Flyers

Late rally gives Flyers something to show for strong effort

Late rally gives Flyers something to show for strong effort

BOX SCORE

RALEIGH, N.C. – Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol commended his team for a complete 60-minute effort that was needed to overtake and defeat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-2 at PNC Arena on Saturday night (see observations).

“It’s an important two points, but I guess, as important I thought it was a really hard-working, start-to-finish win for us,” he said.

Placing Alex Lyon in net to lead from the back end, the young netminder made 23 stops, many critical, that allowed the Flyers to generate momentum to strike all at once in the third period.

Trailing 1-0, containing the Hurricanes’ speed and ability to maintain puck possession was a priority – somewhat of ‘survive and advance’ mindset to have in March.

The Flyers won 27 of 48 draws, a stat that eventually evened out, but was a critical one that the Flyers led in for two periods, before taking advantage of Carolina turnovers in the third.

 “It was a grind,” Hakstol said. “I liked the way we played in the first two periods. We talked about a couple of little things we can maybe improve going into the third, but the biggest thing was making sure we went out and got a big penalty kill to start with and just go back at it.”

For 40 minutes, Hurricanes netminder Cam Ward stymied shooters like Jakub Voracek and crease cleaners like Wayne Simmonds, among others, but the force of the shield he presented eventually diminished late in the game. The Flyers scored all four of their goals in the final 11-plus minutes.

While giving the puck away 10 times, 15 takeaways allowed the Flyers to regain possessions and capitalize on their chances when it counted most. 

“I don’t know if there was a catalyst,” Hakstol said when asked to identify the turning point in the game for his team.

“A lot of times it’s the simple, hard things that you do. That’s what it takes to score at this time of year.”

The win pulled the Flyers back into a tie for third place in the Metropolitan Division, a floating buoy line extending to the wild-card spot they will tread beside for the remainder of the season, unless they can compile more wins like this one.

“We needed a win for a lot of different reasons,” Hakstol said. “We needed the two points in every respect, but we needed a win for our group in here to have something to show for their hard work. When you lose games and can’t put wins together, the negatives really start to magnify, even though there’s a ton of positives. On a couple of different levels, this was an important two points.”

Flyers GM Ron Hextall talks coaching staff, free agents, draft and more

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Flyers GM Ron Hextall talks coaching staff, free agents, draft and more

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall spoke to the media at his season-ending press conference on Thursday. 

What exactly did he have to say? We decipher the GM’s answers right here.

Question: Will there be any changes within the coaching staff?

Answer: “The coaches will all be back. We’re still doing a little bit of evaluating on the entire organization, but yes (in the same roles). We’re not going to make a change to appease people because we’re suppose to. We’re going to make change to get better. We’re not going to do what makes us popular. I think Hak (Dave Hakstol) has done a really good job.”

Translation: Hextall believes Hakstol has done a solid job in his first three years and has worked well with the development of the young players and the prospects. Hextall also believes the penalty kill saw improvements over the second half of the season and the problems early on were more personnel related than the coverage systems that assistant coach Ian Laperriere implemented.

Question: Where do things stand with the pending free agents (Brandon Manning, Valtteri Filppula, Matt Read)?

Answer: “My conversations with most of those guys were the plan right now is not to bring you back. Things can change because we don’t know what happens over the summer. Filppula is one guy where he have interest and we’re going to see what happens here. The other guys, unless something changes, we don’t plan on bringing them back right now.”

Translation: Manning and Read have played their final games with the Flyers. If Hextall doesn’t find an upgrade through free agency, then they’ll explore a very team-friendly, one-year contract with the 34-year-old Filppula, who certainly lost a step this past season.

Question: Will goalie Carter Hart have a chance to make the Flyers next season?

Answer: “I’m comfortable where we’re at with our goaltending. Neuvy (Michal Neuvirth) had some injury issues. I’m excited about Neuvy’s commitment. We got our kids coming. We got the kids up at Lehigh. We feel very comfortable with where we’re at. In saying that, we need some growth.” 

Translation: Ideally, the organization would like to see Hart start next season with the Phantoms. However, Hextall refuses to put an absolute on any situation. If Hart lights up the AHL and proves to have a maturity and a game beyond his years, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he could play with the Flyers nest season. Goaltending may be the toughest position to master for any 20-year-old. As a rookie, Hextall was 22 years of age and admitted he shed a few tears in 1986.

Question: Will the Flyers be a big player in free agency?

Answer: “If someone thinks that we’re going to add three players or four players this summer to make us the top team in the league, I don’t know where we’re going to get those players from, nor the cap space, nor anything else. You would like to find another centerman. Your goaltending, your D and your centers. If we could upgrade there, that would be great.”

