PUCK PROTECTION; ZAC ON THE PK; BERUBE VS. BYLSMA; MASON GOES IN THE PEG

Friday, 11.15.2013 / 5:48 PM
Anthony SanFilippo  - Philadelphia Flyers Inside Reporter

WINNIPEG, Manitoba –According to the official stat sheets, the Flyers have just 12 giveaways in their last three games. This comes on the heels of having zero in a game two weeks ago in a shutout of New Jersey.

Now, it should be pointed out that while these stats are technically official, they are incredibly subjective from arena to arena.

Nevertheless, it is certainly an indicator that the Flyers are playing smarter hockey.

“It’s a mindset of protecting the puck,” said Braydon Coburn. “We’re just making sure we have a clean play, and if not, we’re putting the puck somewhere safe. We’ve been pretty committed to carrying out a simple game plan and we’re not being too cute with the puck. Sometimes, when you try to make something out of nothing – make a play that’s not really there – that’s when you get in trouble. We’ve had a good commitment to protecting the puck.

“The numbers can correlate for sure.”

And they have correlated to the Flyers getting 70 percent of the points available in the last 10 games (6-3-1), something only Tampa Bay and the New York Rangers in the East have bettered in the same time frame.

“The game is the puck,” said coach Craig Berube. “We talk about turnovers all the time. Part of it is everyone coming up the ice all together. Part is getting back and helping out. It’s having composure. It’s not just throwing it away.”

It’s kind of a basic strategy, but sometimes, basic strategy gets tossed aside when teams look to improvise and get creative.

Berube’s system doesn’t call for a lot of that, but at the same time, doesn’t stunt creativity. As such, players are finding that rather than put themselves in high-risk-high-reward situations, they let the opportunities come through the system and then gamble to make plays when the odds are better.

“In the offensive zone I’m all for making plays,” Berube said. “But, the guys know the system in the offensive zone and if you do it right, there are plays to be made right there. You know where people are, so you can make the play without looking.”

It’s why you see no-look passes like the one from Wayne Simmonds to Jake Voracek in Ottawa. Or it’s why there doesn’t have to be a pause as Simmonds passes to Brayden Schenn in the slot as soon as he wrests a puck free from a defender behind the net.

“You have a guy like [Claude] Giroux who’s going to have the puck on his stick more than anyone else,” Coburn said. “He has the freedom to make plays, so he might have more giveaways than other guys, but that’s O.K. because he is making more chances happen than not.”

Actually, if you look at the NHL leaderboard, most of the players who lead the league in giveaways are playmaking centers and puck-moving defensemen. The most giveaways on the Flyers are by Kimmo Timonen, who has 11. If that sounds high, consider Phil Kessel of Toronto leads the NHL with 27. Timonen’s 11 has him ranked tied for 89th in the NHL in the category.

That said, the Flyers have been a bit fortunate as far as the scorekeepers have gone.

“I thought we had more than [one] in Pittsburgh,” said Berube. “I don’t think we did a good enough job with the puck against the Penguins by making plays. There were plays there where we got pressured a bit and we just dumped it out. We can’t play the game that way because you’ll be in your end too much.

“We have to be smart at the blue lines. Turning the pucks over there on a rush – trying to go into a zone one-on-two, you’re just asking for trouble. We want our defense up in the rush, and then they get caught. You have to do the right thing going into the offensive end too.”

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NOTES: Flyers assistant coach Ian Laperriere is happy with the progress Zac Rinaldo is making as a potential future penalty killer. “He’s quick,” Laperriere said. “And he’s smarter than he looks too. I know that because he asks the right questions. He wants to get better as a player and he will because he has what it takes.” Rinaldo got his first extended chance on the penalty kill against Pittsburgh Wednesday in the third period and did a fine job… Did Craig Berube completely outcoach Penguins bench boss Dan Bylsma? Or does Bylsma not really care about matchups? It’s a curious question. After all, Berube was able to have Sean Couturier on the ice for 22 of the 23 shifts Sidney Crosby took in the game – and the Flyers were the road team. Only nine of those 22 times did they start on the ice together. That means Berube was able to get Couturier on the ice against Crosby through quick shift changes 13 out of 14 times, which is highly impressive for a road team… Steve Mason starts tonight in Winnipeg. No other lineup changes for the Flyers.

To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email asanfilippo@comcast-spectacor.com or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers

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