Practice makes perfect.
In theory, anyway.
The Flyers spent more than 10 minutes on Wednesday at Skate Zone practicing how to defend against the man-behind-net and open man in the slot situation.
That’s how Chris Higgins scored a crucial tying goal in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to Vancouver on a play with Henrik Sedin behind the net.
There have been numerous such “open men” in the slot so far – the Leafs’ Dave Bolland burned the Flyers earlier on such a goal.
“We got scored on there [vs. Vancouver] and got scored on against Toronto just like that in the first game of the season,” said defensive coach John Paddock.
Coverage breakdowns in front has alarmed goalie coach Jeff Reese because it happened too often in the first three games.
“Jeff Reese said that there are more goals being scored like that,” Paddock said. “So, we talked about it first and we will talk about it again [Thursday] because there are gray areas. In some cases, there are individual players where you want to do something different on than others. It’s trying to rectify a little bit of an issue.”
The Higgins’ goal essentially cost the Flyers the game because they then went on the defensive, waiting for the worst to happen. Sure enough, Ryan Kesler scored the second of his two goals later to win the game.
“We’ve put ourselves in position to win games,” coach Craig Berube said. “Going into the third period I find it’s a little bit of letdown and we end up losing them. We got to go and get the job done.”
Players admit it seems like last season where the team felt a sense of doom when the third period arrives.
“We better get unused to it,” Berube said. “Or else it’s going to keep happening. It’s a mental block. You gotta go out and play and be confident. Trust your system and players around you.”
The trust factor applies to the Higgins’ goal as players talk to each other. That apparently didn’t happen correctly.
The last thing the Flyers want is another repeat on Thursday night with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin playing in those roles.
When Sedin moved to the post on goalie Steve Mason, defenseman Nick Grossmann challenged. Sedin then slipped the puck into the slot for Higgins’ uncontested shot even though Claude Giroux and Braydon Coburn were there.
The coaching staff felt Grossmann committed early.
“Yeah, block the pass, but there is a timing issue,” Paddock said. “What Chief meant is Grossy was completely facing Sedin and not aware of the guy [Higgins] behind him. In that situation, until everyone is in place, you have to play it as a 2-on-1 [Vancouver].
“Sedin can’t score from back there. The other guy [Higgins] is the dangerous guy. Really, it’s 2 on 2 because you have your goalie. There is a time to be aggressive and go. I talked to Grossy. He said he went two seconds too early.”
Grossmann said today’s drill was to reinforce what everyone’s assignment is.
“You see a shift with a guy and you try to contain him and not run at him,” he said. “I tried to get my stick in there and make a good play. They scored on it. It shouldn’t happen. Something we have to work on.”
A lot of blame here seems to be going toward Grossmann. What about Giroux and Coburn sliding over to Higgins’ side since they were in the crease?
“Somebody had to slide and [Higgins] is right underneath the forward,” Paddock said. “It’s a five-man thing. Everybody has to react at the same time. ‘G’ flushed him one way, but everyone has to come to that side of the ice. It’s timing and a mistake.”
Coburn said there has to be good communication among the skaters in the slot.
“It’s kind of up to the forward’s discretion of what they wanted to do,” Coburn said. “It was the D-man’s responsibility to sort things out.
“It’s an instance where you want to protect the important part of the scoring area [slot] and not chasing behind the net. We needed to wait until we got the low forward back to help. Make sure guys are covered in front.”
Shame of it is, Grossmann and Coburn played so well against the Sedin Twins, that Canucks coach John Tortorella split them apart, forcing the Flyers to try to go with two shutdown units instead of one.
“It’s a shame, but I guess it worked for [Vancouver],” Paddock said.
Grossmann suffered a late injury in the game but returned to the ice. He said he suffered a “stinger,” but feels fine. … Giroux had a maintenance day off the ice. He took a two-handed slash on his surgically-repaired right hand in the Detroit game. … Jakub Voracek said that Tye McGinn, whose play was inspirational in two games, gives him energy on the first line. Berube doesn’t want to hear that, especially given Voracek is averaging barely one shot a game on the top line when he should be averaging three shots a night. “I don’t know why he is relying on Tye to give him energy,” Berube said. “Hopefully, that is not the case.”
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Practice makes perfect.