CHICAGO - Before the puck dropped on the regular season, new Flyers general manager Ron Hextall held a meeting with his team.
His message, among others, was simple: "Penalties are killing us," Zac Rinaldo recalled.
Hextall pointed out the statistics. The Flyers have finished either last or second-to-last in fewest minor penalties in six of the nine seasons since the game changed after the 2004-05 lockout.
He even held a meeting with Rinaldo during the offseason to drive home his point.
The Flyers are just five games into the season, but so far, they've heeded Hextall's message. They are by far the least penalized team in the NHL, in both minor penalties (12) and total penalty minutes (35).
"Well, we don't have any tough guys anymore," coach Craig Berube cracked. "Want me to suit up?"
The Flyers do actually still lead the league in one penalty category: bench minors (three). But one of their bench minors for "too many men on the ice" on Saturday night in Dallas should not have been called, video from the game showed.
Still, the Flyers have been shorthanded a total of just 13 times in five games. On two minor penalties, they were able to draw a coincidental minor from the opposition.
Aside from increased awareness, Berube believes his team has been called for fewer penalties as a result of moving its feet more. It plays directly into the uptempo style Berube has been trying to get his players to play.
"A lot of penalties you take because you're not moving your feet," defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. "He's just been stressing to keep moving. If you're moving your feet, you're going to have a much better chance of not being called for a stick infraction.
"We know we're just playing with fire any time you put a penalty up on the board."
So far, the Flyers' penalty kill has struggled a bit, allowing three goals on 13 kills (76.9 percent). Part of that could be due to a relative lack of work, and the fact that Braydon Coburn has been out of the lineup on four occasions.
The biggest benefit about the lack of calls has been more flexibility on the bench for Berube. The penalty kill not only burdens some of his best players with taxing minutes, but also temporarily jumbles his lines when they do get back to even strength.
"Those are tough minutes," MacDonald said. "A lot of times, you get stuck out there for a minute-and-a-half and you're just gassed. It's hard to recover from those, you need a couple shifts [off] just to regain yourself."
Discipline also allows Berube to roll all four lines, enabling him to better compete with some of the deeper teams in the league, like the Blackhawks, whom the Flyers visit tonight. For Rinaldo, there is a direct correlation to staying out of the box and increased ice time: He is averaging a career-high 8:42 per game on a fourth line that can actually generate scoring chances.
For that to continue, Berube stressed the Flyers will need to continue to "check properly, not react and initiate cleanly." No one is ready to crown the Broad Street Bullies as golden boys, but so far, it's been a marked improvement.
"It's been way better," Berube said. "Trust me, it's early. We've got to continue working on it and harping on it. It's important. It will pay benefits down the road."
It's early, but it appears the Flyers have responded to GM Ron Hextall's preseason plea for fewer penalties:
Year Minor Penal. PIM PIM/GM
2014-15 *197 (1st) 574 7.0 (1st)
2013-14 357 (29th) 1,180 14.4 (30th)
2012-13 213 (30th) 755 15.7 (29th)
2011-12 382 (30th) 1,318 16.1 (30th)
2010-11 347 (T-23rd) 1,119 13.6 (24th)
2009-10 402 (30th) 1,350 16.6 (29th)
2008-09 446 (30th) 1,408 17.1 (29th)
2007-08 461 (29th) 1,457 17.9 (28th)
2006-07 465 (19th) 1,285 15.9 (26th)
2005-06 496 (8th) 1,187 14.6 (10th)
Defenseman Braydon Coburn classified himself as a "game-time decision" to return to the Flyers' lineup tonight. He has been out since the Oct. 8 season-opening loss in Boston with a vague, "lower-body" injury, but has practiced for a week.
"I feel like there was some improvement, I felt more comfortable out there," Coburn said. "I'd say there was improvement from Saturday until today, so I think that's pretty good."
The decision has been in Coburn's hand since last week. Craig Berube has said it's an "individual thing" and he doesn't want to rush a player back who might not be fully comfortable.
During yesterday's practice at United Center, the defense pairings remained the same as Saturday's win in Dallas, which could indicate Coburn might need more time. He repeatedly shook his head in a negative manner when approached by Berube on-ice toward the end of the practice.
Ray Emery could start tonight in goal. Emery received the bulk of the shots in practice yesterday, as Steve Mason worked individually for a while with goaltending coach Jeff Reese. Craig Berube could opt for Mason tomorrow night in Pittsburgh . . . Emery was shelled last December in Chicago, allowing six goals on 18 shots against his former team before he was finally pulled in the third period . . . The Flyers spent a considerable amount of time focusing on activating the weak-side (side without the puck) defenseman in their rush during yesterday's practice . . . Phantoms forward Scott Laughton was named the AHL's Player of the Week for his four goals in two games.