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The 4 Recurring Problems of Peter Laviolette’s Flyers Tenure

Jun 5, 2013, 10:01 AM EDT

Peter.Laviolette

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

source:  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

source:  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

source:  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

source:  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.

  1. yishmeister - Jun 5, 2013 at 10:09 AM

    How is stability in goal, not even mentioned?!?! Have we developed or stuck with a drafted goalie?!? We had one and traded him and he’s on the verge of winning the godddamn Vezina for a has been with a bloated contract. Throwing skaters out there on the ice doesn’t win a cup, you need to establish stability in goal and to do that, you have to draft and develop, not do knee jerk reaction trades for idiots like Bryzgalov.

    Meanwhile we trade away established stars who go on to be key cogs in a Cup win and are playing for another Finals appearance. If they make it Ritchie and Carts will have 3 finals appearances under their belt in what….5 years?!?!

    Reply
    • reverendpaulrevere - Jun 5, 2013 at 10:20 AM

      I didn’t include stability in goal because, well, that’s not unique to Laviolette’s tenure. It’s been going on literally my entire life. But yes, it is maddening.

      And I’m with you 100 percent on trading away Richards and Carter. I hated everything about that.

      Reply
      • yishmeister - Jun 5, 2013 at 2:38 PM

        Yea it’s been a round a long time, but you think Lavy AND Homer would have recognized the need to give Bob more time before reacting to desperation and trading him off for virtually nothing. Simmonds and Shenn have been valuable, but I woulda rather had Bernier and one of those two instead of two skaters in return. The series against playoffs showed why we needed a rock solid goalie, when Leighton let in THE weakest OT GWG in the history of the game.

    • jg - Jun 5, 2013 at 12:07 PM

      Because stability in goal is not a real thing. Defensive stability leads to goaltending stability. Without one, you never have the other. No goalie in the league would be successful on this team as currently constructed.

      Reply
      • yishmeister - Jun 5, 2013 at 2:32 PM

        See Bobrovsky this year. Bob faced more shots than even Bryz in less games and his save % was almost 4 pts better than Bryz. See Mike Quick last year and the year before. There’s a guy across the river for 20+ years who’s been doing that as well. How many times this year did the Flyers have a lead and Bryz wasn’t able to hold on to it? Our back up option was no better so we kept throwing him out there, but in reality Bryz is no better than a backup, that’s why Phoenix didn’t cry a river when he left.

        The Richards trade wasn’t necessary to begin with, we should have gotten atleast Bernier back in the deal. Even Emery should have been given a tryout when he came back, instead of offering a past his prime hack a 10 year contract out of nowhere.

  2. SportsChatChuck - Jun 5, 2013 at 10:41 AM

    I am glad to see someone realizes that getting rid of Richards and Carter was a big mistake. You got to score to win! And yes goaltending is an ongoing issue long pre-dating Lavy’s tenure.

    Reply
  3. Mike - Jun 5, 2013 at 10:46 AM

    No coach can fix the “too many penalties” issue because so many of the penalties are phantom or reputation calls.

    Reply
    • Marvin Monroe - Jun 5, 2013 at 11:29 AM

      They are “Phantom” calls because there are too many Phantoms in the starting lineup.

      Reply
  4. Jay D - Jun 5, 2013 at 10:47 AM

    Slow starts….100% with ya
    defensive breakdowns = not enough talent
    faceoffs = lack of talent
    penalties – i thought we want more grit on this team!?!?!

    Reply
    • reverendpaulrevere - Jun 5, 2013 at 10:53 AM

      Definitely agree on not enough talent … but then the coach needs to figure out how to adjust to that talent level. Perhaps adjusting his system to fit his personnel. But definitely difficult, no doubt.

      I’m not sure where there’s a rule that taking penalties = grit. Winning battles and forechecking hard, grit. Taking tons of penalties, particularly stick penalties and bench penalties, not grit.

