Philadelphia Flyers: New coach should strengthen Power Play

Nov 5, 2015; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Philadelphia Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol (middle) on his bench against the Calgary Flames during the overtime period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 5, 2015; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Philadelphia Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol (middle) on his bench against the Calgary Flames during the overtime period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia Flyers have hired Kris Knoblauch as their new assistant coach. He will run the power play, which seemed in need of a new voice after an inconsistent season.

You would be forgiven if you were not aware of the news that the Philadelphia Flyers had hired a new assistant coach.

Even in the doldrums of summer, with nothing but an uncompetitive Phillies team to entertain us, the news of the local hockey club choosing an assistant does not typically pierce the proverbial bubble. Nor should it, frankly.

However, the Flyers’ selection of Kris Knoblauch to supplement Dave Hakstol’s bench should not be readily dismissed. CSN Philly’s Tim Panaccio reports:

"The Flyers‘ general manager tabbed Kris Knoblauch as Dave Hakstol’s new assistant coach Wednesday morning. He will handle the Flyers’ power play.The 38-year-old Knoblauch had been the head coach of the Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League since 2012."

Like most fans in these parts, my interest in hockey does not extend much further than the Philadelphia Flyers. I don’t know anything about Kris Knoblauch. He could knock on my front door right now and I would have no idea who he is. I don’t know how to assess his track record in the OHL because, quite frankly, I don’t know anything about the OHL. I don’t want to know anything about the OHL.

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I do know that the man he is replacing, Joe Mullen, enjoyed a successful, decade-long run with the organization. Mullen was entrusted with the Flyers’ power play during his tenure with the club. At times, the unit was lethal. However, special teams production cratered as the 2016-17 campaign progressed.

The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Flyers beat writer, Sam Carchidi, captured the inconsistency that plagued the power play in a column analyzing Mullen’s dismissal:

"Mullen was in charge of the power play, which was No. 1 in the NHL and clicking at 25 percent on Dec. 10. The power play slipped to 14th (19.5 percent) by the end of the season.The power play collapsed in March, contributing to the Flyers’ failure to make the playoffs for the third time in five years. In March, the Flyers’ power play was just 8 for 66 (12.1 percent)."

When the special teams hit its nadir in March, it seemed from my perspective that the first line became too predictable in its movement of the puck and placement of skaters. Shayne Gostisbehere, who struggled through long stretches of the season, was stationed at the point. Claude Giroux assumed his usual position along the boards; the power play ran through him. Jakub Voracek occupied the other side of the ice, moving from the blue line to the boards as needed. Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds hovered around the crease.

The puck would move from Giroux to Ghost, who would then shoot from the blue line, pass to Voracek, or return the puck to Giroux. When Voracek had the puck, he would also typically shoot or pass the puck back to Gostisbehere. Giroux would fire off one-timers that frequently missed the net. Otherwise, he would set up Schenn for a one-time shot or dump the puck down low to Simmonds.

Despite the abundance of offensive weapons on the ice, the opposition’s penalty kill was rarely overwhelmed. The players seemed tethered to their assigned spaces on the ice. There was no improvisation, little motion, and stale puck movement. More importantly, there were not enough passes across the ice, from Giroux to Voracek and vice versa; these passes, though difficult to execute, seem to place more stress on penalty killers than triangular passes that go through Gostisbehere.

Knoblauch should inject fresh energy into the moribund unit. Though there is likely nothing Knoblauch knows of which the outgoing Mullen was not aware, the new coach will represent a new voice in the room.

“New” seems to be the most valuable currency in the NHL. The Buffalo News‘ Bucky Gleason wrote a thorough column on the topic of the league’s perpetual coaching carousel. Gleason makes a persuasive case that, in terms of success, what the coach knows matters less than how long he has been with the team. Philadelphia Flyers fans need look no further than Nashville, where former coach Peter Laviolette has the Predators on the precipice of a Stanley Cup victory.

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If the past is prologue, we should expect a more consistent performance from the power play next season. Knoblauch’s experience coaching in a junior league will also benefit the club. As GM Ron Hextall‘s long-term plan comes into focus, the Flyers will see an injection of young talent on the roster. Knoblauch has already proven he can coach developing players.