Image courtesy Amy Irvin – 38Photography
After a disappointing shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres on February 19th, Craig Berube decided that the Flyers needed to shake things up. While Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux were having an extremely productive season alongside each other, the Flyers were having a difficult time achieving balance offensively. Thus, Berube decided to split his two star players in an effort for a more balanced attack.
Yes, it has only been 6 games since this decision was made. It’s a small sample that is difficult to draw any significant conclusions from. The new arrangement has helped the Flyers find more balance in the top 6 though, and there are many reasons to think that it will continue to moving forward. Let’s take a look at how player deployment has changed, and how some under-the-radar benefits have helped the Flyers sustain offense more effectively.
Here’s a look at the way players have been used by Craig Berube thus far, via War-On-Ice.com
As you can see, there are fairly defined differences in use between each of the 4 lines. The top line has been starting the majority of their shifts in the offensive zone and has controlled play effectively. The second line, centered by Sean Couturier, has taken on a fair number of defensive zone starts and has still managed a positive possession number. The bottom 6 has played fairly moderate minutes, and has struggled when it comes to controlling possession.
Overall, the effects on the team have been positive. The Flyers have managed 55.4% of shot attempts during that stretch. Games against weak possession teams like Toronto and Calgary help that number, but they also managed positive results against tougher teams like Nashville and New York. As a result, they have achieved an offensive zone faceoff ratio of 58.3, which is second in the league during that stretch.
REASONS FOR SUCCESS
There are several reasons to think that this lineup will continue to have success moving forward. Let’s take a look at some of them. All of the statistics cited here are from War-On-Ice.com.
LESS SHELTERING FOR JAKUB VORACEK
It’s no secret that Jakub Voracek is the best puck carrier on the Flyers. You don’t really need any data to notice that. But here’s some data anyway: Voracek leads all Flyers in both successful defensive zone exits (86.99%) and defensive zone exits with possession (74.14%). Thus, one of his major skills has gone to waste during a large portion of this season while he has enjoyed a higher OZSt Rel% (14.2%) than any other Flyer. During his 6 game stint playing with Sean Couturier, that number has come down to 0.8%. Voracek is not a player who needs to be sheltered, and this new lineup allows him to be sheltered considerably less.
MORE OFFENSIVE ZONE STARTS FOR WAYNE SIMMONDS
Though he has been bounced around several different lines this season, Wayne Simmonds has struggled mightily to generate offense at even strength. He has a OZSt Rel% of 0.1% on the year, and has produced just 19 of his his 43 points at even strength. During his 6 game stint on the top line, he has an OZSt Rel% of 12.1%, which is tops on the team amongst forwards. In terms of raw OZSt%, he has started over 65% of his shifts in the offensive zone. Given Wayne’s skill set as a player with valuable offensive talent that struggles to control play at 5v5, using him in mostly offensive minutes is ideal and will help his production moving forward. Deploy him in that manner with Claude Giroux and Michael Raffl and it’s only a matter of time before the points will start piling up.
A BETTER WINGER FOR SEAN COUTURIER
Alright, so this one isn’t really under-the-radar. Sean Couturier has spent the majority of his season playing with RJ Umberger and a one-legged Matt Read, and as a result has struggled to break through offensively. Pairing Couturier with one of the league’s leading scorers (Voracek) should help significantly when it comes to awakening his offensive game. It also gives the line three viable options when it comes to carrying the puck up ice. Couturier has developed well as a puck carrier this season, but playing with Umberger and an injured Read has helped to keep that development in check. In pairing Couturier with Voracek, hopefully we will start to see the fruits of Couturier’s development as a puck carrier.
Like I mentioned earlier, this is a small sample that we shouldn’t draw significant conclusions from. There are many underlying reasons to expect that this lineup will continue to have success moving forward. As a fairly hopeless season comes to an end, there is a lot of value in experimenting with this type of change over the final 20 games. Let’s hope that Craig Berube sticks with it.