The Flyers are done with the state of Florida, and aside from receiving a reprieve from paying state income tax, there weren't many rays of hope to come out of the Sunshine State over the weekend. The Flyers allowed 10 goals over the weekend set against the Lightning and Panthers and have now surrendered 14 goals over their last three games, all losses. It's clear the Flyers have some warts to fix, and the first chance for fixing? Wednesday when the rival Penguins come to town.
Defensively, the Flyers were a mess over the weekend for a myriad of reasons. Against the Lightning, it came down to poor collective execution in the defensive zone exits, which were a problem area going back to last Thursday’s clunker against the Hurricanes. Ivan Provorov’s errant pass led to Dan Girardi’s goal in the second period and Andrew MacDonald’s blatant third-period giveaway led to Victor Hedman’s go-ahead goal.
Against the Panthers, the curse was the Flyers' self-inflicted wounds and failures to contain the Panthers' skilled forwards, coupled with more of those pesky turnovers that resulted in stretch passes and breakaways. With injuries to MacDonald (upper body, day to day, per GM Ron Hextall) and Johnny Oduya (left Sunday's game, no official update yet), the Flyers may be looking to dip into their Lehigh Valley depth to add a defenseman. Travis Sanheim has played exceptionally well with 16 points in 18 games and an eye-popping plus-14 rating since he was sent down. While Sanheim can be more assertive offensively at the AHL level, it’s critical that his defense has improved for him to earn a spot on the Flyers' blue line, but I don’t think there’s much of a downgrade with him over Oduya.
Sure, Oduya has veteran experience, but there’s a reason why the Senators weren’t able to trade him for a low-round draft pick and why roughly two-thirds of the league passed up on the 36-year-old defenseman before the Flyers claimed him off waivers last week. It’s naive to think Oduya could just settle in and fortify the Flyers' defense corps. Oduya needs practice time, but the early results in Florida weren’t favorable.
One of the biggest decisions looming for head coach Dave Hakstol is the personnel on his top power-play unit as Wayne Simmonds looks set to return from injury this week. Nolan Patrick has excelled since he was inserted onto that unit in Simmonds' place. In fact, the Flyers' rookie center has scored the team’s last three power-play goals. The last Flyer outside of Patrick to score on the power play was Claude Giroux on Feb. 13 in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Devils.
Patrick’s net-front presence is different from what Simmonds brings. Patrick has a knack for finding the open seams down low that require quick, inside looks on plays from the perimeter. He has soft hands and is capable of accurately redirecting and elevating pucks sent in his direction. The "Wayne Train" prefers a more blue-collar approach as a disruptive force, taking away the goaltender’s vision while redirecting shots from the point and hammering away at rebounds.
Both styles have proven to be equally effective on the Flyers' setup. My hunch is that Hakstol reinserts Simmonds on that top unit once he’s healthy. He’s a leader and you can’t discount the 85 power-play goals he’s scored since joining the Flyers in 2011-12 (second to Alex Ovechkin in that span). It’s not as if the power play has been clicking over its past seven games with Simmonds out of the lineup. The group is just 3 for 22, or 14 percent efficiency.
Ghost and the gang
Regardless of the outcome, Shayne Gostisbehere was all smiles after the Panthers game as he met with with the Florida state championship hockey team from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students and faculty members were fatally shot on Feb. 14. Gostisbehere attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas for two years.
“It’s the least I could do,” Gostisbehere said. “I’ve got to thank the Panthers for setting it up and obviously the Flyers for going with it. It’s just something to take their minds off. They’ve had a rough past couple of weeks here."