Flyers need to stay out of penalty box

Posted: April 28, 2014

The upper-body injury to goaltender Steve Mason could have been a real kick to the lower body for the Flyers, but they survived his absence at the start of the series and thrived with him in net during their Game 4 victory Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

And so the seven-game series between the Flyers and New York Rangers has dwindled to a best-of-three affair with one of the teams about to be pushed to the brink of elimination Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.

The shortened series still appears to favor the Rangers as much as it did before the entire thing started 10 days ago in New York. They have the home-ice advantage, they have 33 more shots on goal, and they have been the better team for most of the 12 periods the teams have played.

Without Mason's return Friday, the Flyers would likely be headed back to New York facing a three-games-to-one deficit. It's understood that if they continue to rely on their goalie as much as they did in Game 4 that they'll be making tee times next weekend.

"You can't put everything on your goalie, and we don't intend to," coach Craig Berube said after practice Saturday. "It's a team game, and we have to play better as a team."

Perhaps the thing that needs to change most if the Flyers are to advance to the next round is the disparity in power-play opportunities. The Rangers have had 20 and the Flyers only 11 through the first four games.

"They have 20 power plays to 11?" center Claude Giroux asked after the statistic was recited to him. "I wasn't aware of that stat."

The Flyers captain also wasn't aware that, through Friday's games, there was no greater disparity in playoff power-play opportunities in any of the NHL's other first-round series. The closest was Pittsburgh's plus-six advantage over Columbus.

"That's no different than the regular season," Berube said. "I don't know what to say about that. I'm not worried about it, but it's something that obviously is a concern, and it has been a concern all year."

At the start of the series, it looked as if the shorthanded situations might be the thing that led to the Flyers' demise. The Rangers scored on three of their first eight opportunities and had a 12-4 advantage in power plays during the two games in New York.

Since Benoit Pouliot's power-play goal in the first period of Game 2, the Flyers' penalty-killing unit has held New York scoreless on 12 straight man advantages. But relying on forward Sean Couturier and company to continue to stop the Rangers' power play at that rate is just as hazardous as letting 38 shots get through on Mason in every game.

The Flyers were the most-penalized team in the NHL during the regular season, but they also led the league in power-play opportunities. Still, they were shorthanded 20 more times than they had an advantage, and only Ottawa and Boston spent more time killing penalties.

"It seems like we're always on the short end of the stick," forward Wayne Simmonds said. "It has been like that the few years that I've been here. I think we have to do a better job of playing on the line and not going over it and just limiting the penalties that we take. That's what we're responsible for. We have to make sure we're playing with our heads and not making stupid decisions that are getting us penalized."

Thing is, the Flyers believe they have played smarter than the power-play disadvantage indicates.

"I do," Berube said. "I think our team has played pretty disciplined, to be honest with you. Obviously there were a few penalties that we didn't need to take here and there, but for the most part I think our team has been pretty disciplined."

His captain thinks so, too.

"Yeah, I'm surprised that is what the stat is," Giroux said. "But now that I think about it, we put ourselves in that [shorthanded] situation a lot, and we have to do a better job. We have to stay out of the box. It doesn't matter if it is a smart or a dumb penalty. We have to make sure we are responsible with our sticks and our body, and trying to go on the power play more than the penalty kill is obviously a big key."

It may be the biggest one. If it doesn't change, the Flyers are going to need Mason to replicate what he did Friday in every game for the remainder of the series, and that's not likely to happen.


bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob

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