VOORHEES, N.J. — If you're a believer in conspiracy theory, then you can finally feel somewhat reassured that the NHL and its crew of officials are no longer out to get the Flyers.
At least not this season.
Since the start of December, the guys in orange and black have been on the nice list of those wearing black and white. The Flyers have gone eight straight games without allowing their opponent more than two power-play opportunities.
That accomplishment alone is unprecedented. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, at no point over the previous 30 years (how far their research goes back) have the Flyers had a stretch of hockey where they've exercised such cautious discipline. By comparison, over the past three seasons, the Flyers had only a five-game stretch in which they allowed their opponent two or fewer power play chances.
"I think we're hitting better," said Jake Voracek, who leads the Flyers with 13 minor penalties taken. "When you hesitate to go into the spots you're supposed to be in and you get there too late, you reach in and you're hooking. When you're confident and you're playing with urgency, you have that extra step. I think that's the biggest thing."
Over the team's current eight-game stretch, the Flyers' power play opportunities have also outnumbered their opponents by a whopping plus-21 margin (34-13) while outscoring teams by six more goals with the man advantage.
By contrast, the Flyers were a minus-15 in the special teams department, allowing 41 power play opportunities to their 26 from early November through the 10-game winless streak. The basis behind the turnaround in their results can be primarily attributed to this area.
"I think we got lazy," Dale Weise said. "We got down in games and that's when you get frustrated and you start to take slashing penalties or penalties 200 feet away from your net. We had some timely penalties that killed us late in games during that stretch."
Perhaps there's a belief that the scales of justice will eventually tip in the direction of the Flyers' opponents, but the Flyers have made significant improvements 5-on-5, where they have allowed just 50 goals this season — tied for first in the NHL. Head coach Dave Hakstol feels if the Flyers continue their style of play, officials won't have that opportunity.
"We went through a stretch where we had some issues, where we were in the box too much," Hakstol said. "A lot of those, I felt, were stick penalties, were penalties created from chasing a play, chasing a game.
"I feel like we've had the puck a little bit more over this last stretch. When you have to defend less and you have the puck more, the penalty differential is going to go your way. So it's not just about discipline, it's about how much you have the puck versus how much you're trying to get it back and you're defending."
Under Hakstol, the Flyers have gradually improved their standing in the Department of Discipline — from 23rd in minor penalties taken during his first season in 2015-16, to 16th a year ago, to now tied for 10th through their first 33 games of the season.
In hockey, it's much better to think — and play — outside the box.
Neuvirth to return
Michal Neuvirth is expected to back up fellow goaltender Brian Elliott when the Flyers host the Red Wings Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center.
Neuvirth practiced for the first time with teammates Tuesday but was on the ice for the fourth straight day as he continues to work his way back from a lower-body injury that he sustained in Calgary a few weeks ago.
"Conditioning's good, I've been moving well," Neuvirth said. "It's about the timing and tracking the puck. The eyes have to get quicker a little bit."
With the Flyers on the back end of a stretch of seven games in a 12-day span, it's likely Neuvirth will earn one of two starts on the team's upcoming back-to-back road games in Buffalo and Columbus.