VOORHEES – One of the key reasons the Flyers found themselves 16 points out of a playoff berth back on Jan. 15 can be summed up in two words:
At various points of this campaign, the Flyers were at, or near, the bottom of the NHL in both power play and penalty kill.
Shortly after interim head coach Scott Gordon took over from Dave Hakstol back on Dec. 17, the Flyers’ power play bottomed out at 12.4 percent, dead last in league rankings on New Year’s Day.
Conversely, their penalty kill was equally bad. When Gordon stepped behind the bench, the Flyers were ranked 30th (next to last) at 73.5 percent.
Now, riding the crest of an 18-4-2 run heading into Thursday night’s game against the Washington Capitals at the Wells Fargo Center, it’s easy to see why the Flyers have put themselves back in the playoff picture again.
The Flyers’ special teams are getting better by the day.
The power play has improved almost five percentage points to 17.1, moving them up nine slots to 22nd in the NHL, although it’s 0 for 8 over its last four games.
The penalty kill has made huge strides as well, getting all the way up to 77.9 percent, climbing five places to 26th.
Gordon says a more aggressive approach to the penalty kill has paid off.
“I think more pressure to the puck on the half-wall,’’ Gordon said at Thursday morning’s practice at the Skate Zone. “We’re not so worried about the weak side.
“From what I remember at the beginning of the year, there was a passiveness down low. I think the emphasis the coverage was putting on was what happening between the dots.
“I believe you have to get some pressure on the puck in all situations. I think as skilled as all the players are, if you can do it in the right manner, you’re making the opposition make their plays under duress versus being able to size things up and get you to move to open up a passing lane.’’
Gordon believes the progress of Oskar Lindblom and Corban Knight has helped the situation. Gordon worked with both on the Phantoms.
“Corban comes into the lineup and now that we do a lot of the similarities to what we did up in Lehigh that we do here,’’ Gordon said. “Knight or Oskar, I know they know what to do.’’
On the power play, the Flyers have gotten significant contributions from James van Riemsdyk (eight goals) and Sean Couturier (six).
Some of the credit also goes to young players such as Lindblom, who was slated to fill in for the suspended Jake Voracek on the Flyers’ first power-play unit against the Capitals.
“With Jake out, we’ve had to shuffle some things around,’’ Gordon said. That includes moving Lindblom to the first unit.
It’s gratifying for Lindblom that the hard work has paid off in a promotion. And it leads to more ice time, too. He’s been over 19 minutes in two of his last three games, both season highs.
“It feels good,’’ he said. “You want to play a lot of minutes and if you play the first power play, you get more (ice time) and more chances to score.
“It’s fun to be out there and I’m just trying to do my thing.’’
On the penalty kill, Lindblom uses his strong skating to his advantage. On the power play, he’s positionally sound enough to find openings and exploit them.
“On the penalty kill, we’re sacrificing our bodies every game,’’ he noted. “That’s what you have to do if you want to be good on the PK. It’s not fun but it’s what you have to do if you want to win games.’’
It’s been well-chronicled that Lindblom went through a 30-game stretch without a goal and now, in his last 23 games, he’s put up nine.
What’s been the difference?
“Well, ‘Gordo’ came in and I started getting a lot more minutes,’’ said Lindblom, who at one point was down below 10 minutes in the last days of Hakstol’s regime. “I feel like I got confidence from that.
“I feel like he’s trusting me out there.’’
The Flyers figure they have to win at least 10 of their last 13 games to give themselves a shot at the playoffs.
Gordon said each game’s importance has almost the same meaning as a playoff game.
“I do know this (now) probably is as close to being in the playoffs as actually being in (them) with the exception being they’re all game sevens, really.’’
Justin Bailey was recalled from the Phantoms to fill Voracek’s roster spot. . .The Flyers play in Toronto on Friday night, marking their 12th back-to-back game situations this season. They started off 2-5 on the back-end games, but have won four in a row to improve to 6-5.