Written by Kevin Fortier (@ksfortier)
Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol took a sizeable gamble through 13 games, and it has paid significant dividends.
Hakstol was faced with the daunting task of challenging and motivating his high paid superstar players, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, to return to the elite productivity levels they were being paid to deliver. Both are a year older and coming off another disappointing season. Giroux had declined 3 straight years. His point totals declined from 86 to 73, 67 to 58, and his goals from 28 to 25, and 22 to 14.
Voracek’s production has been more volatile, but has declined materially from his 81 point all-star season in his contract year.
The Flyers had the potential for 2-3 new forwards making the roster out of camp so how would Hakstol design the lines to optimize all of the talents each brought to the team and chemistry from camp and prior seasons.
Hakstol decided that Giroux could transition to the wing, and without the task of battling the opposing top line centers, he could find his game and energize his level of play. With the addition of the second overall pick in the 2017 draft, Nolan Patrick, the Flyers faced a glut of centers eyeing to make the roster.
Giroux, Couturier, Patrick, Filppula and Laughton were all seen as making the team out of camp, but someone would be required to shift to the wing.
Couturier and Patrick have never really played wing and it did not make sense to try to force them to transition. Filppula had played on the wing with both Detroit and Tampa. Laughton had played some time on the wing, but he was a perfect fit as the 4th line center and was more comfortable in the middle.
Giroux came into the league as a right-wing. Hakstol took a chance. He could easily make the adjustment to left-wing as neither Simmonds nor Voracek were comfortable on the left side. With Giroux and Voracek as top line wings, that put into question who the top line center would be.
Couturier was obviously the best center remaining and Hakstol determined the trio could spark the Flyers offense which has struggled in the past several years.
The gamble has paid off beyond what most could have imagined. The 1st line has dominated games, night after night.
The downside, however, has been that the rest of the top 9 forwards have been stagnant offensively.
Giroux, Couturier, and Voracek have combined for 45% of even strength goals and 43% of even strength points so far this season.
Wayne Simmonds exploded as the season began, scoring a hat trick in the 1st game of the season. He only has 3 goals in the 12 games since and has not scored in the last 6 games while only tallying 1 assist.
Prior to getting injured, the line of Weal, Patrick, and Simmonds were struggling to produce points at even strength. The same held-up for the 3rd line of Weise, Filppula, and Konecny were unable to provide any secondary even-strength scoring.
3 of Simmonds’ 6 goals came on the power play, while 3 of Filppula’s 5 goals. No other forward has more than two goals.
41% of the shots on goal, by Flyers forwards, have come from the top line to go with their 45% of even strength goals. When the top line is not producing the Flyers have suffered significantly to put up points on opposing teams. The other 3 forward lines have generated roughly the same amount of shots each. The Flyers have already been shut out 3 times in 13 games, which reinforces that secondary scoring has been few and far between.
If the other forward lines do not start contributing, Hakstol may have to seriously consider making some changes to the lines to generate more offense. He will most likely wait until Patrick returns from injury before making any changes.
When Patrick returns there are a few options Hakstol could look at.
Giroux is playing with much more confidence and he could likely maintain his production if he were to move back to center, but that may not be required.
If Hakstol wanted to keep Giroux at wing he could slide Filppula to the top line. He is quicker than Couturier and is a better passer, but Couturier is a better finisher. This move should not hinder the top line from continued success.
Hakstol could slide Couturier to 2C with Weal and Simmonds on the wings. That line would have have size and speed, which could also help spark Wayne Simmonds and get him going.
As much as I would hate to break up the 4th line as they have been very strong since opening night, moving Raffl to 3LW would make sense over Weise or Lehtera. The line would consist of Raffl, centered by Patrick, with Konecny on the right side. This line would have solid speed and possession skills to go with creativity. Raffl has scored 20 goals in the past and his board work would also help generate chances for the other two forwards.
Finally, Lehtera could slide down to the right-wing with Leier and Laughton. He is a strong checker and is powerful along the boards. He has decent speed and would fit in nicely with Laughton and Leier.
Here are the potential lines:
Giroux – Filppula – Voracek
Weal – Couturier – Simmonds
Raffl – Patrick – Konecny
Leier – Laughton – Lehtera
The lines would provide balance and optimize the strengths and minimize potential weaknesses among the forwards. This could spark additional scoring chances and secondary offense. The Flyers can not succeed relying on their top line for nearly half of their goals at even strength.
Hakstol is to be lauded for his creativity in putting that line together and it succeeded immensely and if offense is needed late in a game he could rotate the lines to give them the opportunity to win the game. But, barring increased productivity when Patrick returns a change may be required.
Photo credit – Phillyinfluencer.com