Much of the focus on the Flyers in recent weeks has understandably centered around the team's struggles - at least beyond the top line trio of Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek - to score goals. The paucity of goals has overshadowed two interrelated positive trends: the Flyers' goaltending and penalty killing have both been strong overall thus far in November despite having to play through attrition on the blueline.
Through the first seven games of November, the Flyers are 20-for-24 (83.3 percent) on the penalty kill. With the exception of a bit of a letdown against Colorado, getting scored on twice on three shorthanded situations, the PK has been one of the Flyers brightest spots this month.
It's a time-honored hockey truism that goalies often have to be a team's best penalty killer. That's been true for the Flyers this month, as Brian Elliott has come with repeated huge saves on the penalty kill at vital times. Michal Neuvirth stepped up in the Flyers' upset win in St. Louis.
Here's a look inside the numbers:
Nov 2 (@ Chicago): The Flyers went 3-for-4 on the penalty kill. Elliott made a couple saves on bang-bang plays but, generally, the PK units as a whole played well. The lone execution letdown ended up in the Flyers net: a cleanly lost faceoff and the rebound of a resulting Cody Franson shot that Artem Anisimov potted.
Nov 3 (@ St. Louis): The injury-riddled Flyers went 2-for-2 on the penalty kill en route to a gritty 2-0 win against a dangerous Blues attack. The game's penalty killing highlight was an incredible two-minute shift by Ivan Provorov on the Flyers' second kill, during which he blocked three shots.
Nov 4 (vs Colorado): This was the one November game to date in which the penalty kill was not an overall positive for the Flyers. With regular penalty killer Scott Laughton in the box, Colorado struck for a goal in the final two seconds of the opening period. The Avalanche won a right circle faceoff and scored as the since-traded Matt Duchene potted a rebound goal. Colorado's second power play goal was a simple case of bad puck luck for Philadelphia. Robert Hagg went down to block a Mikko Rantanen pass-out attempt but accidentally deflected the puck into the Flyers' net.
Nov 8 (vs. Chicago): Excellent penalty killing was a key ingredient in the Flyers' 3-1 victory. The team went 4-for-4 including a critical 5-on-3 kill for ill a 5-on-3 for 1:44 with two of their key penalty killing defensemen (Radko Gudas and Provorov) as the players in the box. In this game, Hägg turned in some of his best penalty killing work of his young NHL career. The biggest highlight, however, was Elliott snuffing out what seemed like a surefire backdoor goal. Afterwards, Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning said the team's PK performance in this game was a potential turning point.
"To be honest, the PK felt a little sloppy [before tonight]," Manning admitted. "We've worked on it the last few days. Obviously with Amac [Andrew MacDonald] out and Provy and Gudy our go-to guys, Hagger did a good job there and we kept them to the outside. Fortunately for us, it worked out. … Moose [Elliott] really stepped up huge. I think this was a game we can build off, in terms of the PK."
Since that game against Chicago, the Flyers have gone 14-for-15 (93.3 percent) on the kill.
Nov. 11 (vs. Minnesota): The Flyers penalty kill went 3-for-3 in a game that scoreless through two periods and ultimately went the Wild's way in a 1-0 decision. Both Laughton and Simmonds had shorthanded rushes that initially seemed like promising chances. Just as important, Couturier, Laughton and Taylor Leier cleared pucks out of the defensive zone and the Flyers made it tough for the Wild to get set up. Provorov and Hägg played another strong game on the PK. Meanwhile, when Elliott had to make stops he did, including ones on good scoring chances by Jason Zucker, Marcus Foligno and Mikko Koivu. The stop on Koivu was from the doorstep.
Nov. 14 (@ Minnesota): This was a fairly whistle-free game with just two power plays for the Flyers and one for the Wild. Trailing 1-0, the Flyers killed off a late first-period Simmonds hooking penalty in good shape. The Flyers remained within a goal all night until a pair of late-game empty netters by the Wild turned the tight-checking match into a 3-0 final.
Nov. 16 (@ Winnipeg): Although the Jets did score a second period power play goal that loomed large in their recovery from an early 2-0 deficit on the way to a 3-2 decision via shootout, the Flyers' penalty killing overall was strong. The team went 6-for-7 including two 4-on-3 kills and a three-minute 5-on-4. A five-minute slashing major on Gudas put the Flyers down to five defensemen for the rest of the game (55-plus minutes as it turned out) and forced the club to kill a 4-on-3 and then a lengthy 5-on-4. They did so in good shape. The Flyers also got through an abbreviated 4-on-3 kill in overtime before the Jets took a penalty.
The lone Jets' power play goal, scored with Laughton in the box on a boarding minor and Gudas long since dispatched from the game, started with a faceoff in the Winnipeg zone. Couturier won a left circle faceoff back to Sanheim, who was immediately swarmed by two Jets at the point. Sanheim was unable to get the puck in deep and the Jets countered on a two-on-one rush with Manning back to defend. Mathieu Perrault finished off the play, taking a feed from Joel Armia.
For the season, the Flyers have killed 80.6 percent of their penalties, ranking 17th in the NHL. While the overall numbers still need improvement, the club has been in the rise this month. The PK had dropped as low as 76.9 percent (tied for 24th overall) before the current 14-for-15 stretch propelled the season totals back into the middle of the pack in the NHL.
For the Flyers' fortunes to improve, this positive trend needs to continue. The goalie play and PK have given the team a chance to be much better than 2-3-2 for the month. Now the goals need to start coming from lines other than the Couturier unit, as well as the occasional goal chipped in from the defense corps.