VOORHEES, N.J. — Down-low coverage between the Flyers' defense and forwards has been a huge issue.
It’s partly why the Flyers' goaltenders were lit like pumpkins in October and why their goals against is 29th in the NHL.
Coach Dave Hakstol says it’s the most “prevalent” problem on the club right now. So what has to change as November begins?
For starters, the two defensemen and forward down low have to talk to each other and the goaltenders.
“We have to communicate more,” defenseman Radko Gudas said. “Lot of teams play the puck down low and go side to side. We have to communicate with the low forward and make sure we know who we have.”
It sounds fairly simple, but in real time under today’s NHL, which moves at lightning quick speed, things happen in a millisecond. That’s when the puck is already in the net.
“We have to pick up a guy and stay with him,” said Sean Couturier, the most defensive-conscious forward on the club. “What’s going on around us?
“Maybe a little too much puck-watching right now. We’re letting guys get open too easily. Obviously, it’s a problem.”
He also feels players need to focus more on their own situation.
“It’s communication, but it’s also being self-aware and knowing what is going on around you,” Couturier said. “You can’t just look at the puck. Even if it’s a 2-on-2 battle, you've got to find that other guy open in the slot somewhere.”
It’s one reason why Steve Mason faced eight open shots without coverage over four games in the past week. Things have to button down and as Hakstol said on Tuesday, “We have to do it quickly.”
Defenseman Brandon Manning, who has been the best two-way blueliner this season, said there has to be quicker decision-making.
“Between the defenseman and either the centerman or low forward, we need to sort it out quicker when two D end up in the corner or one guy,” Manning said. “A little more communication and it should become easier on everyone.”
The Flyers just came off three sets of back-to-backs in October and begin November’s schedule on Wednesday against Detroit in the front end of their fourth back-to-back.
They’ll face the Islanders on Thursday in Brooklyn. Michal Neuvirth will start against the Red Wings.
“We've definitely got to be tougher in front of our net,” Neuvirth said. “We’re getting scored on a lot with second opportunities and stuff around the net. We have to make it tougher on the other team.”
Mason, who had a very extended practice session on Tuesday, added, “We’ve created our own problems ... and it’s bit us in the butt and caused a goal to happen.”
Part of the issue here, in terms of corrections, has been the lack of practice time to work on making adjustments on the ice. There’s only so much video a team can watch. On-ice practice is a must when things aren’t going right.
Because the Flyers played 10 games over 16 days in October, adding in the back-to-backs and mandatory rest, they’ve had little or no real practice days.
On Tuesday, they got in a longer practice session which allowed Hakstol’s staff to work on some details of their game from the standpoint of execution.
“It’s been a very busy month with games and travel,” Hakstol said. “We’ve got an opportunity here over the next 10 days to have at least two or three quality practices, just like the one we had today.”
Practice doesn’t always make perfect, yet in the Flyers’ case, it might make a difference in goals against.