Lack of communication a major reason Flyers struggling defensively

Lack of communication a major reason Flyers struggling defensively

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.

Former Flyers defenseman Zarley Zalapski dies at 49

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Former Flyers defenseman Zarley Zalapski dies at 49

CALGARY, Alberta — Former NHL defenseman Zarley Zalapski has died at age 49, according to the Calgary Flames. No cause of death was given.

Zalapski, a native of Edmonton, played 637 NHL games for Calgary, Pittsburgh, Hartford, Montreal and the Flyers from 1987 to 2000.

He was with the Flames from 1993 to 1998.

"We are proud that Zarley wore the Flames jersey, made Calgary his home following his playing career, represented our alumni executive and we will always remember him as a member of the Flames family," Flames president and chief executive officer Ken King said Tuesday in a statement.

"This is a terrible loss of a man with great character who truly loved the game of hockey. We express our sincere condolences to the Zalapski family."

Zalapski was a member of the Canadian team that finished fourth in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

He had 99 goals, 285 assists and 684 penalty minutes in the NHL. Zalapski was named to the all-rookie team in 1989 and participated in the NHL All-Star Game in 1993.

Zalapski played stints in Austria and Switzerland after his NHL career and appeared in 11 games for the United Hockey League's Kalamazoo Wings in 2004-05.

He was the fourth overall pick by the Penguins in the 1986 entry draft.

'Special play' by Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux highlights Flyers' 4th straight win

'Special play' by Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux highlights Flyers' 4th straight win


The entire play was a thing of beauty.  

The only debate was which part was prettier: Claude Giroux’s pass or Sean Couturier’s shot?

“I don’t know," Couturier said. "Ask him and see what he thinks."

“It’s a pretty special play to be able to get that puck into open ice to let Coots skate onto it,” head coach Dave Hakstol said.

After Couturier won a faceoff in the defensive zone, the puck eventually swung towards the far boards in the neutral zone. Giroux delivered a backhand pass between his legs and the legs of Leafs defenseman Nikita Zaitsev before Couturier chased it down and uncorked a perfectly placed shot that found the top-right portion of the net (see highlights).

“The puck was rolling so I just shot as hard as I could,” Couturier said. 

"I saw Coots had a foot race and usually he doesn’t beat the other guy, but he was able to beat him there,” Giroux said half-jokingly. “He’s been playing great hockey and it’s fun to be on his line.

“It’s that kind of play that you can’t really describe. I’ll put it somewhere where he might be able to get it."

Couturier’s game-winner with 2:55 remaining in regulation Tuesday was part of the Flyers' three-goal third-period outburst on the way to a 4-2 win (see observations). It was the team's fourth consecutive victory, making it the first time since February 2014 the Flyers have strung together four straight wins in regulation, improving their record to 12-11-7.

The Flyers also snapped a six-game winless streak at the Wells Fargo Center dating back to Nov. 9.

“The last three games before this one, we had the lead and everybody bought in on how we wanted to play to keep the lead, and now we had a different test,” Giroux said. “We’re down a goal and guys just have a feeling in the room that we’re going to come back. It’s a good feeling right now.”

The Couturier-Giroux combination got the Flyers on the board in the opening period when Couturier won the draw in the offensive zone after sliding the puck behind him and Giroux finished with a one-time blast that beat Frederik Andersen.

“We switch around and try different things offensively,” Couturier said. “Having him on the right side there, G is ready for a one-timer if I win it and lucky enough the puck ended up right on his tape.”

Not only did the Flyers have a pair of first-rounders on their top line, Hakstol also elected to pair fellow first-round picks Scott Laughton and Travis Konecny on the team’s fourth line. Together with Taylor Leier they brought an element of speed and energy that led to the Flyers' game-tying tally in the third period when Konecny’s shot grazed off two Maple Leafs for just his second goal in his last 20 games.

“It was definitely part of our game plan to outskate their D and get in there,” Konecny said. “As a unit of three, we know we can cheat a little bit and get in on the forecheck because we know we can get back and defend in the right spots, so yeah, we were on top of them.”

“You guys can label them whatever you want,” Hakstol said. “They’re just one of our lines. We thought that line combination made sense with the speed and pace that all three of those guys play at. It’s one small tweak to our lineup that we made coming off the road trip out west.”

The Maple Leafs came into the game a little short on star power with top center Auston Matthews day to day with an upper-body injury. However, it hadn’t affected the Leafs in previous games as Toronto had a 5-0 record in contests Matthews had missed. Head coach Mike Babcock believed Tuesday night’s game was more of a missed opportunity.

“To me, we gifted two goals,” Babcock said. “The one tough play the goalie touched the goal and then the play where they come in, we are above those. To me, you can’t do that.”

The Flyers took down the Maple Leafs for the second time this season. They’ll meet one more time on Jan. 18 at the Wells Fargo Center.