Inside the Flyers: Flyers playing with more discipline than Penguins

And a fight broke out . . . after the Flyers' Max Talbot scored on the Penguins in the first period of Game 3 on Sunday afternoon. It was one of the many altercations.
And a fight broke out . . . after the Flyers' Max Talbot scored on the Penguins in the first period of Game 3 on Sunday afternoon. It was one of the many altercations. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 17, 2012

The Pittsburgh Penguins, the team with 11 players in their lineup who hoisted a Stanley Cup three years ago, have played like nervous rookies - blowing leads in each of the first three games, committing penalties and throwing fists at inopportune times, and looking woefully disorganized on the penalty kill.

The Flyers, the longtime bad boys of hockey, the team with as many as six rookies in the lineup, have displayed more discipline than their counterparts - showing poise beyond their years and averaging more than six goals per game.

What we have here, folks, is a game of role reversal.

The Penguins have morphed into the Broad Street Bullies. They're the team who could wind up with three players suspended, though you never know with NHL sheriff Brendan Shanahan, who has taken inconsistency to a new level when handing out discipline.

The Flyers, who again led the league in penalty minutes in the regular season, haven't exactly been pacifists in taking a stunning lead of three games to none in this best-of-seven series. But they have played smart hockey, avoiding retaliation - and penalties - in most instances.

During the Flyers' 8-4 win in Game 3, the Penguins were the ones taking the chippy penalties, playing dirty, and pulling Scott Hartnell's hair. That's why Shanahan suspended Pittsburgh's Craig Adams on Monday and could suspend James Neal (a 40-goal scorer this season) and Arron Asham for incidents in their team's loss.

Isn't it the Flyers who are usually on Shanahan's speed dial?

Late in Sunday's circus of a game, Neal left his feet and delivered a blindside hit to rookie Sean Couturier, and because he is a repeat offender, he figures to get suspended.

"He can go out there and do that, but we're just going to make sure we stay focused on what we have to do," Flyers center Claude Giroux said during a day off news conference at the Flyers' practice facility in Voorhees on Monday. "I think we did a pretty good job of that in the first three games."

Giroux said the Penguins are "trying to get in our heads and get us all [mad] and stop playing the way we've been playing. And the guys did a pretty good job of staying away . . . especially after the whistle. Just skate away and do what we've been doing the first three games."

What they've been doing is dominating on the special teams, outscoring the Penguins, 9-3, including three shorthanded goals and 6-for-10 marksmanship on the power play.

"You have to hand the Flyers a lot of credit," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "In every game, they've capitalized in every situation."

Hartnell, his shaggy hair still intact, said the Flyers' game plan entering the series "was to get them frustrated and off their game. Just getting after it. Playing hard and playing smart between the whistles, and I think we've won that battle of the discipline, and it shows in getting the 3-0 series lead. . . . We're playing the game the right way. We're finishing checks. We're keeping our elbows down. You look at some of the plays [Sunday], I think a couple of their guys took liberties on our guys. Not only were they trying to hit to be effective, they were hitting to hurt. That's not the game of hockey. That's not the way it's supposed to be played."

Hartnell talking about discipline? Hartnell?!?! What in the name of Dave Schultz is happening here?

And when did the Flyers become just as fast - if not faster - than the smooth-skating Penguins?

Credit Paul Holmgren, the daring general manager who has pulled all the right strings, for transforming the Flyers into one of the NHL's fastest teams.

And credit coach Peter Laviolette, who said he received numerous texts from people telling him Sunday's game was one of the best they had ever watched, for getting his players to play with more control.

Again, the Flyers aren't pacifists, aren't running away from battles. But in the first three games of the series, they have done a great job of picking their spots.

Laviolette knows all about the Flyers' reputation.

"Perception doesn't really play into it for us in what's perceived or what's happened in past years," he said. "This is a new group. This is our group, and the objective is to try and stay disciplined."

"You're used to seeing the Flyers start trouble," center Danny Briere said, "and for the most part, we're staying away from it unless we have to protect our goalie or protect each other from guys trying to take advantage of it."

On Wednesday, the Flyers can cause the Penguins - the team favored by many to win this year's Stanley Cup - to be swept for the first time since 1979.

This seemed inconceivable before the series. The Penguins finally had their sensational centers healthy. They led the league in scoring and compiled 108 points even though they were missing the irrepressible Sidney Crosby for most of the regular season.

"I think there's a little bit of shock and disbelief and disappointment in the situation of being down, 0-3, and how we've played," Bylsma said. "To a man, we don't think we've played good hockey, and you can see that frustration in the game build up and overflow."

The Flyers see the frustration and embrace it. After all, they have caused it.

Contact Sam Carchidi at Follow on Twitter @BroadStBull.

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