Translation: John Tavares is a long shot. For starters, he may never make it to July 1 as a free agent and the Flyers won’t engage in a bidding war with other teams. Hextall is frugal and fiscally responsible. If they did elect to chase a big fish, then they might be more inclined to look at John Carlson, a right-handed defenseman. Still, even that’s a stretch considering how much he would command on the open market. Think smaller, affordable role players to fill in the gaps. 

Question: Will you buy out Jori Lehtera? If not, how do you justify his $4.7 million?

Answer: “There’s a lot of reasons why you just don’t buy a guy out. He makes a little bit more than maybe that role should make. Jori was a good role player for us. He’s a terrific human being. He works hard. He’s really, really good with our young kids. There’s a lot more to it than saying Jori Lehtera was playing center and playing 8-10 minutes. The plan is to have him back.” 

Translation: This is a head-scratcher for me. The St. Louis Blues forked over a first-round pick just to rid themselves of Lehtera and his salary. There’s a lot of terrific human beings in the league who work hard. Those aren’t qualities worth paying top dollar for. It’s a production-based business and the bottom line is Lehtera finished wth eight points while averaging 10½ minutes of ice time and lacks the foot speed to keep up in today’s NHL.

Question: In terms of depth of the draft and having two possible first-round picks, what options does that give you?

Answer: “It’s a solid draft. We’ve seen enough players where it’s a good draft and we’re going to get a couple of good players if we make those picks. If you want to move up, I would envision the chance to move up. We’re a little bit more defined in terms of the pieces we have.” 

Translation: Hextall and his scouts have done a solid job in four years of replenishing their prospect pool, so now they’re in a position to get creative. Don’t be surprised if the GM makes major noise at the June draft in Dallas. He attempted to pull off a mega deal with the Florida Panthers in 2014 in an effort to land defenseman Aaron Ekblad. Hextall could get bold and he has the assets to make that type of move. 

Flyers defenseman grades and lookahead part 1 — The young guns

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Flyers defenseman grades and lookahead part 1 — The young guns

2017-18 was a season of growth for the Flyers' young defense with half of that six-man unit in their first or second years of NHL service. After three consecutive years of drafting defensemen in the first round, we finally received a glimpse of how the Flyers defense core will look like over the next few years. 

Shayne Gostisbehere
Regular season: A-
Playoffs: D     

Gostisbehere’s season took off when he was paired with Ivan Provorov in the second half of the season. His defensive stickwork and positioning improved significantly and he even developed a physical side at times. Had a terrible six-game playoff against the Pens forcing Dave Hakstol to break up his top pair. Interestingly, his goal production dipped as the powerplay struggled. Ghost scored five goals in December, or the same number from January through April.  

2018-19 outlook
Enters the second year of his 6-year, $27-million dollar extension he signed last summer. A deal that looks very team friendly comparative to the other contracts of players his age. I expect Ghost to start next season on the top pair with Provorov after showing great improvements in the defensive side of his game. 

Robert Hagg
Regular season: B-
Playoffs: Incomplete

Surprisingly solid while playing in the Flyers' first 70 games of the season. A strong physical presence that still needed work positionally as he hit a wall midseason. Didn’t deserve to be a healthy scratch over the final month of the regular season, but the Flyers liked what they saw out of Travis Sanheim throughout March and refused to break up the Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas pairing. Only played the final two games of the playoffs.  

2018-19 outlook
A restricted free agent, Hagg should get a two- to three-year deal for next season and should start the season out of camp. Playing three seasons in the AHL was a significant part of Hagg’s development and he should comprise one of the Flyers' three defense pairings next season. 

Ivan Provorov
Regular season: A
Playoffs: C+  

When asked to assess his season, Provorov said there were three to five games during the regular season. where he didn’t play like himself. He experienced some puck-handling struggles during the second half, but nothing that impaired the team defensively. He suffers the occasional bad read or breakdown in his own end, but the Flyers are blessed that Provorov hasn’t been forced to miss any time over his first two seasons. A shoulder separation was a tough way to end the season (see story).

2018-19 outlook
Provorov is the workhorse on the blue line after displaying an immunity to the sophomore slump. Can he expand on his offensive numbers and potentially reach the 20-goal mark? If so, Provorov’s third NHL season could be the year he enters the Norris Trophy discussion.   

Travis Sanheim
Regular season: C
Playoffs: B-

Sanheim looked like a different player once he returned to the team from Lehigh Valley on March 10, with four points and a plus-7 rating in his first eight games back. He started seeing the ice much better and making the smart, low-risk plays that the coaching staff was looking for out of a young player. Did not look out place throughout the first four games of the Flyers' first-round series. Unfortunately, his best game was part of a 5-1 loss in Game 4.    

2018-19 outlook 
With one more season remaining on his entry-level contract, Sanheim will be expected to make the season-opening roster straight out of training camp. He should be paired with a steady veteran while also seeing time on the second power-play unit.

In Friday's Part 2, we will look at Radko Gudas, Andrew MacDonald and Brandon Manning.