The Power Play is Missing Some Tic-Tac-Toe, Basics >

by Michael DeNicola

Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013 -

We're on the eve of Friday's matchup versus the Washington Capitals, and the Flyers have started this season in a miserable fashion (2 - 5 - 0). Most of which can be credited to our special teams. 

Right now, Philadelphia's ranked 29th on penalty-killing (67.7%). The man-advantage isn't much better, ranking 23rd in the League, and going 5-for-37 thus far. 

Going into this shortened schedule, it was our blue line and goaltending that were the biggest questions. But due to relatively decent zone defense and outstanding netminding from Ilya Bryzgalov, it's our lack of scoring that's become the largest dilemma. Bryzgalov's allowing an average of 2.19-goals against him per game -- all the while tending twine on the most penalized Club in the League -- and his offensive support is averaging only 2-goals per game. Through the 2011-12 regular season, the Flyers averaged over 3-goals per contest.

5-on-5 situations haven't been great, but Philly sits at 13th in the League in that department, averaging 1.17-goals a game. 

All eyes focus on our PP. 

"Our power play -- we have to smarten up and convert on our chances. Get our shots through. We'll figure it out. My guess is we will be working on our power play a little bit for next little while," said Wayne Simmonds after Tuesday's 2 - 1 loss against the Rangers.

What's the recipe to a successful man-advantage? Patience. 

Unfortunately for the Flyers, they're skating too patiently on the power play. There's too much passing, particularly cross-ice passes that have been intercepted and dumped back behind the blue line. The key to finishing on the power play is to confuse your opponent's defense, draw them out of position by working the seams, and label the puck for the net. 

When possession's gained in our opponent's zone, the Flyers are already screening the goalie with a big body. Most of the time we're seeing Wayne Simmonds or Mike Knuble pestering from in front of the cage. Though screening is very important, our two supporting forwards aren't doing a good enough job moving themselves around the zone to find prime scoring areas. Instead, they're substituting that strategy with excessive passing. Motion from your skaters is pivotal, and I'm not just talking about the puck-handler. The more movement from your players, the more likely you're going to disorganize the defensive box, and disrupt the goalie's complacency.

Cycle your forwards and the puck, then start committing to a "pass-pass-shoot" technique, or also known as tic-tac-toeing. 

Most of the time I'm seeing our players pass when their shooting lane's open, or they've missed the opportunity completely, pass the puck to the point, and the shot taken by a d-man is blocked. Through this sequence of frustrating events, I'm counting three, four, five passes. By then, our players have given the defense an opportunity to contain the play away from prime scoring areas. Administering a tic-tac-toe style of shooting will tire out their goaltender, create second-chance rebounds, and force the defending box to collapse. When their box collapses, so can one of our d-men. He could skate into the slot uncontested and be left open for a variety of actions -- one of which being a one-timing blast berthed from either an escaped rebound or backhanded pass from the screener. 

The good news is, the Flyers aren't in a heap of trouble with the man-advantage. Despite their abysmal percentage, moving forward with a few minor tweaks (SHOOTING!) should facilitate improvement. 

And just food for optimism, CSN's Sarah Baicker reports that the Flyers dedicated an entire hour to special teams in Wednesday's practice where they deposited four goals on the power play. 

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