In current state, Dave Hakstol has tricky job with Flyers

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In current state, Dave Hakstol has tricky job with Flyers

Dave Hakstol has to walk a fine line between winning and development.

When it comes to Ron Hextall's organizational blueprint, those two concepts intertwine. While the future is important, so is being competitive in the present.

There is no tanking, nor is there a disregard for tomorrow.

As the head coach overseeing the day-to-day operations of such a model, Hakstol finds himself in a daily conundrum of sorts, trying to strike that balance between Hextall's two all-important objectives.

Lately, though, Hakstol has probably been more focused on winning the day than he's ever been, compared to worrying about a year, month or even a week down the road.

And can you blame him?

Less than a week ago, fans were calling for his firing, almost coming together like an angry mob outside the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers were mired in a losing streak that bottomed out at 10 games and had Hakstol's boss being peppered with repeated questions surrounding the head coach's job status.

So, yeah, in this current climate, Hakstol is in the business to win hockey games, no matter what the cost — and it showed during the team's three-game resurgence in Western Canada.

As the Flyers tallied off three straight wins and outscored the opposition, 13-5, the organization's young building blocks quietly saw their ice times dip considerably. Nolan Patrick played an average of 8:55 over the three games, down from 12:31 prior, while Travis Konecny averaged 9:54, down from 14:07, and Travis Sanheim 11:47, down from 16:08. 

All three players are foundation pieces. All three first-round picks. All three no older than 21 years old, but here because they belong and are in the NHL phase of their development.

The minutes don't exactly jive with development. Many would like to see Patrick, Konecny and even Sanheim provide more offense in greater ice time.

But the tactic of shortening his bench a bit to close out games and place more experience on the ice has worked for Hakstol.

With an increased role, Michael Raffl has five goals in his last eight games after playing just 10:55 a night the previous 21 contests. The 29-year-old Austrian put up four points (three goals, one assist) in the past three games on the Flyers' new second line, alongside Jakub Voracek and Valtteri Filppula. Voracek went off for seven assists over that stretch, while the 33-year-old Filppula totaled four points (one goal, three assists) of his own playing 19-plus minutes a game.

On defense, 31-year-old veteran Andrew MacDonald played heavy minutes (22:51), as did Ivan Provorov (25:25), lightening the load on the rookie Sanheim.

None of this is to say Hakstol is forgetting the long game, which Hextall values so greatly. Before the Flyers staggered into desperation mode of try anything and everything, Hakstol actually allowed for the youth to play bigger roles.

Patrick, Konecny and Sanheim have all seen opportunity throughout the Flyers' first 29 games, and Hakstol will have to understand the importance of finding them more as this season chugs forward.

Because with Hextall, the future is always in sight.

As for Hakstol, discovering a happy medium becomes the challenge ... in a season full of them.

Why have Penguins dominated Flyers recently?

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Why have Penguins dominated Flyers recently?

VOORHEES, N.J. — The keys to the Keystone State Rivalry are now in the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have been in the driver’s seat recently in their feud with the Flyers.

The Penguins are on the verge of a season sweep for the first time since taking all eight meetings during the Flyers' disastrous 2006-07 season.

It’s a complete turnaround from the Flyers' eight-game winning streak from November 2013 to April 2015. PPG Paints Arena, formerly known as Consol Energy Center, could also be commonly referred to as Wells Fargo Center West.

However, in the Dave Hakstol era, which has also coincided with the Mike Sullivan era in Pittsburgh, the ice has been tilted toward Lake Erie. The Flyers are just 3-7-1 against the Penguins over the past three years.

Over time, that vitriolic and acrimonious attitude seems to be missing from a once-bitter feud and the Flyers seemed to thrive off that animosity.

“There’s not as many fights as we used to and not as many hits,” captain Claude Giroux said. “If you don’t take care of the puck and you don’t play smart out there, it’s going to cost your team.”

Since the third period of their first game in November, there have been costly mistakes and very little pushback from the Flyers. They’ve been outscored 14-4 in their last seven periods and a brief overtime against the Penguins.

