Ron Hextall: Dave Hakstol's 'our coach and he's going to remain our coach'

Ron Hextall: Dave Hakstol's 'our coach and he's going to remain our coach'

Throughout the Flyers' lifeless 3-1 loss Tuesday night to the San Jose Sharks — their ninth straight defeat — there were audible chants filling the Wells Fargo Center.

Flyers fans made it clear: They had enough of third-year head coach Dave Hakstol.

Fans chanted, "Fire Hakstol." On Twitter, #FireHakstol was the No. 3 trend in Philadelphia.

After the loss, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall stood in the locker room and said the Flyers "are not playing poorly." He said all the things he had to say as the GM — even if it didn't please the fanbase or the media.

And on Wednesday afternoon, in an interview on NBC Sports Philadelphia's Philly Sports Talk, Hextall not only doubled down on that thought process but also threw cold water on any indication that Hakstol's job is in danger.

"He's the guy," Hextall said. "Dave Hakstol is our coach and he's going to remain our coach."

Here are some of the highlights of the interview in Q&A form.

Q: How would you assess Hakstol's job?

A: "Hak, first of all, is a very good coach. He's as hard a working person as I've ever seen in the game. His staff works hard. Hak, if you look at our young players — (Ivan) Provorov, (Travis) Konecny, Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton. Nolan Patrick's getting his feet wet.

"Hak's done a good job with those young kids. There have been lessons to learn along the way. Shayne Gostisbehere — throw him in there. There've been lessons to learn along the way and there always is with young players.

"So, whether they get a couple minutes taken away, Hak does a lot of things behind the scenes for young players, older players that help them improve not only short term but also long term. You get a 19-year-old kid in your line. You have a lot of work to do as a human being.

"I remember myself, as a 19-year-old or, again, some of the kids we have coming up. These are really young people and they've got a lot to learn about being a pro. When you put a 19-year-old in your lineup like Provy last year, Konecny last year, Nolan this year, there's a lot for those kids to learn. Hak's done a good job with these guys.

"Have they stumbled a little bit? Of course, they have. They're young people, they're young players but they're getting better every day."

Q: What are the positives you've seen during the nine-game losing streak?

A: "A nine-game winless streak isn't acceptable probably in most franchises but certainly not in this franchise. Let's start off with that. My job, and the coaches' job to some degree, too, is to evaluate how well we're playing, not just the results.

"If I didn't know the results of the last nine games, I wouldn't have an issue with the way we're playing because I would probably guess we're 5-4 or somewhere in there, which isn't great but we'd still be in a pretty good spot.

"So our evaluations aren't how well our team plays. If we were playing to an 0-9 level right now, that's different than being 0-9 and playing better than that. Again, we're not happy with what's going on. Our players are going through a lot right now. Our coaches are going through a lot, management's going through a lot.

"Obviously, our fanbase is going through a lot. It's a tough time for everyone involved, and we're going to rectify it. We're going to find a way to battle through this. No one is jumping ship and I think you just asked me the positive, I would say this.

"Our players haven't started pointing fingers. Our players have stuck together and trust me, I've been in some locker rooms where you go 0-9, guys start to blame other people and get frustrated, and our guys have stuck together and that's a credit to them."

Q: You can have a winless streak and come back. Last season, you had a 10-game winning streak …

A: "That's a great analogy, too, because our 10-game win streak, we probably could have lost three or four of those games. But everybody's excited, we win 10 games, as we were. The results were there. Were we playing to a 10-game winning streak? 

"Trust me, I don't just look at this and go, 0-9, we're playing better. I looked at it back then, 10-0 and we're not playing 10-0. You do have to keep a balance, a realistic view of your club. Again, a positive of our guys sticking together, the positives — the kids. Our kids have played pretty well.

"Andrew MacDonald out, Radko Gudas out, [the kids are] probably playing more minutes than they should play, a little higher in the lineup than they should play and they've done a pretty good job. Last year, obviously, [Provorov and Konecny] come in and do a good job. And this year, the kids that we have in our lineup currently.

