Point/Counterpoint: Team defense and its effect on goaltending

Image courtesy of faceoff.com

Image courtesy of faceoff.com

Welcome to another edition of Point/Counterpoint, where a pair of Flyers Faithful scribes square off, debating an issue with their own unique style and flair. This week our resident goaltenders, and co-authors of Crashing the CreaseKevin A and Justin B take on the issue of team defense and how it might affect goaltending.

Point: The Flyers trying and failing to upgrade their defense, which has arguably gotten worse this summer, is going to be a bad thing for Ilya Bryzgalov

by Kevin A

The new defense will have a tough learning curve early in the year especially with the loss of their best puck mover in Matt Carle, and getting pinned in the zone will mean more goals, and with Flyers fans already on Bryzgalov’s case it could get ugly.

Counterpoint: Team defense will prevail.

by Justin B

While the Flyers have swung and missed on Carle and Shea Weber, their acquisition of Luke Schenn helps to offset that. There will be some growing pains, but with the rookie class from last year now getting a full season under their belts, they will be more adept in their own zone. The team defensive concept will be more viable. While it doesn’t replace a Weber, getting the younger forwards to maintain proper inside position and better mark their men will pay dividends and lift up the defense.

KA: Schenn is hardly the type to offset that by much. He solidified what was an unspectacular core, but he’s not exactly a catalyst for breaking out and going the other way. He has his moments, sure, but he’s not mobile or great at making the outlet pass like Carle was. Plus, his foot speed is certainly lacking and he’s prone to getting caught on occasion.

As for the defensive concept, Peter Laviolette is notoriously reluctant to change and at the season exit interviews seemed determined to keep the same style of play, with only minimal defensive changes. The whole team needs to do better, but people may still get caught up in the run and gun game. If that happens and the growing pains last long at all, there’s plenty of time for Bryz to look bad (whether it’s his fault or not), and the fans to get on his case once again. And after being patient for one year of struggles, it’s highly unlikely they make it any easier on him.

JB: Still, Schenn offers some immediate offset for the losses while a good amount of upside if his development continues. You’re right that he’s by no means as mobile as Carle, but if he can hold on to the puck and minimize mistakes, which Carle had became associated with, he can be a stabilizer by the midpoint of the season.

I think it’s unfair to paint Lavy as not desiring to promote team defense. He’s not willing to blow up his approach, I agree, but when executed well last year, his system did incorporate a good amount of defensive responsibility. A lot of it falls on players making the right decisions in a split-second environment, which the rookies will do better as sophomores.

Bryz seemed to do better with more shots and more work. While any goalie will suffer from the law of averages when facing enough shots, I don’t think he’ll struggle so heavily as to get the fan base to play turncoat on him again. In fact, there’s an underlying skepticism towards him from many already. Early struggles may serve to stoke their fire, but it won’t be anything so new as to really be a distraction.

KA: I really think Schenn especially will get caught a lot early on. As I said, he needs to get his foot speed up and drop some of the weight he was asked to gain (in muscle) in Toronto. I think he’ll struggle a lot early, depending on what his role is.

I still think the system has to be at least partly to blame for how poorly the defense fell apart at (often critical) times last year. The Flyers don’t have the personnel for it amongst their forwards, really, and a top-end shutdown center would go a long way to helping. Hopefully Sean Couturier continues to develop into that role, but I don’t think the Flyers will come out of the gate playing significantly better D than they did last year — if anything, I think it’ll be the same or a slight step back.

There’s more than underlying skepticism on Bryz so far. I personally think much of it is unwarranted and that he will be able to perform better, but that depends on how willing the fans are to work with him. Mention his name amongst many fans and the first thing you’ll hear is how he cost the team the New Jersey series by giving up the Clarkson goal.

I think Bryz will have to excel early this year to silence those critics, but the team defense is going to have some learning to do and Bryz isn’t likely to get much of a fair chance if he’s anything short of spectacular. More shots and more work may benefit him, but not if there are more of the odd man rushes or passes through the slot that plagued him last year.

Hopefully the one silver lining of the new defense is that it’s a lot more level in terms of each pairing’s skill. Perhaps this means Lavy can roll them more often and Bryz won’t have to deal with stretches of inactivity followed by flurries of opportunity when there’s a mismatch. That might help him.