He’s been hitting anything that moves all season. However, for the first time Wednesday night, Robert Hagg finally struck the most elusive target on his hit list.
The back of the net.
Coming into the Flyers’ game with the Red Wings, Hagg had attempted 79 shots - 37 of those were saved and the other 42 hit the opponent’s body or just missed everything altogether.
“It’s fun, especially with a win,” Hagg said following the Flyers’ 4-3 victory over the Red Wings (see observations). “I was just closing my eyes and hoping for the best. When I looked up and saw the puck go in, there was a lot of emotion coming out. I had few chances earlier this season, so to see that one go in feels pretty damn good.”
While Hagg may have wondered when that first goal would eventually go his way, goaltender Brian Elliott started to sense something different in the practices leading up to this game.
“Actually, the last couple of days I’ve noticed his shot has had a little more zip on it,” Elliott said. “It doesn’t go unnoticed on my end, but that was awesome.
“You saw up and down on the bench the guys celebrating really hard for that one. When a guy with his kind of grit brings it every night and takes the cream in the corner, it’s awesome to see those type of guys get goals.”
Hagg’s second-period, game-tying goal came just two minutes after the Red Wings had taken a 3-2 lead. The marker allowed the Flyers to make a strong third-period push against a Detroit team that had played the night before.
“It’s kinda funny,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “He had to answer a bunch of questions about not scoring goals over the past couple of days. I wished you guys would have asked him about it a month or two ago, but his game has been the same as its been over the last month, month and a half.”
Hagg has been a defensive staple since earning his roster spot straight out of training camp. He hasn’t missed a game or a chance to nail an opponent. Hagg’s 117 hits rank second in the NHL, while he’s also helped stabilize the Flyers’ second defense pairing in his tandem with Shayne Gostisbehere.
Perhaps what made the night complete for Hagg was his late-game assignment with the Flyers clinging to a third-period lead. Throughout the final period, Hagg was matched up against fellow Swede and Red Wings captain, Henrik Zetterberg, who Hagg admired while learning the game of hockey in Uppsala, Sweden.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Hagg said. “When I grew up, he was a big star over here. To get a chance to play against him was pretty awesome.”
“That’s a matchup we changed as we went through the game,” Hakstol said. “That wasn’t our initial matchup on the back end, but those two (Hagg and Gostisbehere), as we went into the middle part of the game we made that change.”
Hagg and the Flyers were able to offset another sluggish, inconsistent first period with a tightly-played, defensive-minded third period when they limited the Red Wings to just four shots on net. Locking down leads over the past few weeks has contributed to the Flyers’ turnaround, which has allowed the team to go from dropping 10 straight to now having won seven of the last eight games.
“You saw the guys putting their bodies on the line,” Elliott said. “Gudy (Radko Gudas) probably had more stops than I did tonight. Provy (Ivan Provorov) took one in the second period that looked like it took him down a little bit. Putting their bodies on the line, and we know that these points are big. Every little play means a lot, especially when you’re trying to close out games in the third period.”