Flyers' PK unit provides much-needed confidence boost

Flyers' PK unit provides much-needed confidence boost

March 16, 2013, 11:00 am
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Brayden Schenn’s charging penalty with 1:42 left in regulation against the New Jersey Devils was exactly the kind of call the Flyers didn’t need in the closing moments of a tied game.

In a season like this one, in which luck has gone every way but the Flyers’, it was the kind of penalty that seemed to all but hand over a very important two points to their Atlantic Division rivals.

But it didn’t. The Flyers’ PK held firm through those final 102 seconds – as it did each time it was called upon Friday night – and the Flyers defeated the Devils for the first time this season, winning 2-1 in a shootout.

There was a lot to like about the team’s effort at the Wells Fargo Center, but the Flyers’ penalty kill was the victory’s biggest difference maker.

“We probably went to the box a little more than we’d like,” Luke Schenn said. “Any game, when you spend that much time on the penalty kill, it’s tough. It wears guys down a little bit. But guys did a good job stepping up and blocking shots. That was the difference tonight."
 
In a season in which almost everything has gone wrong – from rampant injuries to scoring droughts to power-play power outages – the Flyers’ penalty kill has actually been a pleasant surprise. That was especially true for Friday’s game, in which the Flyers successfully killed all five of the penalties they incurred, and didn’t look at all mixed up or fatigued from the effort.

Keeping the Devils scoreless during that aforementioned Brayden Schenn penalty was certainly critical to the Flyers’ success, but killing off a 5-on-3 in the first period was arguably just as important. Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek were sent to the box at 10:34, ending a Flyers’ power play and awarding their opposition with a lengthy 1:32 two-man advantage.

But the Flyers blocked two Devils shots, and Ilya Bryzgalov was impressive in standing up to the four he did face. With only three skaters on the ice, the Flyers held the Devils wide of the net, as well, which resulted in two missed shots for both Ilya Kovalchuk and Marek Zidlicky.

Bryzgalov said it was simply “a big kill.” Danny Briere suggested that surviving the two calls was, in fact, the game’s turning point.

“Yeah, it was,” coach Peter Laviolette agreed. “The penalty kill was very good tonight. That was certainly one example. When you have to do it for two minutes, that’s a long time on the 5-on-3, and they have some big guns out there. It was a really nice job.”

A number of Flyers suggested that the biggest difference between Friday’s effort and the team’s performance on Wednesday, in which they fell to the Devils 5-2 in a particularly ugly fashion, was a combination of patience and compete level. Nowhere was that more apparent than during any of the Flyers’ five penalties.

“Especially the first one,” Simon Gagne said. “5-on-3, zero-zero game. The defensemen blocking shots, the forwards blocking shots, and Bryz making the big saves. It gave us a little bit of momentum, [Max Talbot’s] goal came not too long after that.

“PK was huge for us. Even at the end, we gave them a chance to go again on the power play, maybe to win the game, and the guys did a great job again. Penalty killing was huge for us tonight.”

Though the Flyers remain in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, their penalty-killing unit climbed to seventh in the NHL (it was at 11th before the game), with an 84 percent effectiveness.

But more importantly, the success on the kill seemed to give them a much-needed confidence, something that helped them in every aspect of their game – not just the PK.

“It was definitely huge,” said Talbot, who led all Flyers penalty killers with 4:55 shorthanded minutes. “You see guys like Kimmo [Timonen] sacrificing their bodies to block shots, and I think every time we got a good penalty kill Bryzgolov made big saves.”

Added Luke Schenn, “Guys were sacrificing and blocking shots. Sometimes little things go unnoticed, but it ends in a good result, usually.”