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Atlantic: Flyers' PK unit forced to work overtime

by Adam Kimelman
The Philadelphia Flyers are justifiably proud of their strong penalty killing, which entered the week ranked No. 7 in the NHL at 83.3 percent, while also scoring a League-best 13 shorthanded goals.

The problem, though, is they're giving their man-down units far too much ice time. The Flyers have been shorthanded 269 times this season, second only to the Anaheim Ducks, and their 18.9 penalty minutes per game is the highest in the League.

The problem isn't the Flyers' League-high 57 majors; rather, it's the 302 minor penalties, the second-highest amount in the League.

And, a preponderance of those minors are obstruction penalties, something coaches might call lazy penalties. Among those have been 71 hooking calls, 37 tripping penalties, 32 interference calls and 28 holding calls. Also, the Flyers have been called for a League-high 11 bench minors.

Making the problem that much worst is the fact that the Flyers' top penalty killers are their top players in all situations -- Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter and Scott Hartnell up front, Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn on defense.

And it's starting to show in other areas of their game. Their power play is 6-for-42 in the last 10 games, including an 0-for-11 showing Jan. 31 in St. Louis.

So what's the answer? Fining players? Defenseman Ossi Vaananen said when he played in Phoenix, players were fined for taking penalties.

That won't be happening in Philadelphia, said coach John Stevens.

"When there's a commitment to the team," Stevens told reporters, "we'll bring (penalties) down without fining guys."

"The key to avoiding penalties is moving your feet and not reaching for guys," said Timonen. "You can change that. When we're not skating, we take too many penalties."

Whatever the answer is, the Flyers know they need to cut their time in the penalty box down significantly down the stretch.

"Going toward the playoffs, if we're taking six or seven penalties a game, we're not going to win," said Timonen.

No regrets -- Marian Hossa helped the Penguins reach the Stanley Cup Final last spring, and it was his last-second shot that skittered along the goal line without going in  during the final seconds of Game 6 that allowed the Detroit Red Wings to celebrate their fourth Stanley Cup in 11 seasons.

During the summer, Hossa turned down the Penguins' multi-year contract offer to sign a one-year deal with Detroit, saying he felt they gave him the best option to win a Stanley Cup.

So far it looks like Hossa made the right choice; the Wings are second in the Western Conference, while the Penguins are 10th in the East. He played a part in the Pens' latest struggle when he scored his 30th goal of the season in Sunday's 3-0 Wings victory. It was Hossa's first game in Pittsburgh since last spring.

Hossa was booed throughout the game, and chants of "Traitor!" rained down on him.

"These are great hockey fans. They showed their emotion," Hossa told reporters after the game. "I had a great three or four months here. I enjoyed every little bit of it."

While the fans might not forgive Hossa, the star forward believes his former teammates have moved on.

"They understand it's a business," Hossa said. "They know you've got to make a decision. It wasn't easy because both are great teams. One group of people is going to be happy, the other group of people isn't. No matter what you do, you can't make everyone happy. You just have to do what you think is best for you. That's what I did."

Getting the word out -- The Devils, perennially near the bottom of the League's attendance rankings, have created a new company and hired a powerful New Jersey lobbyist and public relations executive to help raise the identity of the team and their new home in Newark.

Bob Sommer has been hired by Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek to head a new company, Devils Arena Entertainment, which manages the team's contracts at the Prudential Center.

Vanderbeek told The (Bergen) Record he hired Sommer because, "he knows tons of people. His networking capabilities are remarkable."

Sommer previously was an executive vice president for 20 years at East Rutherford-based MWW Group, New Jersey's largest public relations firm. He was a longtime spokesman for the Xanadu shopping and entertainment project in the Meadowlands. He also teaches at Rutgers University's Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.

Part of Sommer's job will be making the Prudential Center stand out among other similar buildings -- including the Izod Center in East Rutherford, the Devils' former home.

"I'm looking toward this next challenge, which is helping the Devils and (the Prudential Center) more firmly establish themselves in the New Jersey marketplace," Sommer told the newspaper.

Vanderbeek added that Lou Lamoriello remains in charge of all hockey operations. Lamoriello told the (Newark) Star-Ledger that Sommer's hiring didn't affect him in any way.

"There is nothing negative about it," said Lamoriello, who holds the title CEO/President/General Manager. "What (Sommer) is going to be doing is handling the promotion of the Pru Center, and Devils games are part of the building. Sometimes these things might seem to be overlapping. This has nothing to do with the hockey team. Nothing is going to change the way we operate. I wouldn't read into this that it will change anything with the Devils."

News and notes -- The Rangers' game Saturday, a 10-2 loss, was their first trip to Dallas since Dec. 14, 2006, a 5-2 New York victory. And prior to that game, the Rangers hadn't allowed double-figure goals since a 10-4 loss to Pittsburgh on April 9, 1993. ... Penguins forward Miroslav Satan played in his 1,000th NHL game Feb. 6 against Columbus. In his 1,001st game, Sunday against Detroit, he played just 10 shifts totaling 9:37 of ice time. He attempted one shot, but made no other statistical impact. "No, he didn't play a lot," was all coach Michel Therrien told reporters after the game. ... Alex Goligoski leads all rookie defensemen with 6 goals and 20 points, but the Penguins sent him back to the American Hockey League on Sunday. Injuries to Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar gave Goligoski the opportunity to make the club, and he's made the most of it. But with Whitney back and Gonchar close, the ability to send Goligoski to the AHL without having to expose him to waivers was too appealing to the Penguins. But coach Michel Therrien emphasized that was the only reason. "That kid belongs in the NHL," Therrien told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "Right now, we have eight healthy bodies with our defense, and Gonchar will come back pretty soon, too." ... The Feb. 15 Flyers-Rangers game has been switched from a 3 p.m. start to 12:30 p.m., and will be televised in the United States by NBC. ... The Flyers waived Lasse Kukkonen for the second time this season. If the defenseman clears waivers, GM Paul Holmgren told he will play for the Phantoms. Kukkonen had been scratched in 19 of the last 24 games, and had been playing wing and defense. ... Luca Sbisa, who the Flyers sent back to the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the Western Hockey League recently after he played the first half of the season in Philadelphia, has 5 points and a minus-4 rating in his first four games.

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