Spe­cial teams look up

Power play, penalty kill mak­ing strides un­der new as­sis­tant coaches

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Sam Carchidi

With his long reach and his abil­ity to break up plays and cre­ate short­handed chances, 6-foot-5 cen­ter Kevin Hayes has helped up­grade the Fly­ers’ penalty kill.

The former Bos­ton Col­lege stand­out has also bol­stered the first power-play unit. That has pushed Sean Cou­turier to the sec­ond power play and, in the first two games, has given the units more bal­ance.

The power play re­ceived goals from Hayes and Ivan Provorov in Wed­nes­day’s 4-0 win over New Jer­sey, but it was the penalty kill that had the fans stand­ing, af­ter the Fly­ers killed a rare five-on-three that lasted a full two min­utes.

“I take pride in play­ing de­fense, es­pe­cially on the PK,” Hayes said af­ter the Fly­ers killed off five penal­ties to sti­fle the Devils. “It’s a job not a lot of guys like to do, but I en­joy it. What­ever helps the team here, that’s what I am here to do.”

Hayes, how­ever, wasn’t able to help snuff out the most im­por­tant power play of the night. Nei­ther was Sean Cou­turier. Both were in the penalty box, forc­ing the Fly­ers to face the five-on­three with­out two of their best penalty killers.

Cou­turier said he and Hayes were “ner­vous” as they sat in the box.

But play­ers used at var­i­ous times on the two-minute penalty kill — Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl, Justin Braun, Provorov, Robert Hagg and Matt Niska­nen — calmed them.

Oh, and Carter Hart. Es­pe­cially Hart, the un­flap­pable 21-year-old goalie who be­came the youngest player in Fly­ers his­tory to reg­is­ter a shutout.

Hart made three saves dur­ing the Devils’ two-man ad­van­tage, in­clud­ing a had-to-see-it-to-be­lieve-it ac­ro­batic stop on Tay­lor Hall, main­tain­ing the Fly­ers’ 1-0 lead.

“It was huge,” winger Travis Konecny said. “We have a player-ofthe-game hel­met, and I said I should have given it to the whole five-on-three crew. Ob­vi­ously, Hartsy’s save is a huge mo­men­tum swing for us, but the five-on-three was un­be­liev­able for us and I think that is al­most big­ger than a goal some­times when you get that mo­men­tum and you can come off that. You can hear the crowd be­cause they know how big of a kill it is.”

Konecny, who had the hel­met be­cause of his three-point per­for­mance in the pre­vi­ous game, pre­sented it to Hart.

“Our PK was awe­some,” Hart said. “I think those first two power plays, they gen­er­ated noth­ing. And on the five-on­three, for sure they are go­ing to gen­er­ate a cou­ple of things, but we limited them to not a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Alain Vigneaut, the Fly­ers’ new coach, said “it’s not the num­ber of saves, but the tim­ing of the saves and the qual­ity of the saves” that are im­por­tant. “Carter kept us in the lead. We were able to go into the third and con­tinue what we had done in the sec­ond and just take the game to them.”

The Fly­ers turned the game into a rout with three third-pe­riod goals.

In the first two games, the Fly­ers’ new as­sis­tant coaches have the penalty kill (di­rected by Mike Yeo) and power play (di­rected by Michel Ther­rien) look­ing sharp. Both units strug­gled most of last sea­son.

The power play was 2-for-4 Wed­nes­day and is 3-for-7 through the two games.

“I think ev­ery­one is buy­ing in more,” said Provorov, who had a power-play goal and an as­sist. “On the PK, we’re will­ing to sac­ri­fice; ev­ery sin­gle guy that goes out there. On the power play, the guys are fol­low­ing the sys­tems that the coaches gave us. It’s been help­ing us so far.”

Hayes, who played his first reg­u­larsea­son game as a Flyer at the Wells Fargo Cen­ter, was im­pressed with the arena’s at­mos­phere.

“It was awe­some. The place was buzzing,” he said. “It was elec­tric in there. It’s nice to have my mom and dad and some fam­ily and friends here. They are prob­a­bly more ex­cited than I am about the goal, to be hon­est, but that place was elec­tric tonight. As long as we keep win­ning, I think it will be the same way.”

First, the Fly­ers have to travel to Western Canada for games against Van­cou­ver, Cal­gary, and Ed­mon­ton.

On Sat­ur­day night, they will face the Canucks and try to start the sea­son 3-0 for the first time since 2011-12.

TOM MIHALEK/AP

The Fly­ers’ Kevin Hayes, right, is de­nied a goal by Devils goal­tender Cory Sch­nei­der dur­ing Wed­nes­day night’s game.

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