Connect with us


The Flyers Own a Top Five Penalty Kill, Let That One Sink In

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

Entering play on Monday, the Philadelphia Flyers rank 5th in the National Hockey League with an 86.21% penalty kill. They only trail the Vegas Golden Knights (86.90%), Dallas Stars (87.21%), Los Angeles Kings (87.65%), and the Boston Bruins (89.90%).

Again, the Flyers rank fifth in the NHL in a category that has plagued them for close to a decade and a half.

Season PK Rank PK % SHG
2010-11 15 82.75 13
2011-12 17 81.82 6
2012-13 5 85.87 2
2013-14 7 84.81 8
2014-15 27 77.07 3
2015-16 20 80.53 3
2016-17 22 79.76 4
2017-18 29 75.78 3
2018-19 26 78.48 4
2019-20 11 81.82 8
2020-21 30 73.05 1
2021-22 26 75.74 6
2022-23 26 74.68 11
2023-24 5 86.21 7

In the 13 seasons prior to 2023-24, the Flyers only had 2 seasons where the penalty kill ranked inside the top-10 and only 2 more seasons where it ranked inside the top-15, and 3 of those 4 years came between 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2014-15, the Flyers have had 8 seasons with their penalty kill finishing in the bottom third of the league and 6 of them where they ranked 26th or lower.

On top of a shoddy penalty kill, the shorthanded goals that are coming with relative ease nowadays, were not a part of their arsenal with the exception of a couple seasons – primarily 2019-20, 2013-14, and 2010-11. The 18 shorthanded goals that they have scored in their last 108 games is equal to the amount they scored between 2014-15 to 2018-19 – a span of 5 seasons. If you want something more recently, the 17 goals is greater than their output between 2019-20 and 2021-22.

John Tortorella has always been known to carry a potent penalty kill almost everywhere he’s coached and although last season was rough from the get-go, the return of Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson have catapulted their penalty kill to newer heights.

Assistant coach Brad Shaw, who worked alongside Tortorella in Columbus and is in charge of the current penalty kill, was more than pleased with Couturier and Atkinson returning for more than just the obvious reasons. 

“I think Sean Couturier has proven over the years that he’s one of the better defensive forwards in his generation,” Shaw said. “To be able to have him out there calming things down … I think we’ve done a good job at stopping our mistakes at one. So we’ll make a mistake and then we sort of regroup ourselves and get back into position or have a real good stick in the next confrontation and create the loose puck that we’re looking for. That’s really been driven by him.

“Cam, I had in Columbus (with the Blue Jackets) for five years (as an assistant coach) and I really have a comfort level with how he kills. To have those guys out there, and they start a lot of our PKs right now, not only are you winning a lot of face-offs with Couturier, but if you’re losing it, that first 10 or 15 or 20 seconds of zone time, there’s a little bit more poise or savvy out there than we had last year.

“That’s given us a chance to weather the storm a little bit and get on our toes, and when we’re down in games get on the attack once in a while.”

Over their last 14 games, the Flyers have gone 10-3-1 and a big part of that has been because of the penalty kill. They’ve only scored 43 goals in that stretch while allowing 32, their power play is just 6 for 38 but they’ve killed off 44 of 48 power plays – including a full 5-minute major.

Their penalty kill has been solid all year with the exception of a 7-game stretch where they allowed 7 goals in 23 opportunities. The 7-game stretch before that they allowed just 3 goals on 22 opportunities – all of which came in their loss to Ottawa in October – and then the aforementioned 12-game stretch with just 2 goals allowed.

The Flyers have 7 regular penalty killers who have a CF% rel above 0. You compare those numbers to the top penalty killing units in the league and Boston has 9 regulars with a CF% rel above 0, Dallas and Vegas have 7, Columbus has 6, and Los Angeles has 5. The Flyers also have 13 players with a GF/60 above 1.3 but because they pace the league in shorthanded goals, that stat goes hand in hand – Boston has 0 for example because they have yet to score a shorthanded goal.

Their strategy is rather simple but it works to a tee; aggression. The Flyers are forcing the opposition to make decisions rather than sitting back and allowing them to find the right shot and build pressure.

Not only will the goals come from being aggressive but you’re going to force a lot of turnovers, miscues, and errors that otherwise would not have been there had you sat back and formed a wall in front of your goaltender.

The players themselves see a noticeable difference as well:

Cam Atkinson: “Aggressive up-ice pressure at all times until they get fully set up,” he said. “I think we’ve shown that and we’ve gotten a lot of turnovers and clearly goals on it.”

Travis Konecny: “The one thing we always say is we’d way rather make a mistake being aggressive than sitting back on our heels,” Konecny said. “At least then you’re creating some sort of pressure and that’s the hardest thing on the power play, when you have guys skating at you and you have to make a decision. Just want to make guys make decisions.”

