The Flyers penalty kill, maligned for its poor play in recent years, has made major strides in the season’s first five weeks, and it has been perfect in six of the last seven games.
Directed by new assistant coach Mike Yeo, the penalty kill is 13th in the NHL (83.7% success rate) and is 23-for-25 (92%) over the last seven-plus games. The Flyers’ PK finished 26th with a 78.5% success rate last season and has been so-so to awful in the last six years.
“I think Mike’s done a pretty job of having a consistent system," left winger Michael Raffl said after Wednesday’s practice in Voorhees. "Everybody’s on the same page; everybody knows what to do. He pays attention to details and the stickwork. Obviously, your best PKer sometimes has to be the goalie, and we’ve had great goaltending on the PK.”
Goalie Carter Hart, who keyed Tuesday’s 4-1 win over Carolina and will get the start Thursday against visiting Montreal, deflected the praise. The PK was 3-for-3 against the Hurricanes.
“I thought our PK was really strong; they kept the chances to the outside,” Hart said about Tuesday’s victory.
On one sequence, defenseman Justin Braun fell on the puck and there was a scramble in front.
“The puck was under him and I tried to cover it, and I kind of put a hand on his butt,” Hart said. “And he told me his three-year-old daughter said, ‘Daddy, he kept touching your butt.’ I thought that was pretty funny."
Hart said his penalty killers have a “willingness to compete and get pucks down [the ice] and block shots.”
In a recent game against Toronto, defenseman Matt Niskanen was especially effective as he blocked a shot during the penalty kill, Hart noted.
“He went face-first and the puck hit his shoulder,” Hart said. “They’re wearing way less equipment than [goalies], so that was pretty [gutsy] of him. You’ve got to respect how much he cares and how much he wants to win.”
Making the PK work even more impressive: Scott Laughton, one of the team’s top penalty killers, has missed the last five games because of a broken finger.
Defensemen Niskanen, Braun, Ivan Provorov, and Travis Sanheim have had the most ice time during the penalty kill, along with forwards Kevin Hayes, Sean Couturier, Oskar Lindblom, Raffl and Claude Giroux. Niskanen, Braun, and Hayes are new Flyers this season.
Is there anything different with the PK this year, or a different mentality?
“We had a few changes compared to last year, but mostly everyone is buying into details and sacrificing" their bodies, Provorov said. “Everyone’s on the same page. When you have time to pressure, you can’t do it by yourself. It’s got to be all four guys.”
“I think we know when to go and when not to go, as far as the pressure points on the ice,” Raffl said. “If they’re set up, we’re kind of more passive, but as soon as the puck bounces somewhere, everybody knows that we can go. Everybody knows their role, and we’ve done a pretty good job this year.”
Coach Alain Vigneault, noting Yeo and the penalty killers have spent extra time together at practice, said there’s a “process and an understanding of what you’re going to see from the opposition and what you have to do against that and what you may be willing to give up as far as chances.”
Unhappy with the fourth line’s play in Tuesday’s win, the Flyers sent center German Rubtsov to the Phantoms and recalled Misha Vorobyev from Lehigh Valley. Vigneault said he wants to get more production from the fourth line and better balance in the lineup, so he dropped left winger Raffl to the fourth line and moved Carsen Twarynski to the third unit. … The Flyers (7-5-2) have outscored opponents in the third period, 23-12, including 3-0 against Carolina. … The Flyers much-improved power play (fifth in the league at 24.1%) will try to exploit Montreal’s suspect penalty kill, which entered Wednesday 30th in the NHL, killing at just a 68.9% rate. The host Canadiens (8-5-2) ended Boston’s six-game winning streak Tuesday with a 5-4 victory. ... During a break in practice Wednesday, the Flyers lifted their sticks as a salute to the more than 100 military members watching from the stands.