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.