Flyers' power play needs work

(Robert Mayer/USA Today Sports)

TAMPA, Fla. -- Shooting from the lip as the Flyers criss-cross the Sunshine State ahead of Thursday’s matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning:

> Claude Giroux said he wanted the Flyers to be a better team after Tuesday’s game in Florida than when they arrived at the rink in the morning for their pre-game skate.

On one hand, the Flyers were forced to create their own ‘playoff environment’ in a dead quiet BB&T Center that had an announced crowd of 12,487. It was the first time the Flyers were playing a game in a non-playoff atmosphere (away from home, against a non-playoff team) since Jan. 20 on Long Island. There is something to that.

On the other hand, the Flyers sandwiched one strong period - when they blew four goals by backup Dan Ellis - between two sloppy, disconcerted frames. It was a shooting gallery on Steve Mason in the third period. Florida finished with 40 shots on goal - 30 of which came in the final two periods. That isn't going to work in the playoffs.

If the Flyers want to work on something in today’s practice at Tampa Bay Times Forum, it might as well be their 5-on-3 power play. It was dreadful again in the first period in Florida, squandering 1:40 worth of time on the two-man advantage.

The Flyers are now 2-for-15 in a staggering 12:30 of 5-on-3 time this season - good for 25th in the NHL. It makes little sense, since their 5-on-4 unit has the third most goals (53) in the league this season.

What's the difference?

From my view, it is swapping out Vinny Lecavalier for Jake Voracek on the 5-on-3 unit. He isn’t there for 5-on-4. What makes the Flyers’ 5-on-4 unit so dangerous is their ability to switch the side of the ice with a cross-ice pass between Voracek and Giroux - much in the same way Washington does it with Alex Ovechkin on the opposite side of the ice.

Lecavalier likes to shoot. His shot is powerful and accurate, yes. But he is also a very stationary player at this point in his career.

Theoretically, Voracek and Giroux would have even more room to move the puck around with one less player on the ice. It is possible, however, that Berube believes opponents will be more adept at cutting off that cross-ice pass in a triangle setup as opposed to the box or diamond you see with 5-on-4 penalty kills.

Either way, it needs work. It didn’t cost the Flyers in Florida, it didn’t cost them in their shootout loss to Boston on March 30, and it doesn’t come up as often in the playoffs - but it could be a series-changer if it does.

> Speaking of Mason: He matched a career-high in wins when he notched his 33rd of the season. 

Craig Berube has rotated Mason and Ray Emery frequently over the last two weeks. Does that mean Emery gets the start in Tampa Bay?

If so, it would be interesting in the sense that Emery has faced significantly stiffer competition recently:

March 24 - vs. Los Angeles - Emery (L)
March 26 - at N.Y. Rangers - Mason (L)
March 28 - vs. Toronto - Mason (W)
March 30 - vs. Boston - Mason (SO L)
April 1 - at St. Louis - Emery (SO L)
April 3 - vs. Columbus - Mason (L)
April 5 - at Boston - Emery (L)
April 6 - vs. Buffalo - Mason (W)
April 8 - at Florida - Mason (W)
April 10 - at Tampa Bay - Emery? 

Emery’s average opponent points percentage: .658
Mason’s average opponent points percentage: .519

Mason has played the bulk of the minutes, for sure, but you can’t argue that he’s been put in a position to succeed by the coaching staff.

> Tampa Bay is likely to be without starter Ben Bishop, who left Tuesday’s win over Toronto in the first few minutes after sustaining an apparent shoulder injury. Losing Bishop, who is 8th in the NHL in goals against-average this season, would be a huge blow to the Lightning’s playoff hopes.

Backup Anders Lindback made just his third appearance since Jan. 13 in Tampa Bay’s win, which eliminated the Maple Leafs from playoff contention.

“Let’s just wait and see what happens here,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said post-game. “There’s no sense speculating or doing any of the social media. He’s either going to be ready or not.”

> What do Flyers’ first round opponent probabilities look like? The always great has it all sorted out based on record:

If Flyers go:

3-0-0: N.Y. Rangers (98%), Columbus (2%). Start at home: 64%. Start on road: 36%.
2-0-1: N.Y. Rangers (98%), Columbus (2%). Home: 51%. Road: 36%
2-1-0: N.Y. Rangers (97%), Columbus (2%), Pittsburgh (1%). Road: 88%.
1-0-2: N.Y. Rangers (91%), Pittsburgh (7%), Columbus (1%). Road: 83%.
1-1-1: N.Y. Rangers (88%), Pittsburgh (10%), Boston (2%), Columbus (1%). Road: 95%
0-0-3: N.Y. Rangers (82%), Pittsburgh (14%), Boston (2%), Columbus (1%). Road: 94%
1-2-0: N.Y. Rangers (77%), Pittsburgh (14%), Boston (9%). Road: 100%.
0-1-2: N.Y. Rangers (58%), Pittsburgh (25%), Boston (16%). 
0-2-1: N.Y. Rangers (50%), Pittsburgh (22%), Boston (28%).
0-3-0: Boston (55%), N.Y. Rangers (35%), Pittsburgh (10%).

What do those numbers tell us? It’s tough for Flyers to play anyone other than Rangers by picking up a point in these next three games - which include two against teams (Penguins, Carolina) that have little to play for in the final week.

In other words, Flyers would be playing with fire - and a possible first round exit against Boston - should they choose to fumble these last three.

For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers