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Flyers a different team with Bellemare

The penalty kill and overall record reflect the importance of having Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on the ice.

FOR MUCH of November, the Flyers' story lines dealt with streaks and trends. And they weren't positive ones.

The Flyers endured losing streaks, goalless streaks, individual scoring slumps and more. But they closed out November with two wins, so they can officially celebrate a winning streak.

They can also hang their helmets on another positive streak of success: They haven't given up a goal on their last 19 penalty kills, a stretch that spans seven games.

That's not really all that shocking when you consider the intangibles. The streak started with the Nov. 19 overtime loss to San Jose. It was the third game after Pierre-Edouard Bellemare returned from injury to the Flyers' lineup Nov. 14 in Carolina with a heavy heart, a day after the terrorist attacks in his native Paris.

Bellemare's return has paid huge dividends for the Flyers' penalty kill, which entered Sunday ranked 15th in the league with a 80.7 percent success rate, up from last year's 77.1 percent clip that ranked 27th.

"You look at the timing," coach Dave Hakstol said of the recent success. "(Bellemare) brings something to our penalty kill. He pushes us in the right direction."

Oddly enough, the player Hakstol says is a crucial part of the team but not a "spotlight" player has also been pivotal in simply picking up wins.

Bellemare missed eight games with a lower-body injury. The Flyers went 1-6-1 during that stretch. With Bellemare in the lineup, they're 8-4-4, including 4-2-2 over their last eight games.

It's surely not the largest sample size, but it has some relevance. Killing penalties is a huge part of the Flyers' success, especially for a team that has struggled to score goals at even strength, at least before wins on Friday and Saturday.

"I've always said it's the little things," Hakstol said. "We went a few games in a row there where every game we'd make kind of a tactical or critical error (on the penalty kill) and it'd end up in the back of our net. Right now those errors are certainly fewer and further between. When we do make an error, we're getting a save. And that has a way of loosening up your penalty kill.

"I think right now, what you're seeing, our penalty kill is a little looser in terms of looking for areas to pressure - getting puck pressure both up ice and in our zone. That helps you kill the seconds on a penalty kill."

It also has clearly helped that Bellemare and linemate Chris VandeVelde have been reunited in penalty-killing situations.

"Belle and Vande are two guys that read off each other very well up ice, so they are able to get some up-ice pressure," Hakstol said. "That's a real feel. That's a chemistry issue. Those two guys have obviously killed quite a bit together and they're good at doing that. They read off each other, they get up ice together, and they can do it in a way that it's not high risk."

The two started playing together on the penalty kill about midway through last season. Bellemare said this year's system is a little different.

"We are playing more aggressively up ice," he said. "Vande and I, we played kind of like this last year. We really try to read off each other. It's tough for a power play if you can mess them up a little bit on their breakout and (throw off their) timing just by a half-second."

Recently, Hakstol has made some switches with the line combinations in an attempt to generate more scoring. Last Monday, before the Flyers took on Carolina at home, Hakstol put last season's team scoring leader, Jake Voracek, with Bellemare and VandeVelde on the "third" line.

When asked about it that morning, Bellemare said simply: "It's Jake Voracek."

What does that mean?

"The whole league knows what kind of player he is," he said. "It's kind of an unbelievable feeling to be able to start the game with a player like Jake. We have a lot of good players, but it's Jake Voracek."

Given the Flyers' record with the Frenchman in the lineup, the name Bellemare is just as important.

Slap shots

The Flyers (9-10-5) did not yet have an update on defenseman Nick Schultz, who left Saturday's win over the Rangers with an upper-body injury and did not return . . . The Flyers won back-to-back games Friday and Saturday for the first time since Oct. 21 and 24 . . . The Flyers were off Sunday and return to the ice for practice at 10:30 a.m. Monday at their facility in Voorhees, N.J., before their next game Tuesday night in Ottawa . . . Despite the poor stretch the Flyers endured through much of November, they entered Sunday just four points out of the second wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.