Frank Seravalli: Minor penalties piling up for Flyers

Here’s a news flash: The
Flyers have a penchant for pain in
the penalty box.

Putting all of the imagery associated with the Broad Street
Bullies aside for 2 minutes, the
Flyers have finished first and
second in overall penalty minutes over the last two complete
seasons.

Last year, they were sent to the box with 400 minor penalties –
barely edging out Tampa Bay for the most 2-minute breaks in the
NHL.

This year, though, has been different.

Each of the last 2 years, the
Flyers have finished in the top two
in terms of fighting majors. They averaged one fight for every 65
minutes of game time over the course of the season.

The
Flyers haven’t had much of a reason
to throw down the mitts in anger in the first five games. Through
15 periods of hockey, only Scott Hartnell, Sean O’Donnell and
heavyweight Jody Shelley have each earned 5 minutes for fighting.
To put that in perspective, Anaheim earned nine fighting majors in
the same amount of time.

Yet, through 15 periods, the
Flyers still rank in the top three
among league leaders for penalty minutes.

Why is that?

The
Flyers have 37 minor penalties in
five games. With 93 penalty minutes – when you subtract Hartnell’s
10-minute misconduct off the total of 103 minutes – the
Flyers average almost an entire
period of the game (18:36) in the penalty box.

Clearly, as coach Peter Laviolette expressed after Saturday
night’s 5-1 shellacking at the hands of the power-play hungry
Pittsburgh Penguins, that won’t win you a lot of hockey games.

The
Flyers’ penalty killing may be
among the best in the league, with Blair Betts and Darroll Powe
doing the blue-collar dirty work, but no unit is good enough to
cleanly kill off two extended 5-on-3 advantages plus 12:45 of a
regular one-man disadvantage.

After Saturday’s game, the
Flyers took their medicine and
admitted most of the penalties were earned.

“Most of them are deserved,” Danny Briere said. “I think we put
ourselves in those positions. We put ourselves in those positions
way too often. I don’t know if it’s an attitude thing or what. Here
and there, you might have one that is borderline, but those are
going to even up in the course of the season.”

Maybe that is one of the fundamental flaws of the NHL. How the
game is called in October vs. how it is called in March, April and
May come from two entirely different rule manuals. That is part of
what makes the NBA so unwatchable: A ticky-tack foul in the lane in
the first quarter is suddenly ignored in the waning seconds of a
close game.

In the NFL, a horse-collar tackle is as clear in the first
quarter as it is in the fourth. A false start in September is still
a false start in January. Even in baseball, a strike on the outside
corner in the third inning is almost always still a strike in the
ninth inning with two outs.

In hockey, tripping and hooking penalties – ones that don’t
affect scoring chances – are absent in the playoffs but so
prevalent while the season is young.

In 82 regular-season games, the
Flyers averaged almost 17 minutes a
game in penalties. In 23 playoff games, the
Flyers dropped that number down to
11 minutes per game. If you’re going to tell me that the
Flyers suddenly decided to smarten
up for the postseason, I’m just not taking the bait. It’s an
amazing stat when you consider how different the intensity level is
between the playoffs and regular season.

James van Riemsdyk is only in his sophomore season but he
already can tell a difference.

“Everyone knows that the penalties are a lot easier to come by
in the early part of the season,” van Riemsdyk said earlier in the
week. “That’s just something that we’ve got to do a better job
adjusting to.”

This season – or any other – certainly hasn’t been a case of the
referees picking on the
Flyers, as some conspiracy
theorists love to point out.

But the question begs asking: If van Riemsdyk knows this – and
the rest of the team buys in to the statistics – wouldn’t the
Flyers be wise enough to avoid the
lazy calls behind the play? Only a handful of the
Flyers’ minor penalties so far have
come as a result of stopping a scoring threat.

Captain Mike Richards acknowledged some of the
Flyers’ penalties have been a
result of frustration.

“It’s tough when you play Pittsburgh,” Richards said on Saturday
night. “They are going to be falling down pretty easy. You’ve got
to be able to watch your stick, and my stick was in there, and
maybe I did go at [Ben Lovejoy] a little aggressive, but he did
flop pretty easy there so it’s tough.”

Penalties don’t just create scoring chances; they also take some
of the most skilled players off the ice for long chunks of the
game.

You will not find Laviolette – on or off the record – buying
into a difference in refereeing over the course of a season. He
calls it the way he sees it.

“The penalties are avoidable,” Laviolette said. “Whether they’re
questionable or marginal, or whether they’re deserved, there’s an
infraction. It’s there. The penalties that we are taking have to
come out of the game. We need to be more disciplined.”

ON ICE

BY THE NUMBERS

6: Number of consecutive losses to the Penguins for the
Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center,
dating back to Dec. 13, 2008.

20.6: Average number of penalty minutes per game for the
Flyers, with 103 total minutes
through five games.

59: Number of points Sidney Crosby has in 34 career games
against the
Flyers, with 26 goals and 33
assists, since entering the NHL in 2005-06.

THE WEEK AHEAD

vs. Anaheim

Thursday, 7 o’clock

Chris Pronger’s former team started the season with three
straight losses – all on the road – before earning its first win
last Wednesday. The Ducks will be in Columbus on Wednesday night
before traveling to Philly for a back-to-back. Anaheim is the most
penalized team in the NHL. Cherry Hill native Bobby Ryan, 23,
signed a 5-year, $25 million deal with the Ducks in September.
Anaheim beat the
Flyers, 3-2, last October in Philly
in a shootout, with Teemu Selanne scoring a hat trick. Anaheim sent
former Flyer Luca Sbisa down to AHL Syracuse on Saturday.

vs. Toronto

Saturday, 7 o’clock

The
Flyers wrap up their seasonlong
five-game homestand with a visit from the Maple Leafs. For some,
Toronto (4-0-0) has been one of the NHL’s most surprising teams in
the early going. GM Brian Burke retooled the offense, adding
legitimate first liner Kris Versteeg to play with Phil Kessel, and
also brought in the underrated Clarke MacArthur from Atlanta. He
has five goals and one assist in four games. With Luke Schenn, Mike
Komisarek, Tomas Kaberle, Dion Phaneuf and Francois Beauchemin on
the blue line, the Maple Leafs could find themselves back in the
playoffs for the first time since 2004.

PHANTOMS PHILE

The Phantoms opened with three goals in the first 5 minutes of
Saturday night’s rivalry match with the neighboring Albany Devils
but ultimately fell, 4-3, in overtime. Pat Maroon leads the
Phantoms with three goals in five games. Johan Backlund has started
all five games in net for Adirondack, with a 3.20 goals against
average and .910 save percentage.