When outsiders look at the Philadelphia Flyers, and they see a team with just an 8-8-3 record, they feel obligated to bash the Flyers’ defense, a well-known weak link over the last 10 years or so.
And while the team is still a bit rough around the edges defensively at times, the team defense has improved to the point of respectability over the last few years, culminating in playoff appearances in two out of the last three years.
However, the Flyers have received some unexpected contributions from their defense this year in the offensive side of the game. As of today, the Flyers are currently the NHL’s top team in terms of points from its defenders, with their collective 13 goals and 55 points setting the pace for the rest of the NHL.
Strong special teams play has a lot to do with the Flyers’ high-scoring defense. Mark Streit, who leads Flyers defensemen with four goals and 11 points, has accumulated five of those points while on the man advantage. His partner in crime, Shayne Gostisbehere, has also snagged five power play points, half of his total of 10 on the season.
But the Flyers defense doesn’t need to be a man up in order to score. Brandon Manning has even scored a shorthanded goal, one of only six defensemen in the entire NHL to have such an impressive and rare tally.
So what makes the difference for the Flyers’ group of offensive defensemen? They aren’t afraid to shoot the puck. In fact, five out of the team’s top 12 shooters (in terms of total shots on goal) are defensemen.
The Flyers’ defense also makes it a point to join the rush whenever it is appropriate. In particular, Gostisbehere, Streit, Manning, and Michael Del Zotto love to jump up with the forwards and create an odd-man-rush. Even burly Radko Gudas picked up five goals last season.
Some hockey pundits say that a high-scoring defense is simply a band-aid for a lackluster offense, but the Flyers do not see it that way at all. In fact, the Flyers make it a habit to get the puck to the blue line, where their defensemen let it rip.
Other NHL teams know that the Flyers have a lot of heavy shooters on the point, which always keeps goalies on their toes. Just when it seems as if the play is over, the Flyers have one more line of attackers that other teams just do not.
The last time the Flyers were legitimate Stanley Cup contenders back in 2010, a big part of the team’s attack was found in the defensive zone. The team featured three defensemen that scored at least 6 goals and 35 points: Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, and Matt Carle.
If history is any indication of the future, perhaps the Flyers have another playoff run in them, fueled by a solid two-way defense acting as the catalyst in a high-octane offense.