NHL on NBCSN: Special teams, coaching a big part of Flyers’ big mess

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils. Flyers-Devils stream coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Honestly, it was hard not to chuckle a little when the Philadelphia Flyers lined their bench with Alain Vigneault as head coach alongside two coaches with multiple head coaching stops (Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo) as his assistants.

Alongside Chuck Fletcher, a GM who received a long run to get things right with the Wild, it felt like the Flyers turned into the Retreads. You could almost picture a worn-out tire as the Flyers’ new logo. Being that promising youth was the main reason to be excited about the Flyers’ future, it felt like the front office wasn’t particularly interested in new ideas.

Yet, with a strong regular season, those snickers were stifled. Really, they knocked it out of the park to the point that the Flyers might have set expectations too high.

Heading into Tuesday’s game against the Devils, it feels like the once-high-flying Flyers ran out of fuel, and crashed into a wall.

Flyers grasp for answers heading into game against Devils on Tuesday

Despite firing 37 shots on goal, the Flyers could only beat Ilya Sorokin once, falling to the Islanders 2-1 in OT on Monday.

“It was a really good game from a lot of aspects from our team,” Brian Elliott said, via NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jordan Hall. “We don’t like the result, but it’s a good building block and I think that shows us how we need to play on a nightly basis.”

Unfortunately for the Flyers’ playoff hopes, it’s getting a little late to lay down building blocks. Moral victories only go so far.

Sure, it’s better that the Flyers avoided allowing three goals or more for the first time during this pretty-late moment in the month of March. But this has still been a pretty disastrous run.

Catching the up-and-down Bruins might be the Flyers’ best bet, but how strong are those odds? The 15-11-4 Flyers sit two points behind the 16-8-4 Bruins, and Boston has two games in hand (36 points in 28 games played to 34 points in 30 GP for the Flyers).

That might not sound like a too-tall mountain to climb, but that can grow faster than a teenager with an NBA future if the Flyers don’t take care of business in games like tonight against the Devils.

Special teams a major issue for the Flyers

As of this writing, the Flyers rank in the bottom 10 of the NHL in power-play proficiency (18.6) and penalty-killing percentage (74.4).

Jordan C. Hall put together an interesting side-by-side comparison for the Flyers’ first 30 games last season, vs. this season’s first 30. Ultimately, the offense remains remarkably comparable, while the defense and penalty kill have bottomed out:

It’s difficult not to circle back to chuckling at those coaching staff decisions from before.

Now, don’t get this twisted; it’s not just a coaching issue. The Flyers have suffered from poor work from Carter Hart and their goaltenders, and the lack of defensive execution isn’t merely X’s and O’s.

[COVERAGE OF FLYERS-DEVILS BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

If fixing up that penalty kill is mostly a matter of time (and maybe some extra video study?), then Vigneault & Co. should also consider ways to possibly pump up that power play.

One frustrating area for the Flyers is seeing talented players getting healthy scratched. Yes, Shayne Gostisbehere makes mistakes, and last night’s OT-winner might not do him favors.

But sometimes you need to take the good with the bad. Over the long haul, Gostisbehere and Travis Konecny are players you want out there, especially on the power play. As much as Vigneault wants to “send a message” by benching players, it’s possible that he’s instilling an atmosphere of fear that stifles creativity.

There’s a balance between being conscientious to avoid mistakes, and being so conservative that you start preventing your own chances. And things might seem to feel unfair if skilled players seem to get benched more than limited veterans do, as Broad Street Hockey interestingly discussed.

Vigneault and his coaching staff have plenty of experience. In particular with Vigneault, he’s also enjoyed a lot of success.

Sometimes coaches wear out their welcome, or fall into bad habits. As much as Vigneault wants Flyers players to clean up their games, he might want to make some tweaks himself. If not, the Flyers could miss the playoffs, and he might feel the familiar, uncomfortable tingle of the “hot seat” once again.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.