VOORHEES, N.J. – When can a fourth-liner become one of your most important players on the ice?
When his name is Matt Read and he can add a significant element to your penalty kill.
Since Read arrived from the Phantoms on March 8, the Flyers’ penalty kill is clicking along at approximately 81 percent, which is a far cry above the 75.7 percent (29th in NHL) beforehand.
If you throw in a seven-for-eight performance in two games against the Penguins’ No. 1 NHL-ranked power play, it’s just a flat-out better situation.
Considering the Penguins connected for five power-play goals in 13 attempts against the Flyers during the regular season, this is a noteworthy development.
Not only is Read executing well, he’s setting an example for the young players on the roster.
Read, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, knows this could be his last roundup in the NHL.
However, if continues to play the way he has over the past month or so, some other teams just might come calling if the Flyers aren’t interested in his services.
The Flyers’ penalty kill was particularly effective in Game 2, stopping the Penguins on all four opportunities.
Sidney Crosby became so frustrated after missing an empty net during a power play that he smashed his stick over the Flyers’ net crossbar.
“We’re communicating well out there,’’ Read said after Saturday’s optional practice at the Skate Zone. “It starts with winning most of the faceoffs, getting it (the puck) down right away. I think we frustrated them the first couple power plays.
“You know, when they’re frustrated, they’re trying more, trying to make more seam passes and that makes it easier for us. We took away the seam passes and kept them to the outside.’’
Read and Sean Couturier have killed penalties together for years so there was no adjustment period.
“Coots and I have good chemistry,’’ Read said. “Things are going well. We have to stay out of the (penalty) box a little bit because they have a dangerous power play.’’
It was tough for Read to get sent back in the fall. He’s making over three million dollars and early in his NHL career had recorded a couple 20-goal seasons.
Getting a last chance has been rewarding.
“I think since I’ve been up I’ve been feeling good,’’ he said. “Just doing the little things that give me success. Unfortunately the points haven’t been there but since I’ve been up, we’ve had a winning record (8-4-3).’’
Read goes back all the way to the Flyers-Penguins 2012 playoff series, which the Flyers won.
“I’ve been here before but it’s my last opportunity here to prove myself again,’’ he said. “I’m not going to let it slip away.’’
Coach Dave Hakstol said Read wasn’t brought up just for the penalty kill but it’s turned out better than anyone would have thought.
“We didn’t really know the exact role that Matt was going to be able to provide,’’ Hakstol said. “But we felt strongly that he would be able to help our team.
“He had done a good job down there in a role similar to what he’s playing here with us now. We felt like there might be an opportunity on the penalty kill and third- or fourth-line right wing role.’’
Read responded with gusto.
“It’s meshed into some really good chemistry with Coots on the PK,’’ Hakstol said. “In terms of his five-on-five play, I thought last night might have been one of his most complete. Last night, he added some physical play. . .he had a couple big shot blocks, he’s taking care of the puck really well.
“He’s playing really sound two-way hockey and bringing confidence to our team.’’
Couturier welcomes the chance to work with old partner.
“We’re just doing the little details correctly,’’ he said. “Clearing the pucks, our sticks are in the right lanes. We’re forcing them to try to make a perfect play.
“We’ve played a lot together in the past. We can read off each other. We know kind of when to read off each other. When to go and when not. I think it’s a good chemistry.’’