Flyers

End to End: Evaluating Dave Hakstol's 2nd season as Flyers' head coach

End to End: Evaluating Dave Hakstol's 2nd season as Flyers' head coach

Throughout the offseason, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

The topic: Evaluating Dave Hakstol's second season as the Flyers' head coach.

Dougherty
I wrote in this space before last season began that Hakstol proved he was the right pick as the Flyers' coach after his first campaign behind the bench … and I still believe that. But the leash is shorter than I expected it to be. I don't believe it's fair to cast judgments on Hakstol based strictly on the Flyers' performance in 2016-17. That would be a rash decision that is uncharacteristic of general manager Ron Hextall's managing style.

With that said, the Flyers did take a step back in 2016-17. It would be naive of anyone not to admit that. It is fair to factor Hakstol's second season as coach and look at it from a broader view, however. In Year 1, there were a lot of positive signs. He guided a team lacking playoff talent to a postseason appearance by implementing a system that largely is effective at the NHL level.

In Year 2, however, there were several decisions that should signal alarm. I did not like the way Hakstol handled the goaltenders, and I believe that had he realized Steve Mason was the No. 1 earlier than he did, the Flyers would have made the playoffs. After his exit interview, Mason said Hakstol agreed with the goalie that once he figured out who the clear-cut No. 1 was, things started going better for the Flyers. Mason was right.

Then there were the bewildering lineup decisions. I don't have as much of an issue with the benchings of Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Konecny. I thought some of those were warranted, and both players appeared to learn from them. I think that is more of a testament to Gostisbehere and Konecny than anything else.

What bothered me about Hakstol's lineup decisions was his unwillingness to scratch Chris VandeVelde, the misuse of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and not dressing the best group of players on a nightly basis. Hakstol refused to sit VandeVelde. He played 81 games and was scratched only in the final game to give Mike Vecchione another game. The good news is VandeVelde is an unrestricted free agent, and there is little reason to believe Hextall will re-sign him this summer.

VandeVelde is a fringe NHL player. He doesn't score. He spends most of his ice time in his own end — and not because he's an excellent defensive forward. VandeVelde and Bellemare had the worst Corsi numbers on the team out of players who were here all season — 46.6 percent for Bellemare and 46.3 for VandeVelde. I doubt VandeVelde would crack a lineup on any other team. The decision to dress him on a nightly basis raises some concern about Hakstol. Because of Hakstol's unwillingness to sit VandeVelde — and Bellemare, too, though I do believe he brings more to the table than VandeVelde — the Flyers often didn't dress their best possible lineup on a nightly basis. Nick Cousins and Dale Weise were healthy scratches throughout the campaign. Both bring more to the table than VandeVelde and Bellemare.

Looking at Hakstol from a broader view, however, I think he deserves another season as the Flyers' coach — and he will get it. (He's not going anywhere anytime soon.) I think next season, when more young blood and talent are injected into the roster, is the one we can truly look at and say whether he's the right choice for the job. I think there was enough good in Year 1 to buy him a Year 3.

Hall
Hakstol's second NHL season was certainly no cakewalk.

As the Flyers took a step back and missed the playoffs, he faced the pressure and skepticism — and the coach typically does in the NHL.

Some questioned his system, whether it restricted creativity as the Flyers turned defensive.

Some questioned his lineup decisions as he benched a handful of players, most notably Gostisbehere and Konecny for multiple games.

Some questioned why he didn't sit others.

And some questioned his handling of the goalies — Mason being one of them at his end-of-the-season press conference.

The questions were valid, too.

But inevitably, Hakstol was going to face some growing pains. The transition from college to the NHL wasn't going to be all smooth sailing. Just like young players, Hakstol is still growing himself.

But can he better communicate and explain decisions?

Can he be more transparent with his players?

Should he put greater focus on accentuating their strengths?

I think Hakstol — who really knows the game — needs to improve in those areas.

Either way, Year 3 should be a telling season. With that said, this is Hextall's guy and the GM will be patient with him no matter how impatient outsiders become.

Paone
Much like his team did, Hakstol had his ups and downs during his second season as the Flyers' head coach.

