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The Flyers’ aggressive penalty kill has become a weapon with six shorthanded goals

Led by Scott Laughton and Travis Konecny, the Flyers are tied for second in the NHL with six shorthanded goals, including four over the past four games.

Flyers forward Scott Laughton has scored three shorthanded goals this season, which ranks second in the NHL and is a career-high.
Flyers forward Scott Laughton has scored three shorthanded goals this season, which ranks second in the NHL and is a career-high.Read moreKarl B DeBlaker / AP

Nearly halfway through the third period with the Flyers down, 6-3, to the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 23, Flyers center Scott Laughton sprinted clear on a shorthanded breakaway. As he approached the crease, he slid the puck to his backhand and tucked it beneath the left pad of Hurricanes goalie Antti Raanta to pull the Flyers within two.

If that move looked familiar, it’s because he has used it on all three of his shorthanded goals this season, a mark which is tied for second in the league. Laughton started using that move in junior with the OHL’s Oshawa Generals and has perfected it as a mainstay on the Flyers’ opportunistic penalty kill.

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“Doesn’t work out all the time, but when you pull it off, it looks pretty nice,” Laughton said. “So continue to try and do it, but pick my spots with it because obviously, some goalies will pick it up. But don’t try to stray away from it if it’s working.”

Thanks to the efforts of Laughton and his fellow killers, the Flyers are tied for second in the league with six shorthanded goals through 35 games, matching all of last season’s total. His five shorthanded points (three goals, two assists) lead the NHL and are a career-high. Since Laughton entered the league in the 2012-13 season, Laughton has tallied seven shorthanded goals, the most in Flyers history.

Laughton and penalty-kill partner Travis Konecny, a newcomer to the unit this season, tallied successive shorthanded goals against the Hurricanes in the third period as the Flyers rallied back to within 6-5. Konecny has factored in on all three of Laughton’s shorthanded goals this season, and Laughton has assisted on both of Konecny’s. Together, they’ve cultivated a sense of offensive chemistry when the Flyers go down a man.

“I’ve just been learning as I go with Laughts,” Konecny said. “He’s been penalty killing for a long time and he knows what he’s doing. I think he’s probably one of the better guys at being offensive-minded while still being able to protect his own net. Every time I go out there and get back to the bench, we’re usually discussing some sort of mistake that I made and that I can work on.”

For assistant coach Brad Shaw, who oversees the penalty kill, and coach John Tortorella, giving players the freedom to be aggressive offensively on the kill goes hand in hand with being aggressive-killing plays in their own zone. Tortorella has likened Konecny’s anticipation skills to Cam Atkinson’s. Tortorella coached Atkinson for six seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, when Atkinson put up 14 shorthanded goals. Just as he did with Atkinson, Tortorella is learning to not overcoach Konecny on the penalty kill and allow him to take chances, even if it looks like he’s cheating a bit.

According to Laughton, Konecny derives some of his ability to anticipate on the penalty kill from his experience on the power play.

“I think that helps,” Laughton said. “You always know kind of what guys’ tendencies are and what they’re trying to do. But he’s so fast and can anticipate pucks going to different areas. He wants to learn about it and get better at it. I’ve had a ton of fun with him. We talk a lot about it before games and what we can do. If I can try and spring him in a certain game, I’m definitely going to try to, because he’s one of our best players, for sure.”

Despite the recent surge in shorthanded scoring (four goals in their last four games), Laughton said the Flyers have been a little more passive in their own zone on the kill over the past month in an effort to tighten up goals against. Over their last 12 games in December, the Flyers rank 17th in the league on the penalty kill (76.5%), an improvement over their 15 games in November when they ranked 27th (69.6%).

Still, Laughton and Konecny’s abilities to be aggressive on the attack when the opportunity arises have helped set the tone for the rest of the unit, which now includes winger Joel Farabee. The 22-year-old returned to the penalty kill alongside Noah Cates after former killer Lukáš Sedlák left the Flyers to return to the Czech Republic.

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“Both sides of special teams, power player, penalty kill, can really change momentum in games,” Farabee said. “So when those guys get a goal or even if it’s not a goal, if you just get a stop or whatever it is, it can create momentum five-on-five. It’s a really important part of the game and one group can go out there and the rest of the group can really feed off it.”


Goalie Samuel Ersson will make his second career start against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night (10:30 p.m., NBCSP). ... Forward Olle Lycksell and former Sharks defenseman Justin Braun will be healthy scratches. ... Goalie Carter Hart (concussion) participated in morning skate on Thursday. If he clears protocols, Tortorella expects him to start the final two games of the Flyers’ California road trip against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday and the Anaheim Ducks on Monday.