A few weeks ago I started to wonder how the Flyers could stay sharp for the balance of the season. See, if they were a show horse or a racehorse with a record like theirs, I would scratch them for the rest of the season and give them a couple of warm up outings at the end, just before the playoffs. You don’t want them to get dull, or worse.
You can’t do that with a hockey team. They are committed to playing so many games. Why is that a problem? They could lose steam, and lose games. Losing games isn’t that much of a problem for them, they would have to lose a LOT at this point to fall out of the playoffs.
But in the course of that losing, or even not winning really well, they can also develop bad habits, accrue injuries, etc. There is nothing you can do about the injuries. If they play, players will get hurt. But the habits? The staying sharp? How in the world do you manage that?
They could lose enough to not have the home ice advantage. That’s something. That is worth working for. Is it enough?
After their recent loss to the Sens, there was a moderately publicized ba… err… rigorous practice. Those can be good, to clear the head. But you don’t want to rely on it. It doesn’t do much to inspire.
A while back, Laviolette mixed up the lines in a most surprising and some even said catastrophic manner. Now he is doing it again, with the power play units. Some of the players are not happy with this:
“…we have a lot of the same groups that we’ve had success with here before and I think we just need to build that chemistry up so we can make some different plays and know where each other is on the ice. That’s tough to do when you keep switching them up.” … Richards isn’t the only player who believes the constant changing of power-play units is contributing to the team’s recent struggles. -Philly Sports Daily
The fact remains that the Flyers have not had all that much success with their power play this season. I’m not sure the success Richards refers to is worth trying to revisit.
Even without a successful power play, the Flyers are still hovering around the top spot in the league. Having something to work on is a good thing. Is it enough to fire them up again? To work on something they could use but have not needed much?
I go back to my original query: what do you do to keep winners winning? Or at least to keep them from losing their edge before the contest you really care about? The Flyers’ upcoming schedule doesn’t have much to offer in the way of stiff competition, unless you include Apathy on the opposing roster. I don’t think the players don’t care, but boredom can be pretty insidious.
So what do you do to make those games more challenging? Do you mix up the lines so the games are actually more difficult for the players to play? Do you intentionally bust up familiar lines, screw with team chemistry? Sounds like quite a gamble.
If it were a horse, that’s exactly what you would do: train for a higher level than you will compete at. Is there a higher level in hockey than the NHL? Sure, there’s the playoffs. Not only do teams play harder in the playoffs but a team often has to cope with sudden holes in the lineup, between and during games. It doesn’t matter who you are used to playing with, you need to put out 110%.
Handicapping a winning team at this point in the season makes sense, if all you want is to win in the playoffs. But it isn’t something I would expect. There are too many egos involved, too much catering to the fragile psyche of this or that party. Short sighted ambitions and political shenanigans can get in the way. Fans kick and scream every single time their team doesn’t win. Losses and miscues need to be accounted for. Everyone wants a say.
Could such measures overtax the team’s patience? Confuse younger players? Make older ones sullen? Maybe. What kind of coach would take such a chance? More relevant, how many coaches have this problem to solve? Not many. That coach would have to have a whole lot of confidence in himself and his team. But if I were a betting person, I would put my money on the that guy.