VOORHEES – Penalty killing pretty much killed the Flyers last season but this year it’s been a much different story.
Ranked as high as third in the NHL over the past month, the Philadelphia PK still held down the eighth spot at 83.3 percent as of Wednesday morning.
Given how many injuries have been suffered by penalty killers in recent games, it’s a wonder they’ve been that successful in this highly important aspect of the game.
Two of their best – veterans Michael Raffl (broken finger) and Scott Laughton (groin) – remain sidelined. Tyler Pitlick missed the past few games with what was first believed to be a concussion but has now been downgraded to sinus issues and figures to play Thursday night at home vs. Buffalo.
So the Flyers have been getting some help from reinforcements by way of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, namely Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Mikhail Vorobyev.
Aside from surrendering three power-play goals in Sunday’s 7-3 loss at Winnipeg (two during a five-minute major penalty to Joel Farabee), the Flyers’ penalty kill has been rather stellar.
Veterans Kevin Hayes, Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux continue to do much of the PK work but the newcomers have made their mark, too.
Aube-Kubel looked sharp in Tuesday night’s 4-1 win over Anaheim.
“I’ve been working on it (the PK) with (Phantoms coach) Scott Gordon,’’ Aube-Kubel said after Wednesday’s practice at the Skate Zone. “It’s a little different here so it took some time to adjust. I’ve seen there’s a lot of guys injured, especially the guys who kill penalties.
“It’s going to be a great challenge against Buffalo (on Thursday) because they have a great power play. Coach (Vigneault) said to skate as much as I can, bring some physicality, finish my checks, good stick, too.’’
Said Hayes: “You never want to see guys go down to injury. For us, it’s a lot of PK guys. We take a lot of pride in it (PK). It’s a next man up mentality. He (Aube-Kubel) played great yesterday. He’s a small guy but he plays a heavy game. He set the tone with that big hit early on.’’
Pitlick sounds ready to go.
“I had symptoms (in Denver), it felt like a bad cold,’’ he said. “They pulled me out, put me through the protocol. Now I feel a lot better. I’m ready to go.’’
Coach Alain Vigneault is encouraged by what he’s seen.
“We’re a little shorthanded,’’ he said. “It’s given ‘Misha’ (Vorobyev) and ‘Ku’ (Aube-Kubel) a chance and we even have Jake (Voracek) coming into those meetings.
“It’s been a challenge. The best thing to do is if you do take penalties, make them good penalties. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll be able to do a good job.’’
>First anniversary for Hart
Carter Hart will start the Buffalo game. Wednesday marked the first anniversary of his first game in the NHL, a 5-2 win over Detroit on Dec. 18, 2018.
His numbers for the first year of games: 27-20-4, 2.65 goals-against average, .915 save percentage.
What does the 21-year-old netminder remember most about his first full year in the league?
“Probably my first game because my family was there,’’ he said. “It was pretty cool to share that with them.’’
How cool has it been to be so embraced by the hockey fans in this area?
“The fans here are really great, they’re passionate,’’ he said. “We’re lucky to have a fan base like that. They cheer us, they get on us when we’re not playing well, as an athlete, what more can you ask for? They’re loyal, passionate.’’
He’s learned a lot but one thing stands out.
“There are a lot of turnarounds,’’ he said. “I think we have 17 back-to-backs this year. It’s really important that you manage yourself, your time wisely. Get enough sleep, eat the right diet.’’
It’s only one year but he feels like a veteran.
“I’m comfortable here,’’ he said. “It’s like my home away from home. I love playing here and living here in Philly.’’
>Farabee surprised by suspension length
Farabee still has to sit out two more games (Buffalo on Thursday, at Ottawa on Saturday) of a three-game suspension for his hit on Winnipeg’s Mathieu Perreault, but at least he’s able to take part in practice and stay up to speed with his conditioning, etc.
Meanwhile, Perreault is sidelined with a concussion.
“Obviously it’s tough being out,’’ Farabee said. “But being able to practice and keep my legs good so that when I come back I’ll be fresh and ready to go.’’
Like his coach, Farabee was a little surprised by the three-game ban.
“You never want to see a guy get hurt,’’ Farabee said. “I think that (the injury) played a part in it (the suspension). I didn’t think it was going to be three games but at the end of the day, I’m the type of player who respects the game, their ruling.
“I don’t think you can stress about it now. You accept it and move on.’’
As he was leaving the Winnipeg ice, Farabee was shaking his head, clearly upset with himself.
“I felt really bad because I didn’t want to injure him,’’ Farabee said. “I saw he was down and it kind of hit me how hard I hit him.
“As far as the play, I kind of had to wait for his head to turn. I thought it would have been worse if his head might have been turned the other way. I kind of waited and that might have been why it was late. You never want to see a guy like that get hurt, so that’s why I was upset.’’
Vigneault believes Farabee can return and get right back to his normal style of play.
“He’s highly skilled but he’s got bite,’’ Vigneault said. “It’s unfortunate the young man got hit but this is a physical game, he was finishing a check, it was late no doubt.
“But I don’t think this is going to change the way he plays.’’