Ron Hextall: Flyers 'are not playing poorly'

Ron Hextall: Flyers 'are not playing poorly'

You could say the customers at the Wells Fargo Center stuffed the suggestion box with their complaint cards Tuesday night when they chanted “Fire Hakstol” at different periods of Tuesday night’s game.

How Ron Hextall was going to answer those requests was the response the fans and media were waiting for when the general manager addressed the team’s nine-game winless streak.

“I try to make this team better every day, if there’s something that can be done,” Hextall said after a 3-1 loss to the Sharks (see observations). “That doesn’t change throughout the year.”

However, making a change on the bench doesn’t appear to be a move Hextall is considering, especially when the GM's assessment of the Flyers' overall performance has been mostly positive, regardless of the outcome.

“Have you seen our games?” Hextall asked. “If we were playing poorly, I’d be the first to say, ‘We’re playing poorly.’ I would be. We are not playing poorly and to look objectively at our team right now and to say we’re playing poorly, no.

“As a manager, I have to be realistic with how our team is playing. I think right now, as a whole, I think we’ve played better than our record.”

It’s difficult to measure the length of rope Hextall has extended to the only head coach he’s ever hired, but every indication is that Hakstol is part of the GM’s process of slowly building a competitive Stanley Cup contender that can be sustained over the long term. Replacing the coach right now wouldn’t move up that timeline, nor would it make sense in Hextall's eyes to replace a coach in Year 3 of a five-year contract. 

"One of the impressive things is that this group hasn’t started pointing fingers at each other,” Hextall said (more from the players here). “That’s the sign of strong character, that’s a sign that we’re going to come out of this. I give this group credit, they’ve stuck together. They’ve battled through it. If we weren’t battling, we’d have a problem.”

Prior to the season, Hextall elected to move forward with two rookie defensemen who would mix into the team’s core of blueliners. What came unexpectedly was the rash of problems to the veteran defensemen — Andrew MacDonald, who missed five weeks of action (lower-body injury), and Radko Gudas, who’s serving a 10-game suspension (slashing penalty).

“When I looked the other night, we had a 20, a 21, two 22 and 24-year-old defensemen. That’s five of our six,” Hextall said. “That might be the youngest defense I’ve ever seen, and to say right now that we need to get younger on defense, I’m not sure that’s the solution. We’ve missed A-Mac. He’s a veteran guy. He’s a glue guy. He’s a guy that makes the younger guys feel better.

“The veteran presence is something I can’t explain to you guys, but it makes a huge difference. Just to patch six kids together and say, ‘Go get ‘em guys.’ You’re looking for disaster. You’re not helping those kids.” 

Hextall reiterated that this year’s team he’s assembled is a playoff team, just like he said last season. And at some point the results have to outweigh the process itself, and under Hakstol, the Flyers have just 28 victories over their last 74 games dating back to last season.

“The point is we have to find ways to win,” Hextall said. “Nobody is looking for excuses around here. We are going to battle through this. We are going to get through it.” 

Hextall may believe that. The bigger sell job is convincing a very impatient fanbase.

Travis Konecny answering Flyers' call of duty

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Travis Konecny answering Flyers' call of duty

Travis Konecny is one of a handful of young Flyers who thrives on confrontation, lining up an opponent in his crosshairs and going for the kill.

And that’s just his profile in Call of Duty — the popular war-based video game he plays occasionally with teammates.

And while Konecny didn't show up on the scoresheet Sunday evening, he still answered his call of duty, leading the charge in a variety of ways in the Flyers' 6-3 win over the Washington Capitals that inched the Flyers within four points of the division-leading Caps and two points of Pittsburgh for second place. All three teams return to action Tuesday with the Flyers in Detroit.

Battered, bloodied and perhaps a little beaten, Konecny was determined that the Capitals weren’t going to get the best of him.

“I just think I’ve learned in the two years I’ve been here it doesn’t matter what your role is on the team,” Konecny said after the game. “Everybody buys in, everybody blocks shots, everyone goes to the net, everyone backchecks. I think it’s a part of me that’s learned to become a Philadelphia Flyer.”

The orange and black uniform was only a cover for the black and blue bruises Konecny’s body endured. In the third period, he stood directly in the line of fire of Christian Djoos’s shot and then limped back to the locker room. On his next shift, Konecny blocked another shot from Dmitri Orlov.

Even after giving all the postgame interviews, Konecny was still limping. The playing surface at the Wells Fargo Center may not have had enough ice for all of his sore spots.

“He’s got the heart of a lion and I think you’ve seen that all year long,” said Wayne Simmonds, who tallied twice in the win. “I kept telling him that’s what winners are made of. It’s the type of effort we’re going to need from every single guy in this dressing room. He blocks one shot, he gets up slowly, gets back on the ice, blocks another.”

The clean-cut and rather reserved Konecny that came to the Flyers as a 19-year-old rookie last season has now been replaced with a more brash, tattoo-sporting, always-chirping Konecny with a longer hair style and the appearance of facial hair.

The only missing element to complete the look is a leather biker’s jacket.  

That rugged toughness was on display again when he dropped the gloves with Washington winger T.J. Oshie and bloodied his knuckles 7:41 into the third period.

“I just got high-sticked right before,” Konecny said. “I got frustrated and I finished my hit on him. Not a bad guy to take off the ice when they’re trying to score."

“It was awesome. It was great to see,” said Simmonds. “You see him get high-sticked there. He didn’t quit on the play and kept going. He battles with a guy who’s probably 20 pounds bigger, maybe more than that. It was a great emotional leap for the team in the third period there. Unbelievable job and kudos to him.”

Konecny, who has 19 goals and 22 asissts on the season and has earned Dave Hakstol's trust with a bump up to the first line alongside Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, has quickly rounded into a five-tool player this season with speed, playmaking, a scoring touch with a hard-nosed edge. Much like Brad Marchand with the Bruins, that type of player becomes vital once the postseason rolls around.

“It gives the bench a good injection of life,” said Hakstol. “They love it and guys love to see that on the bench. I think that’s what our guys expect, but it’s always great when you see one guy doing it.”  

Which is probably why Konecny enjoys that other Call of Duty. Another game with a similar approach, except a lot less painful.

Raffl out
General manager Ron Hextall announced Monday morning that forward Michael Raffl will miss two weeks with an upper-body injury suffered in the second period against the Capitals Sunday. Raffl, who has 11 goals and eight assists this year, had been seeing some time on the top line with Giroux and Couturier recently.

Future Flyers Report — Anthony Stolarz's long road back to playing

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Future Flyers Report — Anthony Stolarz's long road back to playing

Before this week begins, it’s time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects.

Anthony Stolarz, G, 24, 6-6/232, Reading (ECHL)
It was a long road back but Stolarz found his way back on the ice last week.

Stolarz began his rehab stint with the Royals and it doesn’t appear to be a long one. Per Jason Guarente, Stolarz packed up his gear Saturday and appears headed back to Lehigh Valley.

With Reading, Stolarz allowed six goals on 61 shots. As of this post, he has yet to be recalled.

The 24-year-old had been out since last April and underwent left knee surgery in September. Now that he’s back on the ice, expect Stolarz to see some AHL action. He’s on a one-year deal.

Carter Hart, G, 19, 6-1/177, Everett (WHL)
Well, some disappointing news first. He failed to break the WHL shutout record, allowing one goal in Everett’s final regular-season game. He finishes his junior career with 26 shutouts.

Hart enjoyed one of the best junior seasons ever from a goalie and dominated the WHL. He led the league in goals-against average (1.60), save percentage (.947) and shutouts (7). The disparity between Hart and the No. 2 goalie, Cole Kehler, in GAA is remarkable. Hart finished with more than a goal better average than Kehler’s 2.77. Griffin Outhouse was second in save percentage, with .914. Hart was head and shoulders above his peers in the WHL.

Up next, the WHL playoffs. Then next season, the AHL. Hart watch is ramping up.

Morgan Frost, C, 18, 5-11/172, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Frost’s quest to lead the OHL in points came up short but the Flyers' “other” 2017 first-round pick finished his draft-plus-1 season as a 1.67 point-per-game player.

The 18-year-old’s regular season ended Sunday with a goal and an assist. He finished the season with 42 goals, 70 assists and 112 points and led the OHL as a plus-70 player. Next up is the OHL playoffs.

Let’s cool the jets on the Frost on the Flyers talk next season. There is a chance he outshines the competition in training camp but he still needs to bulk up a considerable amount.

March Madness
The NCAA Tournament begins Friday. It’ll feature four Flyers prospects, Michigan’s Cooper Marody and Brendan Warren, Ohio State’s Tanner Laczynski and Clarkson’s Terrance Amorosa.

Quick Hits
• Phantoms center Mikhail Vorobyev remained hot last week with two assists in three weekend games. He has eight points in his last nine games.

• Pascal Laberge’s point streak reached nine games before ending Friday. He finished the regular season with 47 points in 64 games between Quebec and Victoriaville.

• Matthew Strome, who signed his entry-level contract last week, finished the regular season with Hamilton with 37 goals and 68 points.

Isaac Ratcliffe’s season wrapped up on a four-game point streak and three-game goal streak. Ratcliffe led Guelph with 41 goals and 68 points.

• The Flyers signed Maksim Sushko to his entry-level contract. Sushko finished with 31 goals and 60 points. Five of the Flyers’ seven 2017 draft picks have signed.