The Philadelphia Flyers are mired in a six-game losing streak. Over the course of those six games, they have gained just two points in the standings, allowed 19 goals, and have scored only nine. Finally, last night, the Flyers got some much needed scoring help as Wayne Simmonds and R.J. Umberger both scored while Sean Couturier and Scott Laughton each had their second point in as many games. It’s sad to think that a game where a team is up 3-1 at one point only to go down 4-3 and tie it up in the final two seconds of the game is an improvement. And while it’s usually easy to point the finger at the coach in this situation, Philadelphia’s current bench boss is making it easier with each passing minute.
Craig Berube said that he liked the way the team has competed the last couple of games, but that they have to be smarter and play smarter hockey. While that is true, when it comes to errors, mental or otherwise, it is also true that the coach’s job is to pinpoint those problems and find solutions. And although the Flyers made the playoffs last year, a lot of the issues that plagued individual players’ games and the team at large, even with a full camp and a whole summer to re-assess, examine, and take a new approach, not only remain but have been compounded.
The Flyers still get hemmed into their own zone for long stretches, despite having a far more mobile defense corps. They still make poor decisions with the puck as a team. They still skate all over the ice with little direction or purpose and even less awareness. They still have no clear breakout strategy and they still are far too passive in the defensive zone, allowing all the time in the world to defensemen at the points to line up their shots. They still allow easy access to their own zone and get caught watching plays develop around them. Some of that is roster-related and nobody will deny that, but the one thing that is troubling is that none of these problems have been corrected and the team has young, impressionable players who need to be brought along and see development in their games on a more consistent basis.
The biggest problem with Berube and why there needs to be a coaching change sooner than later? Development. The development for players like Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Luke Schenn, seems to be sporadic at best and these players have not added new facets to their games that make them an asset to the team aside from their assigned roles because they aren’t given the opportunity to do so. Sean Couturier can’t continue to get the kinds of minutes he does without putting up more points, but he also can’t be expected to put up points going against the top line every even strength shift and starting nearly every one of them outside of the offensive zone. Brayden Schenn’s offensive uptick this season has been nice, but the lines he is on continue to see heavy offensive zone starts and there seems to be a reluctance, to say the least, about putting him out there to play any kind of defensive role. Luke Schenn’s first season with the Flyers seemed to show that he could be a reliable, every game kind of player and seeing nearly 22 minutes of ice-time per game, while under Berube he’s seen just 16+ minutes on average.
What will happen to players like Scott Laughton who is still young and has time to improve and grow their games? What about Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, and Samuel Morin when they finally make the big club? It’s hard to believe that young players will see their games round out under Berube because he keeps players in a specific role and when that player falters, his solution is to scratch them or bench them or bounce them around until they figure out how to be effective the way he sees them. Maybe Peter Laviolette wasn’t the right coach and maybe he was as stubborn as a mule, but he allowed players to find their games and to grow and was patient with young players who were still figuring things out. That’s the kind of mentality this team needs. One that can teach and not only allow progress, but foster growth, allow mistakes without the fear of being scratched or having ice-time cut. Progress sometimes takes time and patience. Sometimes it takes being able to allow mistakes. Craig Berube isn’t that guy, and it’s not okay.