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Penalty kill area of emphasis for Flyers

After a poor performance last season, new coach Dave Hakstol has made changes to the PK strategy and units.

Claude Giroux watches the puck against Florida Panthers' Nick Bjugstad.
Claude Giroux watches the puck against Florida Panthers' Nick Bjugstad.Read more(YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)

WHEN THE roster turnover of a team isn't drastic, improving specific areas of play can help pave the way to more success.

For the Flyers, improvement in the standings this season can coincide with an improvement in the penalty-killing department. The Flyers ranked 27th out of the 30 teams last season with a killing percentage of 77.1 percent, down from seventh best in 2013-14.

After allowing three power-play goals on Saturday, the Flyers followed that up by stifling the same Florida Panthers in six attempts in Monday's 1-0 shutout win.

Under new coach Dave Hakstol, the Flyers appear to have a more aggressive unit killing penalties. All preseason and early in the regular season, the Flyers have played an aggressive style in their defensive zone and have created offensive chances of their own.

Assistant coach Ian Laperriere works with the penalty-killing unit. What have he and Hakstol changed from last season?

"There's some changes up ice," Hakstol said. "But I think the biggest thing is, you instill confidence. I don't want to get into a system discussion . . . instill confidence. That's the way we want our players to play in any situation. And certainly I think Ian's done a good job of that, early through preseason, early in the season through the PK. Just go out, play the way that we play and let's do it with confidence and make sure everybody is on the same page."

How does one instill confidence in a group that had such poor results last season?

"Preparation leads to confidence," Hakstol said. "If you've gotta take a test, if you've done the work and studied, you walk in and you're confident. It's no different with anything. You do the work preparing off the ice, you do the work preparing on the ice and then you go play the game."

The Flyers are using captain Claude Giroux early and often on the PK unit. Giroux got just over four minutes of ice time while the Flyers were shorthanded in Monday's win. Former coach Peter Laviolette deployed Giroux pretty often on the kill, but Craig Berube didn't use him as often. Hakstol, however, has been a big proponent of his players being able to play strong, two-way games.

Giroux said he admired the way former captain Mike Richards played on the penalty kill and turned strong defense into offense.

"I'm not looking for offense right away," Giroux said. "If you play good defense your chances are going to come.''

Hakstol said he wasn't worried about having Giroux on the ice too much just yet, considering the captain obviously plays on the power-play unit as well. Having a deep group of forwards able to kill penalties can only be a plus.

Flyers fourth-liners Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde have carved out roles as go-to players in man-down situations. Each played nearly five minutes of penalty-killing time Monday.

"Fact remains we've got a lot of forwards we think can do a good job killing penalties," Hakstol said. "We want to have six or seven guys available every night. Those six or seven may be a bit interchangeable - including 'G' - in those situations. But (Giroux has) done a very good job of it, so we'll stay with it.

"Certain guys are good at it. I think he's pretty good at it. I think the tandem of (Bellemare and VandeVelde) are good at it because they read off of each other so well."

Mason returns

Goalie Steve Mason returned to the team yesterday after being away for a few days tending to a family issue. The Flyers designated him as "non-roster" during his leave and he was not activated before last night's game. Jason LaBarbera, who was recalled Monday from Lehigh Valley, backed up Michal Neuvirth.

With the Flyers not playing again until Tuesday, they opted to give Mason extra time to get back into the swing of things after missing Monday and Tuesday.

Hakstol said, however, there isn't necessarily a timetable for Mason's return.

Slap shots

The start of last night's game was delayed because the Flyers and Blackhawks kicked off their contest with a retirement tribute to former Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who won a Stanley Cup with Chicago in June . . . R.J. Umberger remains sidelined with an upper-body injury and is still considered day-to-day . . . Claude Giroux played in his 500th NHL game last night . . . NHL commissioner Gary Bettman presented the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation with a $950,000 check before the game. Snider, who is resting in California, was not in attendance. Bettman said: "Obviously we wish Ed Snider would be here with us tonight because there's no one more passionate about hockey, the Flyers and the city of Philadelphia than Ed . . . (Snider Hockey) is a testament to Ed's determination, his vision, his commitment, financial resources, and that's why we're here tonight."