PHILADELPHIA – Penalty killing hasn’t been a Flyers’ strong point this season but you wouldn’t know it by the way they played on Saturday afternoon.
While it wasn’t exactly a good strategy to hand the Detroit Red Wings a whopping seven power plays, the Flyers did manage to blank the visitors on all of them, leading the way to a 3-0 win at the Wells Fargo Center.
The win continues a stretch of strong play by the Flyers on this seven-game homestand, in which the Flyers have built a 4-1-1 record.
Much of the credit for this win also goes to goaltender Carter Hart, who turned in another strong performance, especially when he came under fire late in the third period. It was Hart’s second shutout of the season and fifth of his career.
With the victory, the Flyers have put together their first three-game winning streak since Jan. 9-14.
Actually, if the Flyers hadn’t blown a 4-3 lead with 0.3 seconds left against the Carolina Hurricanes the other night, the mark might be 5-1-0.
On this recent surge, the Flyers have been doing some of the little things right.
The Flyers continued their recent improvement on the penalty kill in the first period, especially after Tony DeAngelo took a four-minute double-minor for high-sticking Detroit’s Adam Erne.
During that time with the man disadvantage, the Flyers did a good job of keeping Red Wing shooters to the perimeter and giving Hart clear looks at what shots were attempted.
That brand of play continued for the rest of the game.
“There’s been a much better concept as far as killing and being aggressive,” coach John Tortorella said after the game. “As far as our penalty killing, it’s been a sore spot (28th in NHL at 74 percent entering the game). (Assistant coach Brad) Shaw made a nice adjustment with it and it was a very important part of today’s game.”
Tortorella was asked about the specifics of that adjustment.
“Just not chasing,” he responded. “Not letting them get set up. We’ve changed our penalty killing this year. Just having the attitude of not letting them set up. For awhile, we just relied on blocking shots and staying in lanes, not putting them under pressure. We moved in unison in pressure all day long.”
Hart credited the penalty kill for much of the team’s success in this particular game.
“The PK was outstanding,” he said. “Definitely the difference-maker. They had a lot of opportunities on the power play. I thought we did a real good job of shutting them down on the penalty kill.”
The coach has been experimenting with different players on the PK, including Brendan Lemieux, Morgan Frost and Owen Tippett.
“It’s just trying to get experience,” Hart said. “Just reps on the PK. They’ve done a good job of sliding in and doing a doing a good job on the PK.”
Frost seems to enjoy the new challenge.
“I thought the (team) penalty killing did a great job,” Frost said. “It obviously helps when you have ‘Hartsy’ in the net. He was the biggest part of it but I thought a lot of guys laid their body on the line and did a good job on the PK.”
A goal by Kieffer Bellows at 10:10 of the second period gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead.
Detroit goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic managed to stop Owen Tippett’s somewhat ordinary shot from close range but couldn’t control the rebound. Bellows jumped on the loose puck for his third goal of the season.
Then, with time running down in the period, the Flyers made it 2-0. Rasmus Ristolainen ignited a two-on-one with Scott Laughton leading the rush. Using Joel Farabee as a decoy, Laughton fired a short-side shot past Nedeljkovic with 36 seconds left on the clock.
Tyson Foerster scored an empty-net goal with 1:19 to play in the game.
>Hart sharp again
Hart has turned in some of his best work of the season during this homestand.
The goalie was a little down toward the end of last season and admitted the struggles were getting to him a bit. It’s different this time around. Saturday’s win evened his record at 21-21-10 and his goals-against average remains below 3.00.
As the season enters the final 10 games, the goalie seems more upbeat.
“I wasn’t with him (last year),” Tortorella said. “I’ve said it all year, I think he’s been in a little bit of a zone as far as his preparation. After games, good or bad, he just stays within himself. He hasn’t skipped a beat this year. He’s kept his consistency, he’s had some good games and some struggles but he never changes how he goes about his business.”
Hart said: “I just keep things one day at a time. Live in the moment. Just grateful for every day. That’s all there is to it. Be present. Have fun. We have a great goup of guys here. Just keep things light around the room.”
Hart played in the 198th game of his NHL career. The top all-time Flyer goalies are Ron Hextall (489), Bernie Parent (486), Steve Mason (231) and Doug Favell (215). . .Nick Deslauriers was scratched for a second straight game and the Flyers once again went with 11 forwards and seven defensemen. . .The Flyers return to action on Tuesday when they finish up the seven-game homestand with a game against the Montreal Canadiens.