      Reply
      • BenE. - Jun 5, 2013 at 11:07 AM

        Meanwhile, Toronto tough guy Frazer McLaren only took 6 minors this season.

    • BenE. - Jun 5, 2013 at 11:06 AM

      More grit does NOT equal more penalties. Grit is playing the game tough. Penalties are breaking the rules. The two are mutually exclusive. Evgeni Malkin was among the league leaders in minor penalties last year, and certainly had more than any other player close to his caliber. He is also far from tough.

      Reply
      • Jay D - Jun 5, 2013 at 1:33 PM

        ill argue this all day
        Dan Carcillo played with a lot of grit right?
        Rinaldo plays with a lot of grit right? (although he was MUCH improved this year)
        I understand what your saying …we need to be tough..we should be hitting everything that moves!!!….blah blah blah….

        F-that…give me raw talent and SCORING…do you want a goal or a good hard forecheck!
        i cant stand when we get a loon running around hitting everyone then gets a penalty, and then they get a pp goal on a dumb penalty.

        I agree you need a good mix….

        im so sick and tired of people wanting us to be an intimidating “broad street bully” like team….19 freaking 75 people…THE GAME HAS CHANGED
        Simmonds is a good example…he had season high in goals this year but because of his “grit” how long was he in the box for fighting when he could of been pumping in more goals

      • Jay D - Jun 5, 2013 at 1:38 PM

        i understand you need a good forecheck to get goals too….

        team just had such a lack of urgency last year…no energy….SLOW STARTS (as stated)

        i dunno… we should of won in 2010 dangit ha

      • BenE. - Jun 5, 2013 at 2:20 PM

        Jay D, this is what I don’t understand: you automatically equate grit with goon. I don’t want Steve MacIntyre. I want guys like Chris Stewart, Fraser McLaren, Matt Hendricks…guys from the top line to the bottom that put forth EFFORT. You can’t honestly say you were happy with Talbot, Fedotenko, and Knuble last year? Not to mention the Wellwood and Alphabet Harry experiments. Five guys who didn’t hit and couldn’t score, either. On the other hand, the guys I just mentioned have varying levels of skill and all play hard nosed hockey. That type of player is what the Flyers need to have a more complete team. Yes, in 2013-14, not 1975.

        I’ll echo you: I can argue this all day. :)

      • Jay D - Jun 6, 2013 at 1:47 PM

        yea im starting to really think this out more….

        i have no problem with talbot…

        i think the key is getting “grit” with some talent….
        when players “grit” > talent…most of the time it results in penalties or screwups
        its finding that happy medium…

        overall i think i just hate the term grit….how bout energy…can we say energy from now on?

      • BenE. - Jun 6, 2013 at 10:11 PM

        Haha, energy works. Though even that term has negative connotations for some people (not me). How many times did someone say we need Sestito or someone like him in the lineup to provide energy, only for the new school finesse fans to call those guys goons, too? Basically, it’s a never-ending argument over semantics. I just think more people need to resign themselves to the fact that not every player is going to score 20 goals, or even 10 goals, but those players are just as important to have. Sestito wasn’t perfect, but he could have matured and brought more to the game than a couple other empty sweaters on the team.

        Did you see or hear about Gregory Campbell breaking his fibia blocking a shot on the penalty kill last night? Then he finished his shift on one leg for close to a minute, staying in PK position, while the Pens cycled the puck (they didn’t score, btw). That’s effort, that’s grit and guts, everything you want out of someone who doesn’t score much. He’s out for the remainder of the playoffs, but he played his role. He puts up less than 20 points a year, and has never won a fight, but he centers the 4th line and is a heart and soul player, just what the Flyers lacked last year. The Flyers don’t have that element on their bottom lines. They have great scorers up top, but none of the good depth that the four teams remaining have.

