The Flyers’ recent success should not be taken likely; we look good! But the Los Angeles Kings also should not be taken lightly. After an impressive showing against the league-leading St. Louis Blues, I want the Flyers to win and I want them to keep winning. What will it take to conquer the Los Angles Kings? Because they are a team structured similarly to St. Louis, the Flyers will have to employ many of the same strategies that worked against the Blues, including a strong forecheck, maintaining a strong crease presence, and exploiting the right match-ups!
Forecheck Forecheck Forecheck!
Robyn Regehr, Willie Mitchell, and Matt Greene are solid shut down defensemen. Slava Voynov is a rising defensive superstar. Drew Doughty is the defensive superstar that Voynov aspires to be. These defensmen are the players that Kings coach Darryl Sutter has appointed to patrol his blue line. Each of these defensemen brings physicality and some ability with the puck to the table. When defensive depth is considered, the Kings are in the same category as the Blues.
Darryl Sutter surprisingly does not ask much of his defensemen; they are generally only required to make the first pass out of the zone in the Kings’ system, which is a struggle for the Flyers’ defensemen at times. This never stops Doughty or Voynov from entering the offensive zone on the rush, but the Kings can be counted upon to make good passes on break outs to transition from the defensive to offensive zone. How do the Flyers get in the way of this? Forecheck forecheck forecheck!
An extra element of physicality must be present if the Flyers can hope to get in the way of these solid skaters on the Kings’ back end. Expect to see the big line of Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, and Vincent Lecavalier frequent the ice for the forecheck based on the fact that they can all bang some bodies and disrupt break-outs. They were leaned upon in the game against the Blues to bring physicality, and brought it along with two goals and five points, solidifying the win. Establishing this forecheck early will be key to slowing down the fast attack of the Kings, an attack that starts with their solid passes from the defense.
Maintaining a Crease Presence
The top three shut down defensemen the Kings employ, Regehr, Mitchell and Greene, all stand at 6′ 3″ and their average weight is 223 pounds. When it is also considered that Doughty and Voynov are each 6′ tall and about 200 pounds, it is clear that this defensive core is big. Even if Matt Greene is benched for the Flyers game, Muzzin and Martinez could step into his place, both of whom are large men. These big guys will be looking to clear out whomever the Flyers send to the crease to screen Jonathan Quick and look for rebounds.
Simmonds and Scott Hartnell need to be active in the slot and cannot be shut down if they hope for Claude Giroux‘s playmaking or Kimmo Timonen‘s shots from the point to be effective. This goes for both power play and even strength offensive situations. Even when there is only one man in the crease, it is vital for the Flyers to score. Forechecking will help alleviate some of this pressure, but Simmonds and Hartnell must be in constant motion and remain physical in all situations. This will garner them more looks, and, hopefully, will get the Los Angeles defensemen out-of-sync. If Regehr or Doughty are off their game, they will make poor passes or fail to clear the crease when the Flyers are on offense. Achieving either of these goals bodes well for the Flyers. Achieving them both puts them in a situation to win.
Play the Match-ups
We all remember Mike Richards, right? ‘Richie’ was the face of the franchise, the man who stared Sidney Crosby in the face and looked to hit him and score on him whenever he stepped on the ice. The Flyers record against the Penguins in recent years validates that Richie did his job rather well. Now imagine him doing this against Claude Giroux.
I do not want to see Giroux get shut out of a game. I do not want to see Giroux on the receiving end of a bone-crushing hit. I do not want to see Claude Giroux fall out of MVP considerations because Richie shuts him down. These are all possibilities because Richie is a responsible, physical, two-way forward who will look to shut down Giroux and score at the same time. The Blues’ largest mistake against the Flyers on Saturday was that they tried to match Vladimir Sobotka up against Claude Giroux, rather than the tandem of Alexander Steen and David Backes.
Now that there will be a clear player targeting Giroux, Craig Berube will have to play his match-ups very carefully if he wants Giroux and the rest of his players to receive the looks and opportunities they need to succeed and win. The Flyers need to run four lines efficiently and opportunistically if they want to get Claude Giroux free from the defensive clutches of Mike Richards.
Aside from the forechecking, the crease play, and the match-ups, the Kings remain a very good five-on-five team, as is seen by their lofty ranking in the “5 on 5 Goals for/against ratio” per NHL.com. If the Flyers can achieve these three goals and still play solid five-on-five hockey, they have a chance to rack up another win on Tuesday and continue their impressive run against the top teams the Western Conference has to offer.