throw line) to go with nine rebounds (see highlights). The Sixers staved off 25 points (11 for 21 from the field), six assists and three rebounds from DeMar DeRozan and 24 points (11 for 16 from the line), four rebounds, four assists and five steals from Kyle Lowry, who fouled out. The Raptors shot 25 percent from three and 65.2 percent at the free throw line.  

“We’re playing with a spirit, we’re playing with a defensive mindset,” Brown said. “There is a belief within each other amongst the team that is the best that it’s been since I’ve been here.”

The Sixers' winning stretch began against subpar teams, opponents who earlier in the season some would look at the schedule and say, the Sixers could probably take that one, as they tried to project a batch of victories. The Sixers turned those wins over the Nuggets, Timberwolves and Nets into momentum and carried it into a matchup against the Knicks.

Even though the Knicks are looking lost this season, they still have veteran offensive firepower that can take over a game against a struggling opponent. The Sixers made noise by beating them at the buzzer, then escalated their performance against the postseason-hungry Hornets and Bucks. 

The Raptors are different, though. There is no questioning their success and potential to make a deep playoff run … again. Nonetheless, the Sixers handled this well-seasoned opponent with composure and confidence down the stretch. 

They stayed together when DeRozan hit a jumper with 1:53 to play to give the Raptors their first lead since the second quarter. The Sixers responded to the one-point deficit with a 7-0 run to push the edge up to six points with 20.7 seconds to go.

“I think it says we’re for real. It shows our consistency that we’ve built throughout the year,” Nerlens Noel said. “We’re relentless. We have a young group of guys that know how to play the game and play it the right way and will come out there and compete against anybody in this league. I think the perception should be a whole different one now.”

The Sixers showed they can compete with top talent. Their wins aren't just coming from teams at the bottom of the standings. 

"That gives us a lot of confidence," Embiid said. "Coming into the game, we had a lot of confidence. Winning against the second-best team in the East is just amazing. We’re going to keep on working."