Flyers

Dave Hakstol says blame starts with him for Flyers' latest loss

Dave Hakstol says blame starts with him for Flyers' latest loss

BOX SCORE

If the Flyers have an emergency chute, now would be the time to pull the rip cord.

On Thursday night, their Metropolitan Division free fall picked up even more velocity following a 5-3 loss to the Blue Jackets, a team that has made up nine points in a span of just two weeks to pull even with the Flyers at 81 points (see observations).

If what we were watching was a skydiving exhibition, Dave Hakstol knew something wasn’t right from the moment his team left the plane. 

“I thought their team was a little bit more ready to play, and that squarely comes to me,” Hakstol said. “I thought their team was a little bit more ready to play in that first 20 minutes and that can’t happen this time of year.”

However, it’s been happening for much of this month. The Flyers have been outscored 11-5 in the opening period of their last eight games, and while it explains only part of their failures, poor starts are a contributing factor to their 1-6-1 record in the month of March.

“It was definitely just readiness,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “I think the biggest thing for us is to realize what time of year it is. We can’t have any slow starts to these games — then we’re just climbing an uphill battle the rest of the game, making it hard on ourselves.” 

The Blue Jackets scored three goals on eight shots, but the Flyers were so disjointed defensively, Columbus could have easily added another goal. The Blue Jackets' second score was a lost battle along the boards and a coverage breakdown that the Flyers have been guilty of on numerous occasions this season. 

“We were pretty loose in our coverage,” defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “Maybe our level of intensity and attention to detail wasn’t where it needed to be and we kind of had to scrap back into it. But obviously, too little, too late.”

With the score 4-2, Alex Lyon replaced Petr Mrazek three minutes and 23 seconds into the second period and proceeded to shut the door, but by then, the damage was done. Right now, the Flyers need exceptional play in net and they’re simply not getting it. 

“Petr didn’t give up a bad goal tonight, but you look for a timely save from your goaltender and that’s what we didn’t get in the first half of the game tonight,” Hakstol said.

“I thought the fourth one, a 3-on-1, if I was to make the save there, the game could be different,” Mrazek said. “I didn’t have any big saves in the first period. If that fourth one I would stop, I would probably get the momentum back and we would still have a chance.”

For a team that had its sight set on winning the division just two weeks ago, it's now in a dogfight for its playoff lives. 

“The real honest truth is 11 games to go, it’s an even race,” Hakstol said. “There’s eight spots to be had and we’re right there. I told our players after [the game], I’ll take that challenge and I’ll happily take that on with our group.

“Things haven’t gone well here over the last six to seven games. We know that. But it’s that time of year, you’ve got to be able to clear the deck, clear the mind and really get focused on the next challenge ahead.” 

But the Flyers' descent continues to gain speed. All you can do is look up, hold your breath and hope the landing isn’t catastrophic. 

Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

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USA Today Images

Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

With the Flyers' elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the team's third-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft was officially transferred over to the Red Wings.

What was originally a fourth-round selection in the acquisition of goaltender Petr Mrazek was upgraded to a third-rounder once Mrazek won five regular-season games and the Flyers qualified for the postseason.

The Flyers could potentially still owe the Red Wings a third-round pick in the 2019 NHL draft if Mrazek is re-signed. However, that seems unlikely with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth already under contract for next season and Mrazek’s poor play over the final five weeks of the regular season.

In all likelihood, the Flyers will have the 19th overall pick in the June draft, which is scheduled for June 22-23 at American Airlines Center in Dallas. If the Blue Jackets are eliminated before the Eastern Conference Finals, then they will select 18th with the Flyers slotted in at the 19th selection.

Once again, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will be watching intently during Saturday’s NHL draft lottery, where the Flyers could also acquire the St. Louis Blues' first-round selection.

The Flyers have a 95 percent chance of obtaining the Blues' first pick as compensation in the Brayden Schenn trade that was completed at last year’s draft in Chicago. 

The Blues' pick is top-10 protected, but they have only a five percent chance of moving into the top three — 1.5 percent for No. 1 overall, 1.7 for No. 2, 1.8 for No. 3, 91.8 for No. 14 and 3.2 for No. 15. So, either the Blues draft in the top three, they remain at 14 or fall back to 15.

However, as Hextall discovered just a year ago, anything is possible.

Last year, the Flyers made the monumental leap from the 13th-worst record in the league to obtaining the second overall pick — a lottery move that had just a 2.4 percent chance of falling in their favor. With that selection, the Flyers chose Nolan Patrick.

Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is the consensus No. 1 pick in this year’s draft and a future cornerstone blueliner. 

The NHL draft lottery is held in Toronto.

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Dave Hakstol lifted his arm effortlessly with his hand steadily inclining toward the ceiling, almost portraying the takeoff of an airplane.

He was discussing the timeline for young hockey players, which his Flyers have a lot of and will gain only more as the blocks are stacked one by one.

And as the head coach digested a topsy-turvy, season-ending loss, his demonstration depicted what he knew wasn't the case.

"You always want development to be this smooth path and this smooth climb; it doesn't work that way," Hakstol said. "It's kind of a jagged climb, and as long as you're seeing a steady push to improve, then you stick with it and keep pushing in that direction."

The Flyers have been allowed to hit those jagged edges on their climb, like Sunday's 8-5 Game 6 defeat to the Penguins (see story). It was the final swing (and miss) in a best-of-seven first-round playoff matchup with the two-time defending champs, another cut along the grand hike for the Flyers.

But with it came a signal.

This is no longer the bottom of the mountain. The trek has been underway for three seasons and the long view should, expectedly, be coming into focus. In 2018-19, Hakstol will enter the fourth year of a five-year contract, according to CapFriendly.com. The Flyers' core, looking at its peak, will be a year older, as will the foundation pieces, already here and being counted on to drive things forward. 

The Flyers played four rookies in the playoffs, while five of their top eight regular-season goal scorers were 25 years old or younger. 

"For the most part, I liked the growth of our young guys," Hakstol said. "I think they had an opportunity to really see some tough points during the year and figure out how to be a part of battling out of them. They had the opportunity to play through and be part of a playoff push that other teams weren't going away, and we knew that with eight to 10 games to go, we knew that we would have to win our way in. So they had the opportunity to be a part of that and gain that experience of understanding and knowing how hard that is. And they were successful in that."

It resulted in 42 wins and 98 points during the regular season, both highs under Hakstol, surpassing the 41 and 96 set in Year 1. It also led to another first-round exit, the second under Hakstol against a topflight opponent. In those series, the Flyers went 1-5 at home, where they were outscored 26-9.

Harsh yet clear reminders the Flyers aren't where they want to be.

The Penguins, no duh, are. 

"We're working to build toward something like that," Wayne Simmonds said. "I thought we took a step in the right direction this year."

Claude Giroux, the 102-point, 30-year-old captain, sees it, too.

"I know for a fact that we got better as the season went on," Giroux said. "Look at our team last year and look at our team this year. We improved a lot."

While patience is always of the essence with general manager Ron Hextall, Year 4 will demand much more, unlike seasons past. This is Hakstol's team — the blocks are in place, both old and now not so new.

"There's going to be a lot of good and a lot of things that we'll say, 'Hey, these are good steps for our team,'" Hakstol said of this season. "End of the day, we didn't come into this playoff series to make steps, though."

That undoubtedly won't be the objective in 2018-19. It can't be, and the Flyers should know it.