Monday, January 21, 2013

The Flyers Are Still Worst in the First

The biggest issue for the Philadelphia Flyers last season was not their defense. It was not young players thrown into big roles. It wasn't injuries, not even the big ones on the blue line. And believe it or not, it wasn't even the maddeningly uneven play of high-priced free agent goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.

No, the biggest issue for the Flyers in the 2011-12 season, an issue that carried over into the playoffs, was the absolutely horrible starts the team got off to in the first period. It was a season-long problem, where the Flyers simply came out flat on a regular basis and dug themselves a hole on an almost nightly basis. The numbers back this up.

The Flyers surrendered 78 goals in the first period last season, tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for second most in the league behind only the Tampa Bay Lightning. And while they did net 72 first-period goals — good for fourth in the NHL — it was the only period in which they were outscored by opponents. In fact, the Flyers blew away the competition in the second period, scoring 98 goals — far and away the most in hockey — while only surrendering 78. And in the third, they outscored opponents 84-74. It was in that first period where they repeatedly had trouble, continuously digging themselves holes that they had to fight the rest of the way to get out of.

It was a disturbing trend, one that drove me nuts, and I put the blame on coach Peter Laviolette more than anyone else. While I know he can't go out there and force his players to have jump right out of the gate, it's a coach's job to correct recurring mistakes. This was a recurring mistake that Laviolette and the Flyers never were able to correct.

As it turns out, Laviolette and the Flyers have still not figured it out. While it's entirely too early to make any definitive statements about the Flyers just two games in to this 48-game season, it's troubling to see that the Flyers could not put together a competent, energetic first period in either of the two losses this past weekend. Not only were the Flyers outscored 3-0 in the first period this weekend (2-0 against the Penguins and 1-0 against the Sabres), but they played lethargic and looked unprepared for the drop of the puck.

It's something that jumps out immediately even after just two games for the sole purpose that it was the biggest hindrance for the Flyers last season. I'm not sure I'll be able to handle another season of terrible first periods. And honestly, if it continues to be an issue, there is no one else to blame but Laviolette. At the end of the day, it's on the head coach to have his players ready to play and the coach's job to fix persistent problems. No matter how you feel about Laviolette — and most Flyers fans love him — he's failed in this regard. Now it's time for him to get things straight.

Certainly, there is time, but in a 48-game season, there's not as much as teams are accustomed to. And with all the energy it takes to come from behind, it's something the Flyers can't make a habit of in a season where they will be playing upwards of four times a week. There just isn't the recovery time and rest available to be playing from behind all season long.

Somehow, the Flyers need to find a way to actually come out ready to go from the drop of the puck because if the first period continues to be their worst period, this team simply won't be able to put up the points it would like to prepare for the postseason.

Oh, and this team's special teams was abysmal in the first two games, surrendering two power play goals against the Penguins (though one was an empty-netter) while going 0-for-5 on the man advantage themselves and looking horrible doing it, followed by giving up three more power play goals to the Sabres and converting just once on four power play chances themselves.

And one more thing … this team still desperately needs an elite face-off man, something they've lacked since Keith Primeau was forced to retire. Both of the first two goals against the Penguins came off lost defensive-zone draws. The centers need to get better at it, and it wouldn't hurt to go out and get a guy who specializes in face-offs. Just saying.

But hey, at least Claude Giroux is still awesome and Wayne Simmonds looked really good.

Just trying to be positive about something after a less than stellar start.

Fix those first-period woes, please.

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