Heading into the Christmas break, there are some trends that speak positvely on the Flyers' defense, heading into what will shortly become the second half of the season.
Among them, is defensive scoring.
As of Thursday’s pre-Christmas finale against the Devils, the Flyers led the NHL in scoring by defensemen with 89 points.
Shayne Gostisbehere and the injured Mark Streit (left shoulder) each have16 points, followed by Ivan Provorov (15). Andrew MacDonald (11) and Radko Gudas (10) are also in double figure scoring.
It’s no accident.
The Flyers coaching staff asked their blueliners to be more offensive-minded in training camp this year, but only in tandem with the forwards doing a better job covering for them when they pinch.
“We talked about it in camp,” said coach Dave Hakstol. “Being available. You can’t force something back there. Just being part of the attack and being there to support the attack when the play is there, absolutely, go ahead and lead it.”
Foremost, Hakstol still wants his defensemen defending in their own zone and moving the puck up ice as their initial responsibilities.
Second, he wants a third forward high in the offensive zone covering any D-man on the pinch.
“The two have to work hand-in-hand,” Hakstol said. “If you are going to be aggressive offensively and defensively, everybody has to be on the same page working together.”
Among those still in the lineup, Ghost and Michael Del Zotto lead the defense with four goals. Streit, who could return after the Christmas break, has the most goals (5).
Obviously, the attack mode perfectly suits Gostisbehere’s offensive game.
“He [Hakstol] definitely wants to see us jumping up in the play more,” Gostisbehere said. “We’re definitely a five-man unit out there and not just forwards and defense. It is something that is working for us right now.
“It helps us a lot when you are making a pinch and know a forward has your back. It’s a big thing for us. They are sound positionally. We take care of each other out there. One dives in, one backs them up.”
Whereas in the past, this was a hit or miss part of the Flyers game, it has become commonplace every period to see the defense an active part of the Flyers rush off the breakout, even on set rotation plays in the offensive zone.
“When we have confidence knowing we have forwards coming back we can step down on the walls, keep pucks in, keep pucks alive, and they know we’re going to step up in those situations,” MacDonald said.
“It makes it easier for everyone when you are on the same page. It wasn’t anything like, ‘Hey we need to be better offensively.’ It wasn’t an opportunity to go for it. We can recover, just make sure it’s the right time and you are not taking a big chance.”
As an aside to all this, Provorov, the only rookie defenseman on the club, leads the entire team in ice time average at 21:01. That ice time is also highest among any rookie in the NHL, whether a forward or defenseman.
During the Flyers 10-game winning streak, he had games logging more than 24 minutes.
“It doesn’t matter how many I get,” Provorov said. “I had a really good summer and I am in really good shape.
“I will play as much as I need to or the coaches need me to. In junior, my average? A lot higher than 24 minutes and lots in the playoffs. But it’s different here in the NHL than there.”