Scott Laughton: “I think ‘Shawzie’ even wants it more than what we do,” Laughton said. “We kind of sat back a little bit too much last year and let teams enter our zone. We’re trying to kind of kill the clock a little bit more down ice and we’re creating stuff. It’s been exciting for our group but we need to continue it.”

Tortorella has a pretty good track record with penalty kills and stabilizing bad units. Between 2001-02 to 2020-21, Tortorella only had a bottom-third (21st ranked or lower) penalty kill on 3 occasions and just another 2 where he finished 20th or lower.

On the flip side, he’s finished 10th or higher on 8 separate occasions with a top ranked penalty kill in 2008-09 and a 2nd ranked unit in 2018-19. The shorthanded goals have always been there as well with just 3 seasons below 5 shorthanded tallies all coming in his years with the bereft-of-talent Columbus Blue Jackets.

Tortorella in Tampa Bay

Season PK Rank PK % SHG
2001-02 13 83.35 5
2002-03 20 82.56 6
2003-04 10 84.89 15
2005-06 20 81.59 11
2006-07 28 78.46 14
2007-08 18 82.05 7

Tortorella in New York

Season PK Rank PK % SHG
2008-09 1 87.84 9
2009-10 8 84.28 5
2010-11 10 83.66 11
2011-12 5 86.15 8
2012-13 15 81.08 5

Tortorella in Vancouver

Season PK Rank PK % SHG
2013-14 9 83.21 6

Tortorella in Columbus

Season PK Rank PK % SHG
2015-16 18 81.00 3
2016-17 9 82.51 10
2017-18 26 76.17 4
2018-19 2 85.00 8
2019-20 12 81.66 3
2020-21 21 78.95 6

The Flyers’ penalty kill has finally found ways to win games this season, especially with how putrid their power play remains. I guess in the long run it’s better to have a better penalty killing unit that preserves goals than having a good power play, but a penalty kill that’s operating at over 85% is needed with how bad the power play has been.

Between 2014-15 and 2022-23, the Flyers have operated with a power play unit that was connecting at a 18.7 % success rate compared to a penalty kill that was successful 77.6% of the time. In that span they only had 2 seasons where the shorthanded units were above 80% – they made the playoffs in both years.

It’s a balanced unit that has 13 players averaging over a minute of ice-time each game with Travis Sanheim leading the way at 3:04, followed by Sean Walker at 2:23, and Nick Seeler at 2:14. Atkinson is 2nd amongst forwards with 2:00, behind only Noah Cates who averaged 2:08 before his injury. Couturier doesn’t need to be relied upon as much as previous seasons with the depth they possess, which is why he’s lower on the rung at 1:22.

The balance allows for continuity and regularity when it comes to the duos on the ice. The forwards and defensemen build chemistry like it’s even strength hockey. For example, Laughton and Konecny have been a dynamic duo since they were formed last year and they have remained intact even with the arrivals of Couturier and Atkinson. Same can be said about the defensemen.

Konecny: “It’s just like a line getting comfortable together, [defense] pairs getting comfortable, I think it’s a similar thing with the PK,” Konecny said. “I’ve PK’d with ‘Laughts’ the most and me and him just have a sense for what the other guy is doing. When I see him pressuring in certain areas I know where I have to be because I know his tendencies and he’s the same with me.”

Thanks to the penalty kill, this is also the first time in recent memory that the Flyers’ special teams quotient (PP% + PK%) is nearing 100. Currently they’re sitting at 98.4 because their power play is connecting at a 12.2% clip.

Last year, the Flyers finished the season with a quotient of 90.24, in 2021-22 they finished the year with at 88.29, and 2020-21 they finished with 92.21. Good teams are usually above 100 and the really good teams are above 105. For example, the historically good Bruins finished with a quotient of 109.4 in 2022-23, this year they’re currently 112.8.

As the season rolls along, look for the Flyers special teams to keep things in check as the power play tries to figure out how to operate with an extra skater. If the power play ever does find a way to connect on a regular basis – and the penalty kill remains the same – the Flyers will be taking the league by storm, especially after most pundits wrote them off with a bottom-3 finish this season.

2024 Stadium Series Trip

Flyers Nation and Philly Sports Trips have teamed up to bring you on an amazing bus trip to the 2024 NHL Stadium Series between the Flyers and Devils. Place an early deposit to reserve your spot at the ultimate tailgate experience at MetLife Stadium before the game. The package includes a game ticket, round-trip charter bus, an all-inclusive tailgate party with unlimited cold beverages, “Philly Style” catered food, live entertainment, and more.

Flyers fan born in the heart of Leafs nation

More in Analysis