What a difference a year makes, right? This time last year, Flyers fans were as disgruntled as ever, dealing with a putrid special teams. The penalty kill had more holes than a mini-golf course. 27 games into the season, the Flyers PK was hardly a factor.
Under Dave Hakstol, the Flyers played a lackadaisical style on the PK, and it seemed like opposing teams walked all over them in their own zone. This year, it’s much different. Under Vigneault, Yeo, and Therrien, the Flyers seem more active in their skating and stick handling. They’re breaking up passes, getting into lanes, and overall, making a better effort.
The jump this team has made is a welcome one. Building a reliable PK was something that this team desperately needed. Let’s take a look at how that happened.
27 games into the 2018/19 season, the Flyers found themselves 30th out of 31 teams when it came to the penalty kill. With a 73.3% kill rate, the Flyers ranked only above the Ottawa Senators (72.4%) and trailed the first-place Arizona Coyotes by 16.9% (90.2%)
To be fair, the Flyers spent a lot of time killing penalties last year. They were shorthanded 86 times in their first 27 games last season, and allowed 23 goals on the kill. The Flyers hadn’t been this bad on the penalty kill in awhile, and there’s good reason as to why.
When you look at who led the team in shorthanded ice time last season, it all starts to make sense. Ivan Provorov was struggling, and led all Flyers in 2:54 shorthanded ice time. Radko Gudas trailed Provy by 17 seconds. Couturier (2:18) & Laughton (2:14) were the top forwards on the PK, while Andrew MacDonald (1:54) & Robert Hagg (1:46) were third and fourth respectively for defensemen.
The proof is in the pudding, in this case the penalty kill. The Flyers’ PK personnel weren’t ideal, and that made the unit, as a whole, pretty rough around the edges.
After 27 games, the 2019/20 Flyers penalty kill is flourishing. Killing off 66 of 77 shorthanded attempts, the Flyers currently have the third best PK in the NHL. A far cry from last year, this unit has done a 180 under Mike Yeo. The Flyers boast an 85.7% penalty kill rate this season.
First place in the NHL, the San Jose Sharks (91%), only sit 5.3% ahead of the Flyers. The last place Detroit Red Wings sit at 72.2%, right around where the Flyers were last season.
So why is the penalty kill working now when it wasn’t last season? For starters, the personnel, from top to bottom, is different. Dave Hakstol and his trusty sidekicks aren’t running the show anymore. That’s a positive. Mike Yeo is doing a stellar job of laying the blueprint for a successful penalty kill.
The main component is the actual on-ice personnel. Ivan Provorov has returned to form and is leading average PK time on ice with 2:25. Newly acquired Matt Niskanen has logged the second most shorthanded TOI with 2:15, and Kevin Hayes isn’t far behind with 2:04. Justin Braun (1:58), Travis Sanheim (1:40), and Scott Laughton (1:34) round out the top six most-utilized penalty killers.
The players used on the PK are making a big difference. The fact that the Flyers have been tasked with having to kill less penalties than last year makes a big difference too. Last year after 27 games, the Flyers were shorthanded 86 times. This season, they’ve only been shorthanded 77 times in the same amount of time.
The Flyers PK has improved vastly. Alain Vigneault is known for cracking down on special teams. Putting the right coaches in place was a solid foundation, and the team is building on that foundation with their performances.
Mandatory Credit – Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports