Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Flyers won't make playoffs without fixing the penalty kill

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Steps away from the neon-drenched honky tonk bars overflowing with country music on Lower Broadway, Predators fans know an unusual chorus by heart.

After each goal scored at Bridgestone Arena, the opponent's goaltender is targeted with a chant of: "You suck, you suck, it's all your fault."

On Saturday night, it was not Ray Emery's fault.

What did suck, though, was the Flyers' penalty kill in their 4-1 loss to Peter Laviolette and the Predators.

The Flyers outscored Nashville, 1-0, during even-strength play. Yet the Predators cashed in on three out of their first four power play opportunities after beginning the year just 2-for-48 (4.2 percent) on home-ice. It was just the fifth time in the last seven seasons the Predators collected three or more power play goals in the same game.

The penalty kill is killing the Flyers. After Saturday night's debacle, the Flyers dropped back to 29th in the NHL in penalty killing percentage, though they have allowed the most goals (31) in the league. The Islanders, separated by 0.7 percent, have surrendered more goals relative to chances.

"It's something that we need to fix," defenseman Luke Schenn said. "You get lit up for three power play goals and that's obviously the difference in the game. It's cost us a lot of games this year."

Saturday night was seventh time this season the Flyers have allowed multiple power play goals against. Their record in those games is an unsurprising 1-5-1.

They have held opponents scoreless on the power play in 14 games; the Flyers have lost only three of those games in regulation.

"I think there's always things that pop up that have been a problem this year," coach Craig Berube said. "We didn't make some clears when we should have. A couple times up-ice, we made the wrong read. We didn't break enough plays up. We've got to do a better job. That's the bottom line. It's little things for me - faceoffs, clears, little things that catch up to you.

"It's a matter of commitment to doing a better job."

Special teams in hockey are usually cyclical. What goes up must come down, or so they saying goes. That hasn't been the case for the Flyers' penalty kill. It has been consistently bad since the beginning of November.

Any team with an ailing power play has been rejuvenated against the Flyers. On Saturday, it was the Predators. On Nov. 20, it was a Minnesota team that hadn't scored with the man-advantage on the road all season.

The Flyers closed out October, for once, as the NHL's least penalized team. They averaged 2.9 times shorthanded per game (10 games) that month. That number rose to 3.9 times shorthanded per game in November (13 games) and they're sitting at 3.4 per game through 12 games in December.

"For most of the year, I think the discipline has been good," Berube said.

The best aid to a struggling penalty kill is staying out of the box. The Flyers were forced to kill off three penalties in the first period alone in Nashville - and they didn't even have Zac Rinaldo in the lineup.

The culprits include Nick Schultz, who has a team-leading 12 minor penalties, Wayne Simmonds (11), Rinaldo (11) and Claude Giroux (10).

A drastic change is needed for the Flyers to have any prayer of the playoffs.

What could that be?

In football, when an offense is sputtering, sometimes the play-calling duties are shifted. That doesn't appear to be a possibility in this case. Assistant coach Ian Laperriere runs the Flyers' penalty kill. No player lived and breathed killing penalties more than Laperriere, something that carried over to the bench. He can't play for his players, though.

The Flyers' assistant coaches are not permitted to speak to the media, a policy Ron Hextall instituted this season, so it is impossible to get Laperriere's view of the situation.

From afar, something is broken. This is the same personnel, same system, same coach that finished 7th in the NHL last season (83.4 percent). A drop-off of 10 percentage points is more than just bounces, cycles and the occasional breakdown.

"You look at a couple of goals and they're goals from the top of the circle," Schenn said. "They were picking corners. As forwards and defensemen, that's our job to try and block those shots. They're not one-timers through seams or anything like that."

Last month, the breakdowns were different. Teams seemed to be out-waiting the Flyers, as Steve Mason explained it, making for easy backdoor slam dunk goals. One leak plugged, another one springs open.

"It's executing. It's blocking a shot or taking a pass away," Sean Couturier said. "Right now, we have a chance to clear it an we miss it - and it leads to an extra 15 to 20 seconds of chances that give them momentum. In the past, we did a good job of not letting them get setup in our end. It was tough for them to enter our zone. It's too easy right now."

Couturier said the Flyers change some schematics in their penalty kill based on the opponent, and "it's been like that for 3 or 4 years." In hockey, 99 percent of teams play a standard "box" setup on the penalty kill, meaning there isn't a whole ton of tinkering that can be done. Even so, Couturier believes the Flyers' setup is not broken.

The penalty kill is not rocket science. It is meat-and-potatoes grunt work, usually an unheralded job in wins and a focal point in losses. It is about hard work and attention to detail, yet the Flyers have played with the carelessness often found in their penalties.

"I don't think we're playing the wrong way, we're just not executing. We're not getting the puck out," Couturier said. "I think we've got to be a little more aggressive. If we're going to get scored on, let's at least get beat with a nice play."

Jake Voracek was held without a point for just the 8th time in 35 games this season. His point streak was halted at 4 games … Claude Giroux has 7 points in his last 4 games … The Predators still have not lost consecutive games this season, they are now 11-0-0 following a loss … It is only halfway through the season, but it would be an upset if Pekka Rinne does not win the Vezina Trophy. He could be a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate, too, since he's won all 23 of the Predators' games.

On Twitter: @frank_seravalli