Much like he did at the end of 2015-16, he pushed almost all the right buttons for the Flyers, especially during the 10-game win streak. But as teams started to adjust to the Flyers, the Flyers had issues adjusting themselves. And that goes back to Hakstol and his staff.

Let's take the power play, for example. The Flyers' power play was downright lethal at the start of the year, consistently at or near the top of the rankings. But teams adjusted to it, and the Flyers did not as they kept Claude Giroux along the half-wall and Gostisbehere at the point (when he was in the lineup) and let it run through them. Teams began to key in on it, things got stale and the power play plummeted. Likely hence the reason for Joey Mullen's dismissal at the end of the year. While Mullen ran the power play, it's still up to Hakstol to call for changes. The adjustments weren't made.

And there's where the main criticism of Hakstol lies — adjustments, or maybe calling for the wrong ones. Yes, I'm talking about pulling Gostisbehere and Konecny out of the lineup for prolonged periods of time.

Konecny, a 19-year-old rookie when the season began last year, is obviously young. But remember, despite all the accolades Gostisbehere rightfully earned as a rookie, he was still just 23 last season. And was recovering from offseason hip surgery. And was now a main target for opposing teams.

When the Flyers went downhill, Hakstol wanted both to be more responsible defensively. And I get that. It's obviously a huge part of the game.

But when you have such dynamic offensive talents the likes of Gostisbehere and Konecny, you have to let them play the way that lets them be at their best. If that means some risky freewheeling, then so be it. You've got to take the good with the bad, especially with the goal-scoring struggles the Flyers endured last season. When you have these kinds of guys, especially Gostisbehere on the blue line who can be a firecracker, you've got to let them play the way that lets them fully use their talents (see: Karlsson, Erik — I know that's a lofty comparison, but he didn't get to be a two-time Norris Trophy winner and one of the best players in the world by having his coaches try to mold him into a stay-at-home defender during his early years in the NHL).

Plus, with young players, you have to know there are going to be mistakes. Especially in Konecny's case. I'm a big believer that a young player needs to learn from his mistakes right back out on the ice, and not up in the press box consistently. A game here and there is fine to set a guy's head straight, but not for prolonged periods of time.

So what would I like to see more of in Year 3 from Hakstol? More awareness for adjustments, both with players individually and as a team. It's obviously much easier said than done.

Best of NHL: Red-hot Devils storm back to beat Senators in overtime

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Best of NHL: Red-hot Devils storm back to beat Senators in overtime

OTTAWA, Ontario -- John Moore scored 1:20 into overtime and the New Jersey Devils used three unanswered goals to beat the Ottawa Senators 5-4 in overtime Thursday night.

This year's No. 1 draft pick Nico Hischier scored twice for New Jersey. The Swiss center's opening goal was the first of his NHL career.

Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson also scored for the Devils, who improved to 4-0-0 on the road and 6-1-0 overall. Cory Schneider allowed four goals on 24 shots before leaving with a lower-body injury. Keith Kinkaid started the third period and stopped nine shots. Taylor Hall chipped in with four assists.

Kyle Turris, Derick Brassard, Alex Burrows and Tom Pyatt scored for the Senators, and Craig Anderson made 41 saves (see full recap).

Bergeron sparks Bruins’ win over Canucks
BOSTON -- Patrice Bergeron had a goal and three assists in his season debut, moving up to seventh on Boston's career scoring list as the Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks 6-3 on Thursday night.

Anders Bjork scored twice for Boston, Brad Marchand had a goal and two assists and David Pastrnak added a goal and an assist for the Bruins, who scored five straight goals after falling behind 1-0 early in the first period.

Anton Khudobin made 26 saves for Boston while starting in place of Tuukka Rask, who is out indefinitely with a concussion he suffered in practice Wednesday.

Derek Dorsett, Bo Horvat and Thomas Vanek scored for the Canucks, and Michael Del Zotto had two assists (see full recap).

Sergachev, Vasilevskiy help Lightning blank Blue Jackets
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Mikhail Sergachev scored his first two NHL goals and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 43 saves for his fifth career shutout in the Tampa Bay Lightning's 2-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night.

Nikita Kucherov assisted on both goals to push his NHL-leading points total to 14. His goals streak was stopped at seven games.

