Flyers in uncharted territory with lack of penalties

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Flyers in uncharted territory with lack of penalties

To the Broad Street Bullies of the 1970s, today’s brand of hockey is simply unrecognizable, and perhaps to some, even unacceptable.

When the Flyers take the ice Thursday against the Blue Jackets, the clock will be ticking on one of the most un-Bully-esque streaks in franchise history. 

The Flyers have somehow managed to play their last 215 minutes and 14 seconds without having to kill off a single penalty — a stretch of hockey that extends to the second period of a game against the Devils on Feb. 13 when Sean Couturier was whistled for tripping. 

Not only is the box an uninhabited area for the Flyers recently, but it’s also uncharted territory. They’re just the second team in NHL history to exhibit that kind of discipline since the league began keeping penalty records in 1977-78.

If this somehow continues, the guys at Comcast-Spectacor’s premium seating division could be looking at a prime opportunity to add a luxury suite at ice level. Fast food restaurant chain Jack in the Box would be the perfect sponsor.

The Flyers' penalty kill has also improved slightly by virtue of not having to kill penalties, from 30th in the league to now ranked 28th, still holding steady at 75 percent, but more importantly, their commitment to steer clear of the sin bin now has them ranked seventh in the NHL in the number of times they’ve been shorthanded.

The reasons behind their whistle-free work ethic can be attributed to a number of areas. 

For one, the Flyers have made the necessary adjustments to the league’s new slashing penalty, where a stick anywhere near the hands has resulted in a two-minute minor. Secondly, the entire team, and especially rookie Nolan Patrick, who went through a tough stretch earlier this month, has been very mindful of not committing high-sticking, hooking and other lazy infractions when chasing down the puck carrier.  

“I don’t think we’ve dominated puck possession over the last couple of games,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “But when we haven’t had it, we’ve worked hard to get it back the right way. At this time of year, it’s moving your feet, trying to get above plays and trying to check the right way.”

Secondly, as the season enters the drive towards the playoffs, NHL referees have shown a tendency to allow players to decide the outcome and not enforce the game as tightly as they did over the first three months of the season. In the first 30 games, the Flyers were forced to kill off an average of 3.4 power play opportunities per game. Over their last 30 contests, the number has been reduced significantly to 2.33.

More importantly, Dave Hakstol’s team is better equipped this season to play more effectively 5-on-5 and in all even strength situations, which was a point of emphasis after missing the playoffs a year ago. The Flyers' goal differential this season is plus-11 at even strength, whereas last season it was a minus-19.

“I think we’re doing a pretty good job 5-on-5,” defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “I think you have to realize that most of the game is going to be played 5-on-5 and at even strength, and you have to generate in those situations throughout the rest of the year and into the playoffs.”

Even if the Flyers can’t maintain this unimaginable penalty-free pace, they clearly have more success and their penalty kill is much more efficient when they’re forced to kill off just a handful of penalties, as the chart below illustrates.

PK Attempts   Record     Kill %
2 or fewer        18-8-1        87.5%

3-4                      9-9-5         68.0%

5 or more          4-2-4         75.0%

In the 27 games where the Flyers have killed two or fewer power play opportunities, the success rate is nearly 88 percent, and they’re winning 67 percent of their games. They’ve been able to extend their energy throughout the 60-plus minutes while rolling four lines more consistently.

“If you have to kill three or more minor penalties, you’re at a little bit of risk, but you can get the job done,” Hakstol said. “When you get in the five, six range now you’re draining the bench, you’re draining energy, and you’re taking guys out of rhythm who aren’t killing penalties. There’s a lot of things that domino off of that.”

All of which conserves energy and creates good habits as the Flyers inch closer towards the postseason.

Devils' Hall wastes no time in overtime

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Devils' Hall wastes no time in overtime

PITTSBURGH -- Taylor Hall beat Matt Murray on a breakaway 27 seconds into overtime to lift the New Jersey Devils to a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night.

Hall was all alone when Nico Hischier found him with a long lead pass. Hall then slipped the puck between Murray's legs for his 33rd goal of the season as New Jersey picked up two vital points in the race for one of the two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference.

Hall added two assists for New Jersey. Hischier finished with a goal and an assist, and Blake Coleman and Will Butcher also scored for the Devils. Keith Kincaid made 40 stops for the Devils, who finished a season-high six-game road trip 4-2.

Sidney Crosby scored his 25th of the season for Pittsburgh. Brian Dumolin and Phil Kessel scored in the third period as the Penguins erased a two-goal deficit. Murray finished with 30 saves as the Penguins lost for just the second time in their last 17 home games.

