Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Four ways Flyers' next leap will be forward

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

Now that the madness capped by Monday's trade deadline is over, the real work of a playoff hopeful team can begin.

If only for this reason, Peter Laviolette should garner consideration for the Jack Adams Trophy because he's kept the club afloat despite a third of a roster's worth of rookies, constant injuries to key players and now two new veteran additions to the blue line.

Lavi has put together almost as many lineups as your average MLB skipper over a hockey season half as long as baseball's course; but now it's time to evaluate what should be done to ensure it all doesn't come crashing down in the next 6 weeks.

1) Establishing continuity with the lines.

We all know by now that Jagr-Hartnell-Giroux is the #1 unit, but there's been little to bind any of the other three. Having a roster set in stone will aid the process. Establishing chemistry is just as important as shuffling players based on situational hockey, so how about a nice 5-game stretch where the same guys are on the same line with the exception of power play and penalty kill?

What those line combos should be is something we can only really speculate about, but whatever the plan, it should be adhered to no matter what for this block of games.

Let them struggle. Let them get crossed up, let them laugh about it and sort out those issues on the ice and the bench. In the short term, points may be lost, but the long-term benefit will more than make up for it. For reference, the Life Line of Tocchet-Eklund-Propp did a lot of damage in the '87 postseason and Hartnell-Briere-Leino's magic was well-documented in 2010.

2) Keep Ilya Bryzgalov at the top of his game by starting him every night except in back-to-backs.

I don't care if he coughs up eight to the Islanders on Thursday and Sergei Bobrovsky has a near-unbeatable record against them, plop him in the crease and don't take him out . And then show some backbone and confidence by going right back to him for Washington. And then again for Detroit and Florida. Bobrovsky gets the nod at Toronto next Saturday then Bryz goes in on Sunday. Repeat as often as desired.

Resorting to the shenanigans of the first two-thirds of the season and yanking him at the first sign of trouble will completely counteract the goal of establishing the #1 goaltender physically and more important, mentally. Any blame from here on out falls on the head coach, not the man in the pads.

3) Reconfigure the power play.

What? Yep, you heard right. A power play clicking at just under 20 percent and tied for seventh in the NHL can become more efficient with tweaking. First thing I'd tell Joey Mullen is to get the defensemen away from the boards a step and another step inside the blue line for starters.

You wanna know why a lot of point shots don't get through? It's because the PP set-up is so spread out that it gives the short-handed team more room inside their box/diamond to cut off shooting angles. Same goes for passing -- the more space you allow the defenders, the riskier each pass becomes.

Second thing is to allow for some creativity and innate reaction time in a two-man advantage.

It's a difficult thing to tell that to players at this late a date after they've spent the whole season memorizing where they need to be on the ice, but it's a key, subtle move. Keeping the penalty killers -- and more importantly the opposing goaltender -- constantly moving and guessing and
forcing them out of their own spots will open up lanes that aren't there once the tempo is slowed down enough to establish the usual positions.

4) Rest the veterans.

Here's another short-term loss, long-term gain issue. There aren't as many pieces to this puzzle as there were two years ago, but it's imperative that Jaromir Jagr, Danny Briere, Pavel Kubina, Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell get some additional rest as the stakes get higher.

At this point, simple maintenance days aren't enough. One-game absences are in order to ensure maximum output. Briere's should come first in the wake of the hit he took last night in San Jose, and after that it should be up to Laviolette and the coaching staff/training staff's discretion.

Don't believe it can work? Well, what has the first 62 games of this season taught us if nothing else? The Flyers can get along for short bursts of time without key personnel for a variety of reasons. The only palms who will sweat over ideas like this are the ones who buy the tickets and the merchandise.

The idea is novel, but not new. Bob McCammon instituted rest periods for Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber and others at the end of the 1983-84 season, but the implementation and execution came under fire when Clarke publicly resisted, Barber suffered a career-ending knee injury and the Flyers bombed out in three straight against the Capitals.
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