Flyers Penalty Kill on Fire
Year after year, it’s never surprising to hear that the Philadelphia Flyers take a lot of penalties.
Through 18 games this season, the team leads the NHL in minor penalties taken (97), total penalties taken (115) and total penalty minutes (311).
What is pleasantly surprising though is that the Flyers penalty kill is quickly becoming one of the league’s best.
After the exodus of Mike Richards, as well as the decision to let Darrell Powe leave via free agency and the long-term injury status of Blair Betts, many feared that the Philadelphia PK would falter.
Through the team’s first ten games those fears were substantiated.
The Flyers only killed off 80% of the penalties taken over that span, which ranked them in the bottom third of the league.
Considering that the team was averaging (and still does) five power play opportunities against per game, that kind of success rate was not going to be good enough to help the team consistently win, as evident by their 5-4-1 record.
However, the team’s last eight games have told a completely different story.
Since playing the Carolina Hurricanes on October 29th, the Flyers have allowed just one power play goal on a staggering 35 opportunities.
That performance has improved the team’s success rate by 7.2%, jettisoning them into the top ten.
But the team’s penalty kill ranking isn’t the only number on the rise; Philadelphia has won six of their last eight, registering at least one point in each game.
Coach Laviolette believes that the success on the penalty kill can be explained simply.
“I think the execution has been really good,” he said. “Power play is about creativity and penalty kill is about execution of the system.”
Captain Chris Pronger explained in further detail.
“We’re doing a good job of pressuring the puck. We’re not allowing easy entries [and] we’re not allowing easy setups,” he said. “We’ve done a great job of one and outs or if they get a point shot we’re able to clear it right away and get fresh bodies out there and get that tempo up and get down the ice and fore-check”
Pronger elaborated that playing as a team has impacted their success.
“The forwards have done a great job with their sticks in getting into passing lanes and knocking pucks down,” he said. “When they’re able to do that it allows us as defensemen to be a little bit more aggressive.
Max Talbot and Sean Couturier have been the two-standout forwards of the Flyers special teams unit.
Both players are ranked in the league's top-30 of penalty kill ice time average; Talbot is ranked 4th (4:24) and Couturier is ranked 18th (3:35).
They are the only two forwards on the list.
Considering that Giroux is the only member of the unit that played with the team last season, the team’s early struggles could be categorized as growing pains.
While Laviolette believes this could be the case, he insists the team still needs to perform.
“I think that maybe there is a little bit of continuity with some of the players that are going out on the ice,” he said. “[but] it comes down to execution.”
But execution may be the problem as the season progresses.
If the unit is continually forced to have to kill off the amount of penalties that they have thus far, one has to wonder if their legs will be able to hold up -- something the team itself is quite aware of.
“We talk about that almost every game that we need to cut back on penalties,” Kimmo Timonen said. “We’ve been taking too many penalties and that’s true, but it’s not good for us, so obviously we have to change.”