Philadelphia - October 9, 2013 - The Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Florida Panthers by a score of 2-1 on Tuesday night. In the first period, the Flyers took advantage of a couple of fortuitous bounces to score their only goals of the game.
Brayden Schenn jumped on a loose puck in the slot that ricocheted off the boards behind the net and right into the slot and made no mistake putting it past Tim Thomas. On the second goal, a long shot from the blueline caught Panthers goalie Tim Thomas off guard, and Thomas hurt himself on the initial shot trying to make the save. The rebound was kicked out nearly to the blueline where Braydon Coburn threw it on net, seeing that Thomas was still out of position. Moving gingerly, Thomas lunged at the puck but wasn’t able to reach it in time and the Flyers got a quick 2-0 lead.
The Flyers had a number of power play opportunities throughout the game to expand their lead and put the game out of reach, but were unable to put anything past Jacob Markstrom, who played very well in relief of the injured Thomas.
At the end of the day, a win is a win for this team, and is a needed confidence boost for the team.
Lost in the Flyers 0-3 start was the play of goaltender Steve Mason. Apart from giving up a weak first goal to Jay Harrison against the Hurricanes, Mason has been stellar, looking exactly like the Mason we saw for a short time at the end of last season. Mason was equally spectacular Tuesday night against the Panthers, bailing out the defense a number of times by making big saves from pointblank range. Looking at all of the goals Mason has let up this year, other than the Harrison goal, all have been by wide open players in dangerous scoring areas, where Mason had little chance to make the save. Much like last year it is a small sample size, but Mason appears to have regained confidence in his game. In his 10 games as a Flyer, he has looked much more like the Mason that won the Calder Trophy in 2008-2009 than the Mason that struggled for parts of four seasons after.
In watching last night’s game, it was clear that Craig Berube had made some basic changes to the philosophy of the team. There was a concerted, visible effort from all players to block shots and prevent them from getting to Mason. Last night, they blocked 20 shots. For a comparison, they blocked an average of 16.3 shots per game over the first three games. These efforts, and other efforts to play better without the puck and pay more attention to the defensive zone, were a refreshing change from the first three games.
In Berube’s introductory press conference, he made a point to say that he thought the team’s play without the puck was lacking. One of the biggest reasons it was happening was a lack of experience held by the many young players that comprise the core of the Flyers forwards. They are still learning many of the nuances of playing without the puck at the NHL level, because at every level before this, they’ve always had the puck on their stick, or their teammate was trying to get the puck on their stick.
Veteran forward Scott Hartnell echoed the same thing, saying "Guys have been on different pages, at the far blue line when we're playing in our own zone. If you play defense, you're going to get good chances on the rush. This was a wake-up call, coming to the rink with new meetings, new systems, a new coach. I think we've got to support each other more."
This goes back to the youth that this team possesses in key positions. They’re often thinking offense first, and not paying enough attention to defense in order to transition effectively to offense via the breakout. If Berube can drill this into the minds of his young players, it will be the biggest difference-making change the team could make.
Peter Laviolette failed to address this problem by rigidly sticking to his system, but Berube seems willing to take a step back to evaluate things and adapt, which is a very good sign for this team. If the forwards can support the defense more effectively in the defensive zone by creating turnovers, winning one-on-one battles, blocking shots, and helping the breakout, the transition offense and 5-on-5 play will improve.
Although it was not the prettiest or sexiest win, the Flyers will take any wins that they can get at this juncture. It’s very easy to talk the talk, but much harder to walk the walk. The Craig Berube era is off to a good start, let’s hopes he sticks to his word and continues to implement the changes that Laviolette didn’t.