"(Danick) Martel has been in our lineup, (Samuel) Morin has been in our lineup. I think I looked a few days ago with Gudy and Mac out, our defense corp — 20, 21, two 22-year-olds and a 24-year-old. Five of our six, I don't know if I've ever seen that before.

"I know Carolina's defense is pretty young this year, but that's a young defense and for them to hold their own, [it's] a good sign. That's part of the future moving forward.

"We're in the present right now. We're trying to win hockey games. We're not going to dwell that we have a young defense. We need to win hockey games."

Q: When will the Flyers transition into being a winner?

A: "Well, you know what, I've always said, 'Talk is cheap.' It does take time. I think if you look at Chicago and L.A. and do the timeline when they built it, it takes time.

"In saying that, we can be competitive right now. The first eight games, everybody was excited. I thought it was a little bit of an overreaction. It's a small sample size. We did play well. Our record was good — could have even been better.

"I think we gave one game away there. Right now, again, we're not as bad as 0-9, which, thank goodness for that. And we need to find a way to win. Three of four games, we've found ways to lose — critical mistake at a critical time, we have to knock those off."

Q: Do you still think it's a playoff team?

A: "I think we're six points out. Now, six points are more than you think, don't get me wrong, because you have to catch up to the team in the eight spot or the wild-card spot, plus you've got to jump the teams over. We have our work cut out for us.

"We understand that, but two years ago, we did it, I think, in the last 20 or 30 games. We have a lot of hockey left and we've got to start playing the way we're capable of playing."

Q: The Sixers are now through the hard part of their rebuild. Do you have a timetable for being a Stanley Cup contender?

A: "Basketball's a little different because we've got 20 players on the ice every night, or 19 with the backup goalie. It's a little different building a hockey team than a basketball team, so you certainly can't follow that timeline.

"But again, I think I looked after 20 games, we were the same we've been the last four years in terms of points after 20 games. But I believe we were the 28th oldest in the league and we're now around seventh youngest in the league.

"As much as right now — things aren't real positive — we don't feel real positive about things right now, the way they've gone recently. There are some positives and again, we're a competitive team.

"We're a young team, we have a lot of young kids coming and we're going to get better. We're going to play better than we're currently playing."

Q: So a couple of years?

A: "I'm not … talk's cheap. Talk's cheap, right? We're going to get better every year. We're going to get younger every year and we're going to be competitive and we're going to get there."

Q: Can you give us some insight on Wayne Simmonds' struggles?

A: "Simmer's history is a little bit of a streaky player. He'll score a bunch of goals and then he'll go quiet for a few games and then he'll score a bunch of goals again, so that part doesn't surprise me that much. And at the start of this — I think he went 14 games without a goal — but at the start of that, he was pretty banged up.

"He had three things going on with his body and to his credit, he played through it. People don't see that and he's not producing, so all of a sudden, he plays a few games banged up and all of a sudden, he gets healthy but he's not feeling great because he got banged up. Now, he's not scoring so it just snowballs a little bit. The last guy we're worried about right now is Wayne Simmonds."

Q: Has Brian Elliott performed up to your expectations?

A: "Brian's met our expectations. He's a good goalie. He's been around a long time. I think one of the things we liked about him is, he played in a tandem and when we've asked him to play, he's done a real good job for us.

"He's a very competitive guy. He works hard every day. Teammates like to play for him because he works hard every day, competes hard for screened shots and rebounds and tips. He's done a good job for us. Certainly held up his end of the bargain."

Capitals reclaim sole possession of Metro lead

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Capitals reclaim sole possession of Metro lead

WASHINGTON — T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom and Matt Niskanen scored as the Washington Capitals swept a home-and-home set against the skidding New York Islanders with a 6-3 win on Friday night.

Alex Chiasson had a goal and two assists for the Capitals, who hammered the Islanders 7-3 in New York on Thursday. Jakub Vrana's goal gave Washington a 5-1 lead with 9:04 remaining. Lars Eller added an empty-netter, and Braden Holtby made 22 saves.

Washington broke a tie with the idle Pittsburgh Penguins for sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Capitals' four-game winning streak is their longest since taking five in a row from Dec. 28 to Jan. 9.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington's second-leading scorer, left in the second period and did not return after sustaining an upper-body injury, according to the team.

Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson and John Tavares scored for the Islanders, who have lost 10 of 11 (see full recap).

Hoffman lifts Senators over Stars in OT
OTTAWA, Ontario — Mike Hoffman scored at 3:26 of overtime and the Ottawa Senators beat the Dallas Stars 3-2 on Friday night to win their third game in a row for just the second time this season.

Ottawa won on home ice for the first time since Feb. 17.

Marian Gaborik and Matt Duchene also scored for the Senators (26-33-11), and Craig Anderson made 23 saves.

Tyler Seguin and Tyler Pitlick had the goals for the Stars (38-26-8). Ben Bishop, who stopped 22 shots, made his first start since missing five games with a knee injury sustained March 5 against the Senators. Bishop has a 9-0-4 career record against Ottawa.

Dallas has lost four straight, its longest skid of the season (see full recap).

Predators rally past Coyotes
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Nashville Predators keep rolling toward the best regular season in franchise history.

Kevin Fiala and Kyle Turris each had a goal and assist in the third period, leading Nashville to a 3-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night. Ryan Ellis also scored to help the Western Conference-leading Predators get their 21st road win of the season and improve to 12-0-1 in their last 13 games overall. Pekka Rinne finished with 32 saves.

Nashville, which reached the Stanley Cup Final a year ago after earning the second wild card in the West, has 102 points through 70 games, and needs nine more in its final 12 games to set a new franchise record (see full recap).

Alex Lyon can save the Flyers' season

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Alex Lyon can save the Flyers' season

Lost amid the Flyers’ 5-3 defeat at the hands Blue Jackets on Thursday was yet another stellar relief appearance in goal from Alex Lyon.

Lyon was sensational after replacing Petr Mrazek between the pipes early in the second period, stopping all 18 shots that came his way. Flyers coach Dave Hakstol praised the rookie netminder for giving his team an opportunity to come from behind.

“He’s a battler, and that’s what we asked from him last night going into that situation,” Hakstol said following Friday’s practice.

“You need to have a mindset of going in there and absolutely slamming the door to give your team a chance to win. In order to do that, you have to have a real battling mentality, and I thought he had that right from when he stepped in the net.”

Success in a sort of stopper role has become increasingly commonplace for Lyon since joining the Flyers.

Lyon came off the bench to make five saves during the final eight minutes of a 5-3 loss to the Capitals in his January debut. The 25-year-old later earned his first NHL win against the Rangers in February, blocking 25 of 26 shots over the second and third periods to help procure a 7-4 victory.

His play has been on the rise ever since. Lyon appears to be improving with experience, posting a 2-1-0 record with a .939 save percentage in his last four games.

“I don’t know if I’d say confidence so much as comfortability,” Lyon said of his growth. “I think I always had the confidence in myself that I could do it. It’s just you have to get comfortable enough to kind of believe that.”

He shined as a substitute goaltender all along. Including his performance against the Blue Jackets, Lyon has amassed a .980 save percentage in three relief appearances — a number emblematic of his season.

Lyon began 2017-18 as the emergency-goalie-in-waiting at Lehigh Valley. He earned the call-up to the Flyers’ main roster after the injury to Brian Elliott, then saw an uptick in ice time due to Michal Neuvirth’s subsequent maladies.

The club traded for Petr Mrazek after Neuvirth went down, but Lyon still finds himself in the mix. He’s expected to start against the Hurricanes on Saturday — a pivotal contest for the Flyers’ bid to make the playoffs.

“It’s extremely exciting,” Lyon said. “This is what you think about when you’re a little kid.

“It’s not quite the same, but down in Allentown we were in a pretty hot playoff race last year and always at the top of the standings, so I’m going to draw on my past experiences.”

Elliott returned to the ice this week and could be back in uniform soon, at which time Lyon will be sent back to the minor leagues. But if the Flyers do manage to reach the postseason, his fill-in contributions will have played a big part.

Perhaps Lyon will even warrant a closer look for a full-time spot on the Flyers’ roster next season.