Flyers' defensemen have also been opportunistic on offense

Posted: April 23, 2014

THE REFEREE'S ARM went up and Luke Schenn figured this was his chance to join the rush.

Lumbering up the ice, Schenn was skating with house money, and he knew it. As soon as New York touched the puck, the play would be blown dead on the delayed penalty call.

When he crossed the Rangers' blue line, Schenn was giddy with excitement. He slammed his stick on the ice a few times, calling for the puck.

It just happened to land on his stick as he was drifting into traditional no-man's land for an opposing defenseman - Henrik Lundqvist's crease - for an easy backhand put-back. His first career playoff goal in his second career playoff game was the Flyers' Game 2 winner.

But even if Schenn never got the rebound, simply inserting himself as an option on the rush to try to create a scoring chance, it still would have been an incredibly aware play.

"He knew he could take the chance," Braydon Coburn said. "There wasn't going to be any sort of repercussion. He didn't have to worry about anything going the other way."

That heady sequence was only one instance that helped the Flyers' defense stand out through the first two games of this Eastern Conference playoff series between Metropolitan Division rivals.

After nearly every pundit gave New York the check mark in the defense category of the series size-up, the Flyers' defense corps has held up its end of the bargain.

Yes, there have been hiccups - such as Coburn's intercepted pass from behind the net late in the second period on Sunday, which led to a point-blank chance, or Andrew MacDonald's ill-advised turnover in the neutral zone, which led to a goal in Game 1 - but the Flyers' six defensemen might have indeed outplayed New York's six. They have been way better than advertised.

"I don't really care what people think of our back unit," Coburn said. "We've got great depth. We've got three units there that play pretty close to equal minutes, and we try to do things by committee. Defense is always a team thing."

The interesting part of the Flyers' comments from practice yesterday was that they were not satisfied with their first two games. Schenn called the Flyers' defense "all right." MacDonald termed his unit "OK."

From top to bottom, they thought almost every facet of their game could have been better, even though it produced a split on the road at Madison Square Garden.

"We haven't been amazing or nothing like that so far," Schenn said. "We've been OK. There's always room to get better. Guys are always trying to make the right play, when maybe we should just put the puck in the forwards' hands."

As Schenn demonstrated, the Flyers haven't exactly been afraid to join the rush, either. He said they've been "given the green light all year" from coach Craig Berube. The result has been a goal from a defenseman in each one of the first two games.

"You look for opportunities when opportunities are there," Coburn said. "The pendulum swings both ways, in that when you're pushing one way, sometimes, you're giving up something the other way. It's good to find that balance when we're helping our forwards to create offense, but, at the same time, we're making sure that we're not letting the Rangers get behind us."

The Rangers are a quick-skating team, but the Flyers have adjusted quite well in their gap control - or space between an attacking forward on the rush and a defenseman. It is something that made the aggressive Rangers so successful at frustrating the Flyers' forwards in Game 1.

Gaps are the one thing the Flyers can improve as the series shifts to Philadelphia tonight. But the Flyers' defense doesn't want to tinker too much, since whatever it did in Game 2 clearly worked.

"The Rangers are a fast team. They can skate, and they can be a little tough to handle at times," Schenn said. "In saying that, we don't want to change too much, or be too fancy just because we're coming home. We want to try to play the same way."

Slap shots

The Flyers are 15-18 all-time in Game 3s when the series is tied 1-1 . . . The Rangers (25-14-2) set a franchise record for road wins this season, but the Flyers beat them twice in regulation at Wells Fargo Center . . . Vinny Lecavalier celebrated his 34th birthday yesterday . . . Andrew MacDonald said he was fortunate only a few teeth were knocked loose (and didn't need stitches) when a pass from Carl Hagelin rode up his stick and hit him in the mouth in the first period Sunday.


On Twitter: @DNFlyers

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