PHILADELPHIA – When you play the Pittsburgh Penguins, you don’t want to get into a special teams battle with them.
With the top-ranked power play and the top-ranked penalty kill in the NHL, the Penguins are trying to become just the third team in NHL history to finish the season as the best in both categories.
But, there’s something about the Flyers when they play the Penguins. Something that makes them excel in specialty teams against their bitter rival.
In the Flyers 4-0 victory over Pittsburgh Saturday, some would suggest that the bevy of injuries the Penguins are enduring - no James Neal, no Chris Kunitz, no Kris Letang, no Paul Martin – might be the reason the Penguins found themselves suddenly not looking like the best in either category against the Flyers. However, despite missing more man games due to injury this season than any other team, the Penguins have still ascended to the top of both of those rankings, so they’ve been doing it without players in their lineup all season.
Which circles back to the Flyers.
Against the Penguins top penalty kill, the Flyers had great puck possession, generated several chances and tallied the first goal of the game on a quick, one-time snapshot by Scott Hartnell.
The Penguins seemed to like to sit back in a tight box against the Flyers, and the Flyers were able to use that to their advantage. With time to move the puck along the half walls and back to the point, the Flyers give themselves several options for quality shots.
A little touch pass from Giroux to Hartnell at the top of the left circle is just one of them, and it was successful.
On the other end of the ice, the Flyers killed off all five Penguins power play chances. Granted, this is where missing the Neals and the Kunitzs and the Letangs hurt Pittsburgh, but the Flyers were very aggressive against Pittsburgh, especially with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the ice together.
The Flyers forced turnovers and rushes the other way and even potted a shorthanded goal when Sean Couturier and Matt Read worked their usual magic, frustrating teams with defense and pouncing on opportunistic chances offensively, this time, a wicked snipe by Read.
But it was an adjustment made by assistant coach Ian Laperriere that had the Flyers sniffing out the Penguins best laid power play plans.
“Lappy did some scouting video and we did the right little things,” said Couturier, who set up both of Read’s goals. “[We were] putting our sticks in the passing lanes and blocking shots. Special teams were huge; even the power play did a good job.”
The Penguins like to pass the puck on the power play – a lot. They like to create mismatches and odd-man situations in small portions of ice by moving the puck quickly.
The Flyers though, didn’t allow them to do that by challenging the puck carriers early and often.
“It’s only one game, but I think we did what we wanted to do to stop their power play,” said Giroux. “They have a lot of key players; they were missing a couple too. We were pretty happy with our penalty killing and our power play.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers
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