      • Jay D - Jun 7, 2013 at 9:19 AM

        sooo we need players that will get hit with pucks and break bones?! hahaha
        i hear what you’re saying.

        i didnt know he broke his leg…i saw that live and was impressed. i blocked a few shots in my playing days….its awful ha

      • BenE. - Jun 7, 2013 at 9:56 AM

        It was a great effort by Campbell and a microcosm of why the Bruins have been very successful in recent years. In closing, I believe grit, energy, and toughness are valid skill sets and are integral to a team’s success. I just wanted to delineate “grit” and “goon.” Hey even Dave Schultz put up 30 pts a season! Haha.

    • galasso2586 - Jun 5, 2013 at 11:08 AM

      Couldn’t the answer to all of those be lack of talent? Or maybe even not enough experience on the team as a whole?

      When the trades for Carter and Richards occured (whether you agree with the trades or not), the team decided to go young. This past season is what a lot of us and people in the know were expecting from the Flyers the season directly after the trades. The organization needs to be patient and let all of these guys develop (Forwards, Defense, and Goalies (yes I’m referring to Steve Mason)).

      I agree that these 4 things are constants in the Lavy Era, but all could be turned around with more experience for the young players.

      Reply
      • reverendpaulrevere - Jun 5, 2013 at 11:14 AM

        I don’t disagree with you.

      • BenE. - Jun 5, 2013 at 11:28 AM

        Allowing young talent to develop has been one of the Flyers’ biggest shortcoming for the last 10 years, as they get more and more desperate to win the Stanley Cup. Justin Williams, Patrick Sharp, RJ Umberger, Sergei Bobrovsky are the names that really stick out to me. I still can’t figure out why we traded Umberger. We got 2 draft picks out of that: Luca Sbisa (1st) and Marc-Andre Bourdon (3rd). I really hope the Flyers change this culture and let the young guys on this team actually gel together and blossom as one unit, including Steve Mason.

        **Caveat to the Umberger trade: we eventually flipped Sbisa in the deal for Chris Pronger. So pick your poison in that trade. The Flyers gave up a 50-point center who was great on faceoffs, but it came back around a couple years later for Chris Pronger. No Cup with Pronger, but he did fill a need.

  5. Len - Jun 5, 2013 at 11:07 AM

    One word – Shootouts

    Reply
    • reverendpaulrevere - Jun 5, 2013 at 11:13 AM

      Definitely! Missed that one.

      Reply
  6. Peter Laviolette - Jun 5, 2013 at 11:33 AM

    I rented out the Central Park rink for practice, flipped out on the Penguins coach on national television, and was the most interesting part of HBO’s documentary on the Winter Classic. That and I took the team to game 6 of the Finals.

    I could pretty much take a dump on the ice before every game, and you’d still have no right to criticize me.

    Reply
  7. psudrozz - Jun 5, 2013 at 12:06 PM

    i think this article unintentionally makes a case for lavvy’s departure.

    Reply
  8. mykhuis - Jun 5, 2013 at 11:02 PM

    The Richards and Carter deals netted Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Nicklas Grossmann, and Nick Cousins.

    Yup, that’s why the Flyers are struggling. Sure.

    I agree with the article in general, and I would add that Ed Snider’s constant mandate to GET THE BEST PLAYERS AVAILABLE backfired badly last offseason and led in good part to the Flyers’ predicament.

    The Flyers need a sea change in organizational mentality. They are generally a competitive team every year but have not really been a part of the NHL’s elite since the Lindros era. Since 2000 they’ve missed the playoffs more than they’ve been to the finals.

    Reply
    • schmidty324 - Jun 7, 2013 at 4:28 PM

      It actually could be said that that is why the Flyers are struggling, they got younger, younger players will struggle. Meanwhile the guys we traded away are winning hahahha

      Reply
  9. DCinDC - Jun 6, 2013 at 12:30 AM

    I agree with basically everything this article stated–I might argue that the defensive liabilities could be partially blamed on Kevin McCarthy (I’d assume he has some say over defense).

    Overall though at what point can we just blame the players themselves?

    Reply

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