Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Second Power Play Unit, Practice Updates, Alumni & More



Even the best power plays in the NHL experience ebbs and flows over the course of the season. That is why it is important for a club to be consistently good in five-on-five play. Teams that live by the power play will ultimately die by it.

The Flyers top power play unit has not produced much of late in terms of goals but it is as least generating a few scoring chances.

As frustrating as the club’s 0-for-6 showing in Florida and slump over the past week has been, all teams go through similar ups and downs at times. The personnel has had plenty of success together and has always worked through slumps and come through to be the backbone of a power play that annually ranks in the top one-third of the NHL.

When the top unit hits a dry spell, it is beneficial to have a respectable second unit to pick up some of the slack. That is something the Flyers really haven’t had for a long time. The current group, even on the occasions when it gets a chunk of ice time during a two-minute power play, generally struggles to get set up let along creating quality chances.

With Vincent Lecavalier’s return to the lineup on Saturday, there was a ripple effect both on the power play and on three even strength lines. Brayden Schenn had quietly been playing good hockey of late, scoring the game-winning goals against both Detroit (a third-period power play goal) and Los Angeles (overtime) as well as setting up Wayne Simmond’s goal in the Tampa game. When Lecavalier returned, Schenn was moved back to the second power play unit and to Sean Couturier’s line at 5-on-5.

The second unit remains an utter mess right now. Matt Read is playing with very little offensive confidence right now. Couturier needs to be more assertive when he has power play time. Schenn’s success has been sporadic when he’s been on the second unit. Michael Del Zotto has done better in his career as the off-point option rather than a power play quarterback. Nick Schultz has gotten power play time by default with Andrew MacDonald injured.

Something that puzzles me: When Flyers head coach Craig Berube has dressed Jason Akeson for games this season, he has avoided using the player on the power play. I don’t get it. If there is one thing Akeson does truly well at the pro level, it’s work the power pay. Putting aside the question of whether Akeson can adapt to a fourth-line role at even strength, it seems like a no-brainer to give him ice time on the secondary unit (stationed in the left half-boards role that Claude Giroux plays on the top unit).

R.J. Umberger is another player who has had considerable power play success in his career. Even last year in Columbus — a down year for him by most other measures — Umberger was a fairly effective power play performer. He averaged 2:03 TOI on the power play and produced a club-high eight power play goals among his 12 points on the man advantage.

In the four previous seasons, Umberger’s power play usage and production for the Blue Jackets were as follows: eight power play goals (tops on the team) and 13 points in 3:17 TOI in 2010-11, five power play goals and 10 points over 3:09 average power play ice time in 2011-12 and two PPG and four points 2:41 TOI in 48 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.

To me, it stands to reason that if playing on the power play is something that Umberger has done well in the recent past — regardless of his five-on-five productivity — he may as well be used in that role on a regular basis.

If it were my choice to make, the second unit would consist of Lecavalier, Akeson, Umberger, Del Zotto and Read. Schenn would go back to the top unit, at least for the time being. Even though Lecavalier is the better pure sniper, Schenn is better suited to the former “Scott Hartnell spot” in the way the top unit rotates the puck.

Is this a stellar second unit? Probably not.

The personnel won’t conjure images of the 1996-97 Flyers who had Rod Brind’Amour and rookies Vaclav Prospal and Janne Niinimaa anchoring a second unit tearing apart teams that put all their eggs in the basket of stopping the Legion of Doom with Paul Coffey and Eric Desjardins at the points on the top unit.

Alas, these Flyers don’t have that sort of arsenal. A coach has to work with what the hand he’s been dealt but also put his players in the best position to succeed. I don’t think Berube has done that with Akeson or, to a lesser extent, with Umberger. In the bigger picture, revising the second-unit personnel for a few games seems worth a look because what the Flyers have there right now is simply not working.

************ QUICK HITS: NOVEMBER 3

* Today in Flyers’ History: On Nov. 3, 1984, Pelle Lindbergh made a spectacular recovery on a penalty shot by Minnesota North Stars forward Scott Bjugstad. The goaltender, who went on to win the Vezina Trophy that season, bit on an initial deke by Bjugstad and was caught leaning the wrong way. Showing cat-like quickness, Lindbergh recovered to dive across the crease in the other direction and knock the puck aside.

* On Nov. 3, 2011, Flyers forward Max Talbot successfully converted a third period penalty shot attempt against New Jersey Devils netminder Johan Hedberg. The Flyers, who were unable to protect leads of 2-0 and 3-2 (Talbot’s goal restored a lead), when on lose via shootout, 4-3. Sergei Bobrovsky made 36 regulation and overtime saves before stopping one of three attempts in the shootout. Patrik Elias scored the game winner.

* Saturday’s Flyers Alumni vs. Blue Liners game in Oaks, PA, raised money for the Montgomery County Hero’s Fund, which was started a few years ago in honor of fallen officer Brad Fox. The fund exists to provide support to the family’s of fallen police officers, firemen, military personnel and other first responders from the local area. 1980s era teammates Brad Marsh and Brian Propp reunited for the benefit game in Oaks.  photo 1f8643f6-b874-4c51-8bcf-a88518242156.jpg The Flyers Alumni vs. Blue Liners Game benefited the Montgomery County Hero Fund.

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