Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Reviewing The Flyers' Lines That We've Seen The Past Two Weeks

Instead of taking the advice of everyone on Twitter and going back to #college, Dave Hakstol decided to mix things up for last night's game against Carolina.

The only line he kept constant was the Couturier-Read-Simmonds line, which dominated Carolina (at least in terms of possession) two weeks ago. Those three owned the (admittedly kinda shitty) line of Rask-Terry-Nordstrom. Carolina threw a Rask-Lindholm-E. Staal line at the Coots line this time, and Coots and the boys didn't have quite as much success.

With all of the shuffling that has happened recently - both due to injuries and coaching decisions - I wanted to take a look back to examine the lines we've seen Hakstol throw together so far. I'm going back 5 games, all the way back to pre-Ghost, back when Ryan White was still in our hearts every night.

(Note: at some point I'd really love to dive into some more advanced stats and use my Twitter Friend Muneeb Alam's charts, but that's a project for when I get fired another day.)

Capitals, November 12 (Loss, 5-2)

Old faithful. This has been the top line for (what feels like) years. The safest move a Flyers coach can make is throw these three out on the ice and just let them do their thing. There are downsides to that plan, though, and we'll get to them later.

I think it's time to start thinking of a name for these three. They play well together in the defensive zone, they attack well with their cycles, and eventually they'll start to get pucks on the net. I'd also like to see them form the core of the second power play unit. The first runs well enough regardless of who's in front, and I think Raffl or Brayden Schenn could stand in. Let's get Simmer his own PP unit.

I miss Ryan White.

Here's where things always start to get hairy. Gagner and Schenn are decent players. Vinny stinks. Throw them together, and the line stinks. It doesn't seem like there was an easy fix for Hakstol to make to solve the problem of this third/fourth line (whatever you want to call it).

Kings, November 17 (Loss, 3-2) and Sharks, November 19 (Loss, 1-0) and Senators, November 21 (Loss, 4-0)

It might seem like I would not be on board with splitting up the line I just called "old faithful" but that would be wrong. I liked Brayden's stint with G and Jake.


The move of Schenn to the first line (and the loss of Ryan White) meant that moving Raf down with the "fourth liners" made the most sense. He certainly held his own with the energy line, and these three possess a lot more talent than people generally give them credit for.

I am on record as saying I like the Laughton-Gagner pair, and these three combine to form a VERY quick line. But I don't know if they have enough size, and they often look pretty overmatched. I'd like to figure out what Leier is/does, because Gagner has silky hands and Laughton has a sneakily good shot. If we can figure out who should play with them (maybe it's Taylor, who knows?) then we can really start to look forward to next summer's cap issues. Sigh.

If you're keeping track, that's four losses in a row and the team combined for just four goals in those games. Obviously those forward groups didn't quite "kill it" or "do good hockeying". So Hakstol shook things up in a big way for last night's game:

Hurricanes, November 23 (Win, 3-2)

I'm starting with the fourth line because they didn't see a whole lot of time. Laughts was battling a possible concussion, Gagner smashed his face on the ice and started bleeding all over the god damn place, and Leier is a rookie that doesn't command a lot of time by himself. We'll have to try this again sometime.

Let's attack all three of these lines. I love the balance. There isn't one of these top three lines that is lacking in defensive or offensive ability. Here's my issue, though: they didn't do anything. Both regulation goals came on special teams. The overtime winner was another powerplay goal.

Let's take some positives from the War On Ice box score. Brayden Schenn had 4 even strength scoring chances, and they were all considered high-danger. Leier, Read, Bellemare, Simmonds, and Gostisbehere also had high-danger chances at 5-on-5. On the power play, Brayden added 3 high-danger chances (including his goal, of course), Read had a high-danger chance, and Ghost scored on a non-high-danger chance.

Let's look at the dark reality of the November 2015 Flyers: they can't score at even strength. We need Giroux and Ghost to link up on the power play, or we need Coots to break something out shorthanded. Offense is not flowing, but we have a group of forwards that should be able to carry possession and limit opposing offenses.

With the exception of the Laughton line, the combinations from last night's game can all play against any line that another team could put on the ice. They may not score three goals per game at even strength (or any goals at even strength), but they should be able to hold the line enough to allow the power play to generate offense.

Relying on the power play for offense isn't, generally speaking, a great plan. But there is another bright spot here. Michael Del Zotto and Shayne Gostisbehere can both obviously hold their own offensively. Mark Streit and Evgeny Medvedev, if they are around, can do the same. Even Luke Schenn, everyone's favorite punching bag, is solid with the puck. Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning are both not-totally-terrible, and I like the potential Bash Bros those two could form as a third pairing.

We have some defensemen that can join the rush and attack. We also have Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim waiting to come up, and we know how well those two play offense.

Hakstol's system encourages - or maybe even requires - defensemen to jump into the play to help zone entries and maintain offensive zone possession. That is a progressive, offensive mindset that needs to be coupled with forwards that can backcheck and play defense. We just happen to have a solid group of forwards that are capable in the d-zone, with a potential future roster full of d-men that are solid in the o-zone. It's going to create a great balance once Hakstol works it all out, and I think that's a huge reason he left his perch at North Dakota to coach Hextall's Flyers.

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