The Lightning took advantage of the few openings offered by Sergei Bobrovsky, who stopped 19 shots for the Blue Jackets and lost for the first time this season. Columbus had won four straight.

The Lightning, coming off an overtime loss to New Jersey on Tuesday night, improved to 6-1-1 for their best start opening 7-0-1 in their Stanley Cup-winning 2003-04 season.

Columbus dropped to 5-2-0, hurt by uncharacteristic sloppy passing and continued power-play problems in its first shutout loss of the season (see full recap).

Flyers fail to get revenge as offense quiet in loss to Predators

Flyers fail to get revenge as offense quiet in loss to Predators

BOX SCORE

No questionable penalty calls. No need to use a challenge. No last-minute heartbreak this time.

A furious nature was replaced with frustration after the Predators scored the lone goal at the Wells Fargo Center to beat the Flyers, 1-0, Thursday night (see observations).

Predators third-line center Colton Sissons, who missed the first meeting between the two teams nine days ago, connected on the only goal of the game 3:49 into the third period as he blasted a shot that beat Michal Neuvirth to the far post (see highlights).

“I’ve got to watch the replay to see if I was on the right angle, but it’s a tough play 2-on-1,” Neuvirth said. “Usually when it’s a tight game like that, it’s about one mistake and you've got to move on.”

The Flyers appeared to have the play covered. However, when Kevin Fiala took control of the loose puck, Wayne Simmonds reached for it and that kick-started the Predators’ rush for what ultimately proved to be the game-winning goal.

“It’s a tough play,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “You see the puck and you want to go get that loose puck. It’s a 0-0 game. It was a real good play on the cycle, and there’s scrum on the hash marks there. It’s a tough play and, unfortunately, the puck got past Simmer and now it’s a race back up ice and they got a pretty good quality shot away.”

For a high-octane offensive team ranked second in goals scored, the Flyers are still looking to prove they can win the tight-checking, low-scoring games.

Overall, it was also a tough night for the Flyers' leading scorer Simmonds. He was dealing with a lower-body injury, and at times, appeared to be laboring on the ice. Simmonds also took a stick to his lip that required stitches, which essentially excused him from making any postgame comments.

The 1-0 loss marked the second time in the first seven games the Flyers have been shut out this season, and on both occasions Neuvirth has been the victim of the lack of offense.

“It’s tough to say,” Neuvirth said. “We had really good chances, but we couldn’t get one behind him. It was frustrating to see that, but we've got to move on and we've got another big game on Saturday.”

Once again, the Flyers could have been bailed out by their power play. However, the two units collectively finished 0 for 5 for the third time this season. That’s because 6-foot-5 Pekka Rinne, who’s mobile for his size with one of the best glove hands in the league, stopped all 28 shots.

“That was a lot of battle,” Rinne said. “I was able to see the puck for the most part and make the first save always and a lot of times guys were bailing me out, too.”

Outside the Wells Fargo Center earlier on Thursday, the Flyers organization unveiled a nine-foot statue of founder and chairman Ed Snider prior to faceoff with almost every member of the team’s Hall of Fame in attendance (see story).

Unfortunately for the club, it was the only moment worth celebrating.

Notes, quotes and tidbits
• Filling in for the injured Jordan Weal (upper body), forward Jori Lehtera saw his first action of the season. He played on a line with Valtteri Filppula and Simmonds. Lehtera played 12:06 and finished the game without a shot on net. If Weal is unable to go Saturday afternoon, it will be interesting to see if Hakstol goes back to Lehtera or gives the quicker Matt Read a shot against a speedy Oilers team.

“Lehts did a good job,” Hakstol said. “To step in in game No. 7, not having played, I thought Lehts went out and played a real rock solid game. Lehts has been here. Lehts has done the work. You guys don’t see behind the scenes the kind of effort and what that takes as a teammate every day to stay ready.”

• The 1-0 loss comes exactly 50 years to the day the Flyers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 1-0, in their first-ever home game at The Spectrum. The last time the Flyers were shut out 1-0 on home ice was March 31, 2011, by the Atlanta Thrashers.

• Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere played a career-high 25:23. Not only has he regained his offensive form from his rookie season, but he’s also refined his defensive game by using more body and less stick to gain position on his man.