(Voorhees, NJ) – While the Flyers’ power play has been ranked at or near the top of the NHL for most of the season (it is currently second in the league at 22.5 percent), the club’s penalty-killing had been hovering near or below the middle of the pack through the first two-thirds of the year.
Recently, though, Philadelphia has been steadily improving its ability to kill off its opponent’s man advantages. In the last 10 games, the Flyers have killed off 40 of 43 power plays. Overall, they have climbed to 11th in the league at 83.2 percent.
Assistant coach Terry Murray made a couple adjustments that seem to have paid off, according to Mike Richards.
“[Murray] put in place what he wants us to do. It seemed like before we were trying to push offense a little bit too much and turn pucks over, and they ended up capitalizing on the opportunities that we were giving them,” said Richards, who has five shorthanded goals. “Now, we’re trying to keep it simple and get the puck 200 feet (down the ice). When the opportunity is there, we’ll take it, but we can’t force the issue.”
“Right now I think we’re feeling really confident we can kill these penalties. That will be a big thing going forward, because we know our power play has been sharp for pretty much the whole year,” added Joffrey Lupul. “If we can keep the penalty kill at the rate we’re killing them off now, that’s big for the playoffs.”
John Stevens obviously appreciates having the correct system in place, but killing penalties is also a reflection of playing the correct way and having enough intensity, he said.
“It comes down to structure and being on the same page, but it’s commitment and work ethic and little intangible things like blocking shots and big saves that go a long way to helping the penalty kill,” said the head coach.
Another ingredient that has been, and will be, a key to the team’s success for the rest of the regular season and potential playoff run is its balanced scoring. The Flyers are the only team in the NHL with six players over 20 goals, and that number could jump to seven should Lupul get two more.
They have also seen different lines produce at different points in the year. Danny Briere
’s line with Simon Gagne started off hot at the beginning of the season, while Richards, Lupul and Scott Hartnell
were carrying the club in December and January. Jeff Carter led the way when Richards was hurt in late February, and now recently, it has been Briere and Vaclav Prospal who have been pacing the Flyers.
“Going into the playoffs, that will be the strength of our team,” said Lupul. “It’s not like we really have a go-to guy. We’ve got three lines that are capable of scoring two or three goals on any given night. We don’t have a [Sidney] Crosby or an [Alex] Ovechkin or any of those guys; it’s just three lines capable of scoring.”
“It’s huge when you can rely on different lines for goal scoring,” said Briere, who was named as the NHL’s Third Star of the Week for his efforts in the last three games. “It’s a lot tougher to match up. It’s something that lately is starting to pick up and it’s getting tougher and tougher for teams to defend against us.
“Hopefully, going into the playoffs, we keep going on that roll where you never know which line is going to provide the offense on a nightly basis.”
Briere thinks that the year has been a work in progress not just for him but for the offense as a whole. Now, he would like to see all three lines contribute at the same time.
“In the past couple weeks, different lines are chipping in, which is huge,” he said. “It’s something we’re going to need down the stretch and into the playoffs if we want to be successful.”
Stevens was also asked about the team’s scoring attack, and was quick to point out that it’s not just the forwards who are doing all of the work.
“The thing we haven’t talked about much is we’ve gotten significant contributions from our back end this year,” he said. “A guy like [Braydon] Coburn now has nine goals which is pretty impressive for a young kid, and Kimmo [Timonen] has been a consistent contributor offensively all year.”
Timonen is tied for 12th in the league in scoring among defensemen with 43 points, while Coburn is tied for 23rd with 35 points.FLYERS NOTES
Randy Jones accompanied the club on its train to New York Monday afternoon and said he expects to play on Tuesday against the Rangers. He has missed the last five games with a hip flexor. … R.J. Umberger has yet to skate since hurting his left knee in Pittsburgh on March 16. His two-week time frame remains the same, though, he said.