“It’s a matter of us going out and being ourselves for a full 60 minutes,” Hakstol said. “We haven’t done that against Pittsburgh and you’ve got to credit them for that. They can push teams off balance.”

And clearly, the Penguins have presented a matchup problem for the Flyers, regardless of which team has owned last change. Sidney Crosby has thrived this season with a plus-6 rating against the Flyers.

With Sean Couturier serving as Evgeni Malkin’s shadow dating back to his rookie season in 2011-12, Giroux had been tasked with matching up with Crosby’s line. Now with Couturier and Giroux paired together, the task of containing Crosby has shifted elsewhere, whether it’s been Valtteri Filppula, Scott Laughton or Nolan Patrick.

The Flyers' 19-year-old rookie center has quickly discovered what works and what doesn’t against arguably the NHL’s best all-around player.

“You have to be a little more defensive-minded when (Crosby) is out there, and even Malkin too,” Patrick said. “Crosby’s not really a guy you can go after and knock the puck off. You just got to try and contain them and have a good stick on him.”

“I don’t think we’ve given them our best effort so far this year,” defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “We were a little timid last time. We were trying to feel out the game and see what kind of game it was going to be, rather than dictate the play.”

The Flyers haven’t exhibited their best effort against any team recently, and no need to prove a point against the Penguins this late in the season.

The Flyers simply need points and the Penguins just happen to be the next team on the schedule.

Devils' Hall wastes no time in overtime

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Devils' Hall wastes no time in overtime

PITTSBURGH -- Taylor Hall beat Matt Murray on a breakaway 27 seconds into overtime to lift the New Jersey Devils to a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night.

Hall was all alone when Nico Hischier found him with a long lead pass. Hall then slipped the puck between Murray's legs for his 33rd goal of the season as New Jersey picked up two vital points in the race for one of the two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference.

Hall added two assists for New Jersey. Hischier finished with a goal and an assist, and Blake Coleman and Will Butcher also scored for the Devils. Keith Kincaid made 40 stops for the Devils, who finished a season-high six-game road trip 4-2.

Sidney Crosby scored his 25th of the season for Pittsburgh. Brian Dumolin and Phil Kessel scored in the third period as the Penguins erased a two-goal deficit. Murray finished with 30 saves as the Penguins lost for just the second time in their last 17 home games.

New Jersey's drive to end a six-year playoff drought has stalled since the All-Star break. A lopsided loss in San Jose dropped the Devils to just 13-12 since Jan. 30 and skated onto the ice at PPG Paints Arena with a tenuous grasp on the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference (see full recap).

Bruins win on Pastrnak’s last-second goal
DALLAS -- David Pastrnak broke a tie with 12 seconds left and the Boston Bruins scored three straight goals in the third period to rally past the fading Dallas Stars 3-2 on Friday night.

A scramble followed a faceoff in the Dallas end, and Brad Marchand passed to Pastrnak in front. While falling down, he put the puck past Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen.

Tuukka Rask made a season-high 40 saves for the Bruins. Marchand scored Boston's first goal and also assisted on a short-handed goal by Tim Schaller that tied it midway through the third period.

The second-place Bruins won for the first time in three games (1-0-2) to move within four points of Atlantic Division leader Tampa Bay. Boston has already clinched a playoff berth.

The Stars are winless in their last seven games (0-5-2). They remained four points behind Colorado for the second Western Conference wild card (see full recap).

Berglund, Blues push win streak to 4
ST. LOUIS -- Patrik Berglund scored twice and the surging St. Louis Blues beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-1 on Friday night for their fourth consecutive victory.

Vladimir Tarasenko and Dmitrij Jaskin also scored for St. Louis. Jake Allen made 19 saves in his eighth straight start as the Blues won for the sixth time in seven games.

Sam Gagner scored for Vancouver, which has lost eight of nine. Anders Nilsson stopped 21 shots.

The Blues swept the season series and have won their last five games against the Canucks.

Tarasenko extended the lead to 3-1 just 14 seconds into the third period, slipping Jaden Schwartz's pass between Nilsson's legs. Tarasenko missed the previous two games with an upper-body injury.

Jaskin's sixth goal of the season with 2:29 left sealed it for St. Louis (see full recap).