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Atlantic: Flyers have advantage when man-down

by Adam Kimelman /
Playing in shorthanded situations mostly is about competitiveness and desire. Players need to be willing to drop down in front of shots, take hits to recover the puck and do whatever they can to get the puck out of the zone.

It may not look like an art form, but there is definitely a level of skill involved, especially when it comes to turning defense into offense.

The number of shorthanded goals in the League has dropped the last three seasons, from 318 in 2005-06, to 268 to 239 last season, but that trend should end this season, thanks in part to the Philadelphia Flyers. Through their first 19 games, the Flyers lead the League with eight man-down goals, putting them on pace for 34, which would approach the League record of 36 set by the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers.

Part of the reason the Flyers have had such jump has been coach John Stevens' decision to use some of his most offensively talented forwards on the penalty kill -- Simon Gagne, Mike Knuble, Mike Richards, Scott Hartnell, Joffrey Lupul and Jeff Carter.

"We use six guys up front, so our guys have energy in the tank," Stevens told "And because they don't have to conserve their energy, they can be more aggressive."

That aggression at the top of the penalty-killing box gets amped up when Stevens sees a team using a forward at the point on the power play.

"There're lots of teams that use a forward on the back end on the power play, and I think when teams do that, defending isn't their strong suit," Stevens said. "There's going to be chances to attack, and when we have those chances, we attack. We don't score a lot of goals by being outright gamblers. We're not a team that chases. If we get pucks turned over and we have a chance to attack, we attack."

Leading that attack has been Gagne, who leads the League with four shorthanded goals. He said his success has to do as much with luck as it does skill.

"I think it’s a mix of everything," he told "You need to be in the right place at the right moment and the puck has to bounce on your stick on the right side. You block a shot sometimes and the puck bounces on the right side and you get a breakaway right down the middle."

All their aggressiveness hasn't hurt their overall penalty killing, which ranks fifth in the League at 85.3 percent. Part of their good numbers could be a growing insecurity among opposing power plays to make perfect plays with the puck or see it end up in their own net.

"I hope they feel a bit scared of that," said Gagne. "I don't know if we're into their head a little bit, but I hope that's what's happening. If it's happening on their side, they're worried a bit when we're on the ice, worried we might catch a puck and go two-on-one, that's good for us."

Getting better all the time -- Just when it seemed like the Devils finally were getting close to having a full lineup, they lost center John Madden with a bruised ankle. He stayed home to heal during the team's swing through Florida this week.

The Devils have been getting players back in the lineup for a change rather than losing them. Defensemen Paul Martin and Bryce Salvador and forward Brian Gionta finally got healthy, which had allowed for coach Brent Sutter to establish some continuity in the dressing room.

"Things were happening so quickly and you try just to weather through it," Sutter told reporters. "You always are under the understanding that injuries are part of the game, but it just seemed like it was every game or every practice something was happening to us. And if it wasn't happening here, it was happening to the American League team (in Lowell). But the players have done an outstanding job and the guys that are healthy, their focus is just to play and let the coaches and the management worry about the other things. The players need to play and do their jobs playing and play up to their potential.

"When you've got guys coming in and out of your lineup and you don't know the next day what your lines are going to look like or how things are going to look, that can get disruptive towards your team. But, like I said, the guys have handled it pretty well. I think we've settled in here pretty good."

Together again -- Call them the Odd Couple -- Sidney Crosby, the quiet superstar, and Colby Armstrong, the loud grinder. Not much in common, but they made great friends.

When Crosby would try to be humble in an interview, Armstrong would yell, "Dude! You're Sidney (expletive) Crosby!"

It was a friendship that became a long-distance one last February, when Armstrong was shipped to Atlanta as part of the Marian Hossa deal. Crosby was injured at the time and never got a chance to bid his friend a proper farewell.

Armstrong and Erik Christensen, who also was part of the Hossa deal, had dinner with Crosby and a few other ex-teammates the night before the game to renew acquaintances, and then faced off for the first time as opponents Thursday night.

Armstrong said before the game he planned on yapping at Crosby to try to throw him off his game.

"Hopefully, I can get under his skin a little bit with a few lines maybe that could sting," he told reporters. "I'll let it build gradually, work my way up. I'll try to keep up with him with these skinny legs."

Crosby said he knows Armstrong's game and won't have much to say in return.

"He can say anything," Crosby told reporters. "It wouldn't even come close to working. I haven't taken him seriously in three years. What makes him think I'm going to start now?

"I would be probably laughing inside, maybe not showing it, but if he tries anything, I won't even give him the benefit of saying anything back. I wouldn't give him the satisfaction."

Crosby got the last laugh as he scored a goal and set up two others in the Penguins' 3-2 win.

News and notes -- Islanders center Mike Sillinger, recovering from microfracture hip surgery, began a conditioning assignment with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the club's American Hockey League affiliate. His NHL return, though, remains a few weeks away. … Defenseman Brendan Witt returned to the Islanders' lineup Friday after missing a month with a sprained knee. … After totaling 5 goals and 12 points in his first 13 games, Rangers forward Nikolai Zherdev has just 2 goals and 5 points in his last 10 games. … Devils defenseman Mike Mottau received a two-game suspension for elbowing the Islanders' Frans Nielsen in the head. Nielsen will miss 8-12 weeks with multiple leg injuries after his skate stuck in the ice as he went down from the elbow. … Flyers GM Paul Holmgren has begun negotiations with the agents for power forward Mike Knuble and goaltender Martin Biron, who each can become unrestricted free agents this summer. "We've actually had conversations," Holmgren told the Bucks County Courier Times, "but right now, where we're at in the League, it's kind of a wait-and-see attitude. In talking with both agents, no one's in a big rush." Knuble, 36, is third on the team with 8 goals -- including a team-best four on the power play -- and fourth with 14 points. Biron, 31, has won three-straight starts and four of five since a slow start, and has lowered his goals-against average to 2.88. Both players have expressed an interest in re-signing. "I've been very happy, I understand my role here," Knuble told reporters. "I appreciate it. So when you're happy and your family is happy, you want to stay. I feel like I can still play and I want to play. I don't feel a need to start anywhere else again." … Fourth-line center Jonathan Kalinski became the sixth Flyer to make his NHL debut this season when he was called up from the Philadelphia Phantoms, and skated against the Sabres last Friday. Kalinski joined defenseman Luca Sbisa and forwards Darroll Powe, Jared Ross, Nate Raduns and Andreas Nodl to play their first NHL games this season. … The Flyers welcomed defenseman Ossi Vaananen back Monday night. Vaananen missed three games after having his broken finger surgically repaired, but the stitches tore in his first game back, sidelining him the last four games. … Penguins forward Matt Cooke spent nine of his first 10 NHL seasons with the Canucks, but his first game against his old teammates didn't last long. He received a game misconduct after fighting Jannik Hansen 25 seconds into last Saturday night's game. … Dainius Zubrus' four-goal game Sunday was the first for the club since Patrik Elias did it March 30, 2003 against the Islanders. Elias assisted on three of Zubrus' goals Sunday.

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