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Flyers Film: Breaking down the defensive breakdowns in Pittsburgh

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Flyers defensive breakdowns

The Philadelphia Flyers put up a performance to forget in a 5-2 loss to the Penguins on Tuesday night. In their first of three games in Pittsburgh, there were several Flyers defensive breakdowns and missed assignments. It was discouraging after back-to-back shutout wins this weekend.

Flyers fans can return to the Wells Fargo Center for next home game on Sunday

All of the Penguins’ first four goals were the direct result of some sort of mistake by the Flyers. Whether it be a bad pass, penalty, poor positioning, or all of the above, the Flyers’ defensive effort was horrific.

Fortunately  – or unfortunately – for you, I took the liberty of rewatching the game and highlighting most of the Flyers’ egregious mistakes. And there were a lot of them.

First-period follies a sign of things to come

The Penguins had a cycle going and had a man open in front of the net for some of it.

Even when the Flyers did end up covering, it wasn’t the defensemen who were on the ice (Philippe Myers and Robert Hagg), it was the center, Kevin Hayes. That’s fine if it’s swapping coverage, which it appeared to be in this case, but it was a sign of things to come later in the game.

It wasn’t just the defensemen who had a rough game. The second line got caught in deep after a dump-in, resulting in a 4-on-2 rush for the Penguins.

Carter Hart had to make a tough save to keep the game scoreless.

Sometimes “defense” gets blamed solely on the defensemen, but it’s important to remember that the forwards have to play a two-way game. The Flyers’ team defense was lackluster against the Penguins on Tuesday night.

Just over a minute later it happened again. This time, it was the top line on the ice. Myers pinched up with three forwards already in fairly deep.

Hagg was able to cycle over and cover the right side of the ice, but it opened up a two-on-one. James van Riemsdyk skated hard on the backcheck to try to disrupt Sam Lafferty, but it was still a dangerous chance.

Those were the mild breakdowns in the first period. They weren’t all even necessarily breakdowns, just chances for the Penguins to possibly exploit the defense. The first period ended scoreless without too many dangerous chances, but that didn’t last for long.

That changed in the second period.

Flyers defensive breakdowns galore in second period

It was a frame filled with mistakes that ended up either in the back of the net or with Hart being forced to make a tough save.

The Penguins had some power-play time carry over to the second period.

The Flyers have had a lot of issues with leaving open players in front of the net while shorthanded. That continued against the Penguins.

It didn’t cost them here, but just watch as Jake Guentzel goes pretty much untouched for the majority of this clip.

These two frames are particularly egregious.

This first one is just as Myers notices two guys behind him.

In this one there are once again two guys in front unmarked, but at least there doesn’t appear to be any lanes open.

With Letang’s shot on the way, there is no one within at least a few feet of Guentzel, which allows him to get a deflection and rebound try.

The Flyers survived that, however, and got some momentum with the game’s opening goal a few minutes later. That was the high point of the game for the Flyers, as Shayne Gostisbehere‘s giveaway was the start of the descent.

Gostisbehere’s ghastly gaffes

Gositsbehere first made a solid pass to spring a rush into the Penguins zone. Then, Kevin Hayes dropped the puck back to him and that’s when disaster struck. Gostisbehere turned away from Brandon Tanev, but then made a horrible cross-ice pass that was intercepted by Kasperi Kapanen. He took it the other way and we know what happened.

Gostisbehere had several other options available to him but elected for the worst one and it cost him.

“Maybe if I didn’t pass them the puck that would’ve helped too,” a clearly frustrated Gostisbehere said unprompted after the game. He has to be better than that and he knows it.

It was the start of a few bad plays by Gostisbehere. On his next shift, he tried to backhand the puck out of trouble from the middle of his own zone.

It hit Zach Aston-Reese, who missed the net with a dangerous chance.

Right after that, Gostisbehere got beat by Bryan Rust, who made a power move to the net and created chaos in the crease.

The Flyers were lucky to still be tied after that sequence.

Hart keeps Flyers in it

The Flyers defensive breakdowns continued, but Hart continued to keep the Flyers in the game as well.

A few minutes later, Justin Braun and Travis Sanheim got caught going for the same player behind the net. That left Evgeni Malkin wide open on the backdoor, but luckily Hayes was able to kick the puck out of danger.

Then it was the third pair’s turn. Myers got caught along the wall in the neutral zone and Hagg failed to block the shot, leaving a lane open for the other forward crashing the net. Voracek was there as well, but Tanev had a clear opportunity for a potential rebound or second chance.

