Flyers on their 6-3 loss to Lightning
The Flyers' penalty kill, coached by Ian Laperriere, is a perfect 25 for 25 over the last eight games. (AP)
Looking for a reason why the Flyers have had so much success recently, winning nine of their last 12 games?
Check out their penalty killing, as they’re 22 for 22 over their last seven games. The unit cracked the NHL’s top seven.
In Saturday’s 6-3 loss to the Lightning at Wells Fargo Center (see game recap), the Flyers were 3 for 3 in the loss that ended their 10-game home winning streak
“Guys are working hard and committed,” said Ian Laperriere, who coaches the PK unit. “They take pride in killing. That’s half the battle right there.
“They will work harder than the other power play to get success. You can go down the list, everyone is doing their job and doing a great job.”
Zac Rinaldo had been Lappy’s “project,” but he’s on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain. His minutes will be split between Michael Raffl and Chris VandeVelde with Claude Giroux taking PK draws then going off the ice.
Two things the Flyers are doing better right now: Their forwards are challenging and blocking shots up high, and their units are rimming pucks around the boards and out of the zone without throwing pucks into dangerous traffic areas up the middle.
“They are a proud bunch,” Laperriere said. “They don’t like to get scored on. If you are going to kill penalties, you have to block shots. If you have one less, you have to do something extra and that is blocking shots.”
When the team is winning and the PK units are shutting the door on opponents' power plays, it almost becomes routine for the players on those units to go and do the job easily.
“Mentally, it’s huge,” Sean Couturier said. “We’re confident we can kill penalties. We can build off that and create momentum for the game.
“Guys are willing to block shots, sacrifice their bodies, put sticks in the passing lanes and doing the right little things that you sometimes don’t see but makes us effective. It’s a full team effort.”
At season’s start, the PK started off badly -- as low as 23rd. They spent much of November and early December in the middle of the pack, but since the last week of December they’ve been in the top 10.
“I guess it’s going good, I didn’t know it was that many (22),” said Nick Grossmann, who has a career-high 107 blocked shots, many from his PK duties.
“It’s something that we weren’t really happy with starting off this season. But we’ve been working on it a lot. Guys have been doing a good job and working hard. That’s what penalty kill is all about. There are no secrets. It’s just a lot of work and being smart out there.
“It’s all about details. Trusting each other to do what you are supposed to do out there. When you see one guy do it and the next guy do it, it rubs off on everyone else.”
Braydon Coburn has been doing it as a Flyer for eight years now. That’s a lot of years with different sets of defensemen and forwards to work with.
“As the season goes along, we’ve developed more chemistry with guys out there,” Coburn said. “Depending on forward and defensive grouping, we have a pretty good idea of what we’re doing.
“Especially when you are down a man. You need all four guys on the same page. That’s been a key for us. We got a plan and know what we’re doing. When you have the opportunity to be aggressive, you have to be aggressive and get the puck out.”
As everyone knows, your goaltender is always your best penalty killer. And given that the Flyers take so many penalties -- they led the NHL with 698 minutes entering Saturday, an average of almost 16 minutes a game -- it’s a given their goalies are going to face some tough shots shorthanded.
“You can’t give enough credit to it,” goalie Steve Mason said. “We take a lot of penalties, so it’s obviously a huge part of our game.
“The guys that we have are on the kill are extremely competitive and sacrifice themselves blocking shots, especially our defensemen. They’re a huge reason why we’re having success right now.”
Flyers coach Craig Berube says the PK -- like goaltending -- is one area he steers clear of and delegates to his assistants. In this case, that's Laperriere.
But Berube has his own theories on the art of the PK.
“Penalty killing is about everybody on the ice being more committed than the power play,” Berube said. “Blocking shots, clearing pucks, goalies making big saves. They’re all on the same page. They do a real good job.”