Despite career seasons from some of their forwards, the Flyers are in the middle of the NHL pack for offense, primarily because they haven’t received enough production from all four lines.
Oh, the top line, which has featured Sean Couturier centering Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny or Jake Voracek, has been superb and is the main reason the Flyers are close to securing a playoff berth. But the other lines have been up and down. Or worse.
Which is why the defensemen’s offensive production – the best by the Flyers in 25 years — has been such an important element this season.
The team has received 48 goals from defensemen, and that ranks second in the NHL and is the Flyers’ highest total from their blue-line group since they got 52 goals from their defensemen, including 13 from Garry Galley, in 1992-93.
“We’re a five-man unit and not just forwards and defensemen,” said Shayne Gostisbehere, who is among the NHL’s top-scoring defenders with 60 points.
This isn’t the NHL of decades past when stay-at-home defenders such as Ed Van Impe were the norm.
Now, most defensemen have great skating ability and become part of the attack.
It’s something coach Dave Hakstol and assistant Gord Murphy, a onetime defender with a knack for scoring, drilled into the defensemen in training camp, and they have responded.
“It’s huge for us,” Gostisbehere said. “I mean, as a D corps, we’re preached to get up in the play – and not just us offensive guys, but anyone. You can see it in the way we play.”
The Flyers are 20-7-8 when they get a goal from at least one of their defensemen, and 19-18-6 when they don’t.
Ivan Provorov, who has 15 goals (nine more than his rookie season), Gostisbehere (13 goals), Brandon Manning (career-high seven), and Andrew MacDonald (career-high six) have been the Flyers’ top-scoring defensemen this season, accounting for 41 of the defense’s 48 goals.
“All our D are capable of getting pucks through and joining the rush, and I think it’s helped us win games,” Provorov said.
The game has evolved, and the mature-beyond-his-years Provorov is happy to be part of the evolution.
“This is how the game is played right now,” Provorov, 21, said. “You can’t create offense with just three forwards. You have to be able to move and have a mobile D, and I think that’s what we have on our team.”
Right winger Wayne Simmonds said the scoring from the defensemen has taken some pressure off the forwards.
“It helps a lot, obviously,” he said. “I think we’ve made a concerted effort for our D to jump up in the rush, and obviously it’s paying off. It’s in our game plan and it’s something that’s going to continue to happen. The way the league is now, some teams send five guys up the ice.”
Gostisbehere, who quarterbacks the power play, is one of the NHL’s best skaters, so joining the rush comes naturally.
“It’s awesome,” he said of the Flyers’ style. “When you play for a team where the coach is harping to get up in the play, it’s music to your ears. I think it’s definitely nice, but the biggest thing in letting us do that is taking care of the D-side first.”
That means a forward has to be defensively responsible and cover up when a defenseman charges the net.
The defense plays its share of offense. The forwards get involved with the defense.
For the Flyers, it’s been a successful formula.