The Philadelphia Flyers and struggling on special teams go together like peanut butter and jelly. It’s been years since the Flyers were a nightly threat on the powerplay or boasted a lights out penalty kill, but things fell to historic lows during the 2021-22 season when multiple coaches and a rotating cast of players failed to find any spark on the special teams.
The Flyers opened the 2021-22 season with Alain Vigneault and Michel Therrien running the powerplay, which originally came out of the gate hot with four goals in four games. Though a few tweaks, that were head-scratchingly unnecessary at the time, killed that momentum dead and the team was never really able to re-find that level of production. They only scored five more powerplay goals on 56 attempts in 18 games until the coaching duo was fired on December 6. They went 9-for-67 on the man advantage under Therrien, a measly 13.4%.
Mike Yeo was promoted to head coach and Darryl Williams was named the new assistant in charge of the powerplay. Under his watch, the team would post their “best” stretch of success, a term used rather loosely in this case, with 10 powerplay goals across 60 attempts in 23 games. That’s a 16.6% success rate. Williams was moved to penalty kill duties after the All-Star break when John Torchetti would take the powerplay reins.
It was a move that ultimate hurt both the powerplay and penalty kill, as Torchetti completely failed coaching the man advantage as he went just 11-for-113 for an atrocious 9.7% to round out the regular season, and Williams wasn’t much better on the penalty kill.
All in all, the powerplay finished 30-for-239 at 12.6%, dead last in the NHL, over a full percentage point worse than 31st-ranked Montreal.
The penalty kill, a notorious weak spot for the Flyers, was its usual basement-dwelling self this season. Much like the powerplay it went through three separate coaching incarnations, in this case, each being worse than the one before it.
Vigneault and Yeo handled it out of the gate and actually did a good job. They managed a respectable 57 kills on 69 attempts, a 82.6% success rate. The struggle started when Vigneault got canned in December and Yeo got promoted. They never had a proper, qualified coach to replace Yeo.
Nick Schultz, former defenseman turned player development coach, stepped behind the bench for the first time and the train quickly came off the rails. The team killed off 47-of-62 (73.4%) of their penalties under his watch and he was replaced by Darryl Williams during the All-Star break.
Williams, who was handling the powerplay, got shifted to the penalty kill and the numbers got even worse, killing off just 74 of 102 attempts, a 72.5% kill rate for the rest of the regular season. Williams ended up being responsible for their best powerplay and worst penalty kill, a realization that makes you wonder why he was shifted away from the man advantage at all?
The Flyers killed 178 of their 235 penalties on the season, a 75.7% success rate and just 26th in the league.
But it wasn’t just the man advantage or disadvantage that struggled, the Flyers flat out sucked in the skill competition, too.
The team was just 1-for-19 in shootout attempts this season and 0-for-2 in penalty shots. Kevin Hayes was responsible for the lone shootout goal, his only attempt of the season, in a winning effort against the Rangers on April 3. Claude Giroux was 0/4, Sean Couturier was 0/3, Cam Atkinson was 0/3 and Joel Farabee, Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton, Morgan Frost James Van Riemsdyk, Gerry Mayhew, Ivan Provorov and Owen Tippett were all denied on their only shootout opportunity.
Laughton and Atkinson were the two who failed on the penalty shots.
So how do you fix this? Well, as much as people don’t want to hear it, the injuries did take their toll hard on special teams. Losing Ryan Ellis, who had two powerplay points in four games, and Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes, the defensive specialists who occasinally chip in on the man advantage doomed them out of the gate. Not to mention trading away Claude Giroux and various other injuries to Cam Atkinson, Joel Farabee and Scott Laughton, it comes as no surprise the team was historically bad this season.
The reality is, even with all those guys present and healthy, it just isn’t enough. The team finished 18th on the powerplay (19.2%) in 2020-21 and 30th on the penalty kill (73.1%). They haven’t been a top ten team on the powerplay since 2014-15 or a top ten penalty killer since 2013-14.
Finding actual NHL assistant coaches who aren’t just friends with Chuck Fletcher or the head coach will probably help quite a bit. The band of misfits behind the Flyers’ bench in 2021-22 was just inexcusable. But without adding legitimate star-level talent, players who specialize in powerplay scoring or have honed their shutdown expertise on the penalty kill, nothing is going to change all that much. With an expectantly massive overhaul coming to the Philadelphia Flyers during the offseason, hopefully this gets prioritized both on the ice and behind the bench, because there’s no success to be had without at least semi-respectable special teams.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: getty images