VOORHEES, N.J. – It’s safe to say the Flyers’ penalty kill left a lot to be desired last season.
You might as well have called it just the “penalty hope for the best.’’
At a meager 73.05 percent, the Flyers were ranked 30th overall, second-to-last ahead of only New Jersey’s 70.95 percent. And in just 56 games of the pandemic-shortened season, the Flyers allowed the most shorthanded goals, 45.
By our math, that’s practically one per game.
Funny thing is, the season before last, the Flyers finished a very respectable 14th out of 31 teams with a 80.7 percentage and just 52 goals allowed in 82 games.
So what made the difference? Well, general manager allowed three veterans to leave via free agency: Center Nate Thompson (who wound up in Winnipeg) as well as Tyler Pitlick and Derek Grant.
Suddenly the Flyers were a little green in that department.
Recognizing this, Fletcher made amends by re-signing Thompson as a free agent over the summer. He, along with the addition of forward Cam Atkinson and veteran defenseman Ryan Ellis, should get that PK number back in a respectable range.
And with premier penalty killer Kevin Hayes sidelined for at least the first month of the regular season, Thompson’s role figures to be more prominent when the Flyers are down a man or two.
Thompson will be paired in most instances with regular linemate Scott Laughton. The two already have some chemistry from Thompson’s first tenure here so the transition should be fairly smooth.
After a couple hiccups early in the Boston game, the Flyers settled down and kept the Bruins’ lethal power play off the board the rest of the way.
“It’s a preseason game and I thought there were some mistakes being made,’’ Thompson said after Saturday’s morning skate at the Flyers Training Center prior to the preseason night game against Washington at the Wells Fargo Center. “I don’t think it was from a lack of effort. Like everything with preseason, it’s feeling everything out, playing off each other.’’
Thompson added the Flyers will have a more representative lineup on the ice against the Caps, which should help with everyone’s timing.
“When you can read off each other (regarding Laughton), both shorthanded and five-on-five. . .Scott and I are good friends and that helps,’’ Thompson said. “Whenever you’re close to a guy and hanging out with him a lot, playing on the same line, it’s only going to help in the long run.’
Unlike headline penalty killers such as Sean Couturier and Hayes, both Thompson and Laughton do not skate on the power play. That means trying to create a little more synchronicity through other channels.
“It’s a lot of communication and a lot of talking through practice; a lot of talk through video,’’ Thompson explained. “Even during preseason games, you want to be on the same page. Because even tonight, we want to be firing on all cylinders for the regular season.’’
Thompson was acquired from Montreal at the 2019-20 season trade deadline and wound up playing 16 playoff games as the Flyers went all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against the New York Islanders.
That experience alone should allow him to fit right back in with this current roster.
The opportunity to take another legitimate shot at a Stanley Cup figured in the 36-year-old Alaska native’s decision to sign here.
“Absolutely,’’ he said. “I totally believe in this group. You look at the moves Chuck made in the offseason and the core group of guys who are already here, there’s no reason why we can’t compete for a Stanley Cup this year.’’
The very fact Thompson is still playing at 36 says a lot about his hockey IQ, according to caoch Alain Vigneault.
“I’m a big fan of his,’’ Vigneault said. “The leadership, he’s a pro. He can still contribute to a good team. He’s a physical player.’’
Thompson has played for nine NHL teams (Flyers, Boston, Islanders, Tampa Bay, Anaheim, Ottawa, Los Angeles, Montreal and Winnipeg) and been to the conference finals with the Flyers and the Ducks (2016-17). He knows what works and what doesn’t when it comes to special teams.
When all is said and done, Philly might be his best hockey experience.
“It’s been exciting, it’s been a lot of fun. It’s a great group of guys,’’ he said. “You could feel it even before training camp started. You could see how ready everybody was. I really like our group.’’
>Close to full lineup
After two preseason games of getting looks at some prospects in their lineup, the Flyers played against the Caps with a veteran lineup, one close to what you might see in the regular-season opener on Oct. 15, according to Vigneault.
“You can work on things in practice but in a game, when there’s something on the line, when you’re playing against the opposition, it’s real,’’ Vigneault said. “Tonight we thought it might be a good idea to use what we think might be our starting lineup this year.’’
>Trio assigned to Phantoms
The Flyers assigned three players to the Phantoms on Saturday, including goaltender Kirill Ustimenko and defensemen Quinn Schmiemann and Jackson van de Leest. The training camp roster is now at 52 players. The Flyers are expected to make more roster moves in the next few days, which includes preseason games against Washington, Boston and the New York Islanders.