In the immortal words of Biff Tannen, “You need more power, McFly!”
The Flyers once mighty power play is experiencing a power outage. Put simply, the extra-man unit has become predictable negating any kind of real chance of being effective.
Before we can talk about why it isn’t working, we have to understand how the power-play is supposed to work.
The Flyers run an umbrella style strategy with all things being sourced through Giroux on the left half-boards. When successful, Giroux will be able to play catch with Gostisbehere to generate #GhostBombs from the point. Option 2 is to pass to Simmonds in front for tips and jam plays. Option 3 is to toss over to Schenn n the high, off-center slot for a quick snapper, and option 4 is to cut the box and feed Voracek.
The construction of this strategy is sound; if not brilliant: let talented dudes do talented things and provide a system for them to do so.
The problem is that this set-up has been so successful that the players won’t deviate from it, and therefore, has become easy to anticipate for opposing teams as the regular season ended. The even bigger problem is that the Capitals have mastered defending it.
This isn’t rocket surgery, if you want to neuter the Flyers power-play all you have to do is get up in Giroux and Gostisbehere’s grills and take away their time and space.
The Capitols understand this and play a tight-box formation (hockey porn) with the strong side defender and forward playing Giroux and Gostisbehere tightly. the weak side forward plays in-between Schenn and Voracek, and the weak side defender plays off of Simmonds.
Normally, when Giroux feels pressure, his first look will be to Gostisbehere but if he is equally as covered, then Giroux will defer down to Simmonds as that would be the safest option.
However, here in lies the genius of the Capitols penalty kill, the weak side defender shadows Simmonds. Playing Simmonds man-to-man, achieves a couple of things: 1) Giroux can’t pass to him for his patented post move in tight because that pass will be intercepted, or at very least Simmonds won’t have time to turn and shoot as he has previously in the season; and 2) If Giroux elects to cycle to Simmonds then again, number 17 is covered and immediately enters a 50-50 puck battle which is ideal for a defending team because it melts precious time to muscle the puck off of the wall where it is virtually impossible to score from.
There were a couple of instances where we saw the Capitols negating Giroux leaving Option 3, passing to Schenn as the best play, but in those instances Schenn tattooed Holtby’s logo with shots to the keeper’s sternum.
Giroux didn’t even attempt Option 4, passing to Voracek.
So, where does that leave us?
It leaves us pretty fudged because what the Capitols have essentially done by pressuring Grioux and Gostisbehere is shrunk the offensive zone into mere sliver of attack space.
We pretty much saw the Capitols successfully confine the power play into this shaded area which then begs the question, how does Joe Mullen fix this?
Well, the simplest thing to do is to play the same formation but flip it with Voracek as quarterback. There was probably a total of 10 seconds where Voracek had command of the puck and it absolutely confused the Capitols because their directive was to take away Giroux and Gostisbehere. They genuinely didn’t know what to do when Jake had the puck.
Which then begs the question, how do you get Voracek the puck?
Again, this isn’t rocket surgery – wrap it around to him.
Look, I get the apprehension about willfully “giving up procession” of the puck when in the offensive zone. The logic of keeping the puck on your stick for the entirety of your attack time should result in better control. The problem is that the Capitols have figured out a way out to control Giroux as he “controls” the puck.
A wraparound to Voracek will be much more effective than a tape-to-tape pass across the box for the obvious reasons, but mostly because I bet Voracek can get that puck uncontested from the weak side defender because that dude isn’t allowed to leave Simmonds’ side.
The other advantage to having Voracek call the plays on the man advantage is that I think Giroux is better weak side shooting option.
But what I would really like to see the Flyers do is get more movement in their power play. The only reason why the Capitols have been able to plan such a successful penalty kill is because they have recognized that each Flyer essentially stands in one spot and appear to be unwilling to deviate from that spot.
What if the Flyers tried this?
You have to start with the same set-up because it sets the trap for the Capitols thinking that you’re going to do the same thing. Which is good because we need the strong side defender and winger to play Giroux and Gostisbehere as they’re programmed to do to create space in the middle.
The key is to have Schenn drop down low for a cycle option for Giroux. As you’ll recall, this will probably be effective because the weak side defender is not allowed to let Simmonds get more than a stick length away from him.
Once Schenn vacates his off-center slot position, this leaves the middle of the ice wide open for one of two things, there is now a realistic seem pass to Voracek, but more importantly, it gives Gosisbehere space to pinch in.
Let’s not kid ourselves, I don’t care how you set-up the power play, the goal is always to find a way for Ghost to unleash #GhostBombs.
In this scheme, once Schenn vacates his position, Gostisbehere should slide right into that top of the circle to receive the puck from Schenn for that #GhostBomb one-timer that we all have come to love oh so much.
This will work because NHL players are the best in the world, but they are too reliant on systems (because if they don’t do what the coach says, then they won’t get ice time), and they are no different than any other hockey player at any level in that they watch the puck.
The second Schenn goes into that corner and receives the puck he will create confusion as he did something that they didn’t anticipate, and everyone will take their eyes off of Gostisbehere as they try to contain/figure out what Schenn is going to do in the corner.
Is this the way to fix the power play?
I don’t know. After all I’m not a NHL coach. I’m just a hockey panda trying to crank out this post before his boss rolls in at 9:00.
Regardless, the Flyers have to do something different because the fact of the matter is that even without Couturier, the 5-on-5 play was pretty even. The Flyers had 3 man advantage opportunities in the first period and could have commanded control over the game had they converted on any one of them.
Just find a way to keep shooting, boys!