New Jersey's drive to end a six-year playoff drought has stalled since the All-Star break. A lopsided loss in San Jose dropped the Devils to just 13-12 since Jan. 30 and skated onto the ice at PPG Paints Arena with a tenuous grasp on the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference (see full recap).

Bruins win on Pastrnak’s last-second goal
DALLAS -- David Pastrnak broke a tie with 12 seconds left and the Boston Bruins scored three straight goals in the third period to rally past the fading Dallas Stars 3-2 on Friday night.

A scramble followed a faceoff in the Dallas end, and Brad Marchand passed to Pastrnak in front. While falling down, he put the puck past Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen.

Tuukka Rask made a season-high 40 saves for the Bruins. Marchand scored Boston's first goal and also assisted on a short-handed goal by Tim Schaller that tied it midway through the third period.

The second-place Bruins won for the first time in three games (1-0-2) to move within four points of Atlantic Division leader Tampa Bay. Boston has already clinched a playoff berth.

The Stars are winless in their last seven games (0-5-2). They remained four points behind Colorado for the second Western Conference wild card (see full recap).

Berglund, Blues push win streak to 4
ST. LOUIS -- Patrik Berglund scored twice and the surging St. Louis Blues beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-1 on Friday night for their fourth consecutive victory.

Vladimir Tarasenko and Dmitrij Jaskin also scored for St. Louis. Jake Allen made 19 saves in his eighth straight start as the Blues won for the sixth time in seven games.

Sam Gagner scored for Vancouver, which has lost eight of nine. Anders Nilsson stopped 21 shots.

The Blues swept the season series and have won their last five games against the Canucks.

Tarasenko extended the lead to 3-1 just 14 seconds into the third period, slipping Jaden Schwartz's pass between Nilsson's legs. Tarasenko missed the previous two games with an upper-body injury.

Jaskin's sixth goal of the season with 2:29 left sealed it for St. Louis (see full recap).

5 crucial developments behind Flyers' playoff push

5 crucial developments behind Flyers' playoff push

With seven games to go, the Flyers are in playoff position.

They sit in the Eastern Conference's top wild-card spot, four points ahead of the next-closest team, while also lurking just one point out of third place and two out of second in the Metropolitan Division.

You would have been hard-pressed to envision such a scenario back when the Flyers had lost 10 straight games and were in dead last of the Metro on Dec. 2.

But, through the streaks — both good and bad — here the Flyers are.

So how did they get here?

Let's look at five keys:

1. Giroux, period
The revitalization has been astounding. 

Claude Giroux's precipitous turnaround is the biggest reason the Flyers find themselves smelling postseason hockey again.

At age 30 and coming off a career low in goals for a full season and a third straight drop-off in scoring, the Flyers' captain has buried those 14 markers and 58 points in the past. This season, he has 26 goals and an NHL-high 64 assists, while reaching the 90-point plateau for the second time in his career. 

When the regular season is over, he will very likely own new career highs in goals, assists and points.

Tip your hat to the guy.

2. Do-it-all Coots
Sean Couturier has done yeoman's work in his breakout year.

Obviously the team-best 30 goals are nice, but he does so much more for this team.

He plays the third-most minutes (21:38) among all NHL forwards, leads the Flyers in PK time by a landslide and his plus-26 rating is top 10 in the league.

3. The kid is here
With a greater role, Travis Konecny has made a crucial jump in Year 2.

Since Dec. 28, the 21-year-old has put up 34 points (18 goals, 16 assists) and a plus-17 rating in 38 games, a stretch in which the Flyers are 22-12-4.

And since Jan. 20, Konecny has the same number of goals (16) as Alex Ovechkin and Nathan MacKinnon.

4. Defensive leaders
While the Flyers have stomached inconsistency and change on defense, Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere have served as two pillars.

Imagine if one of the two got hurt? Or if Provorov endured a sophomore slump and Gostisbehere didn't rebound from his own last season?

Who knows where the Flyers would be.

Provorov and Gostisbehere are first and third, respectively, in minutes per game on the team, while both have netted 13 goals with "Ghost" leading all NHL blueliners in power-play tallies (seven) and man-advantage points (29).

It's not just offense, either. Provorov is ultra steady and Gostisbehere has improved in his own end.

5. Lookin' like No. 2
Nolan Patrick's numbers don't jump off the page, but his evolvement from the start of the season to now is one of the bigger storylines of this season.

Following an underwhelming first 40 games (with an injury mixed in), the second overall pick now looks supremely comfortable and makes a clear impact, even when he's not scoring.

The 19-year-old is playing well centering Jakub Voracek and Oskar Lindblom on the second line and showed tons of power-play potential filling in for an injured Wayne Simmonds.

Patrick has 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in his last 26 games after recording nine (three goals, six assists) in his first 40.

He's been a different player.