Hart had the answer, however.

Here’s an example of what the flyers should be doing with players in front of the net. Sanheim completely boxes out Guentzel, even without his stick.

The above clip also shows the penalty on Michael Raffl, which caused the power play that the Penguins scored on.

The Flyers penalty kill was unable to clear the front of the net again.

It didn’t cost them either of these times, however.

Instead, it was when the Penguins were able to outnumber the Flyers three-to-one down low for an easy tap-in goal.

Guentzel was open in front but moved to the bottom of the circle to open up the passing lane.

It was a tic-tac-toe goal for the Penguins to go up 2-1.

Then, before actually taking a 3-1 lead, Kapanen nearly completed the natural hat trick. He would have if it wasn’t for the great save by Hart.

Myers made a bad pinch and there were no forwards back to help out. The Penguins ended up with a 2-on-0 in front of Hart on the rebound.

Hart made a tremendous save to keep the Flyers in the game, but it didn’t matter.

Inexcusable incident

On Pittsburgh’s next trip down the ice after a commercial break, they had another situation with two unmarked forwards in front of Hart.

Hart sees – and points at – Rust, the goal scorer, but no one covers him as he gets behind the defense.

An easy rebound goal for Rust with no one marking him or Guentzel in front. It’s simply inexcusable for both wingers to get behind the defense.

The game was just past the halfway point, but you could already tell it was over. The Penguins jumped all over the Flyers’ mistakes.

Flyers make third-period push

The Flyers tried to get back in it in the third period. They dominated the period in terms of shot attempts (25-8), shots on goal (13-6), scoring chances (10-5), and expected goals (0.87-0.34) at 5-on-5 play, but were outscored 2-1. The Flyers defensive breakdowns didn’t stop, either.

After wasting two more power plays to start the period, the Penguins nearly made it a three-goal game after another poor play by a defenseman.

Braun couldn’t handle a bouncing puck from Raffl, leading to a breakaway the other way.

Once again, Hart bailed out his teammates.

That kept the Flyers within two and looked like it could change the game when Farabee scored his second of the night to make it a 3-2 game.

Prior to Farabee’s goal, however, the mistakes kept coming. Provorov was pressured and fired a blind pass up the wall to Malkin, who forced Hart to make a tough glove save.

Farabee got the Flyers within one goal with nine minutes remaining in the third period. Just over a minute later, the Penguins had a two-goal lead again.

Myers tried an aggressive pinch down a goal late in the game, but it cost him. The Penguins had an odd-man rush the other way and Mark Friedman helped set up another tic-tac-toe goal to tack on to Pittsburgh’s lead

Friedman’s pass went just between the sticks of a sprawling Patrick and backchecking Myers.

Not much Hart could do on this one – again.

The Penguins added a non-empty-net goal with Hart heading to the bench for the extra attacker to put the game away with a 5-2 lead.

The frustrating thing is that the Flyers didn’t play too poorly outside of these mistakes. There were a lot of them, but they were able to generate shots and scoring chances. At five-on-five play, they had more shot attempts (52-34) and shots on goal (29-19) than the Penguins. Each team had 20 scoring chances, with the Penguins having a 9-6 advantage in high-danger chances. Expected goals were just a decimal point difference with the Flyers having a 50.03 xGF% at even strength.

The Flyers have a lot of things to clean up for Thursday night’s rematch in Pittsburgh. They’ve bounced back from bad performances so far this season and will look to do the same after this one.


(Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

Stats: Natural Stat Trick

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Ryan is a proud graduate of Monmouth University. He has covered the Philadelphia Flyers for the better part of a decade at various outlets, including Sons of Penn and Broad Street Hockey. Ryan has also worked for NHL.com and NBC Sports Regional Networks. Whether it's a GIF, quick stat, analysis, or long-form column, he's got you covered.

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Ric

What a great wrap up I really appreciate the work that went into it. I particularly like where you show the correct defensive play by Sanheim taking out Guetzel in the crease. Good stuff, Sanheim and this article. Keep up the great work!

[…] We rewatched Tuesday night’s loss to highlight and breakdown the Flyers’ defensive breakdowns. It’s painful, but worth a read. (Philly Hockey Now) […]

[…] The Philadelphia Flyers put up a performance to forget in a 5-2 loss to the Penguins on Tuesday night. In their first of three games in Pittsburgh, there were several Flyers defensive breakdowns and missed assignments. (Philly Hockey Now) […]

[…] The defensive pairs could also be switched up after an abysmal performance on Tuesday night. […]

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