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.

Flyers-Maple Leafs observations: The win streak travels

Flyers-Maple Leafs observations: The win streak travels

BOX SCORE

The Flyers brought their recent road success back to the Wells Fargo Center, beating the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night, 4-2, for their fourth consecutive victory.

Sean Couturier scored the game-winner with 2:55 remaining in regulation when he beat Frederik Andersen glove side top shelf.

Couturier matched a career high with his 15th goal of the season.

Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny and Scott Laughton also scored for the Flyers, who trailed, 2-1, entering the third period.

After surrendering the first goal of the game, Brian Elliott settled in and stopped 20 of 22 shots for his fourth straight win. Elliott has allowed two or fewer goals in each of those four starts.

The Maple Leafs were forced to play without superstar Auston Matthews, who was out with an upper-body injury. Prior to Tuesday night, the Leafs were a perfect 5-0 in games Matthews had missed. 

• In the opening minutes of the first period, Leo Komarov got behind Radko Gudas. William Nylander’s pass was a little too far in front of Komarov, who would have had wide—open look at Elliott. 

Gudas, who returned to the lineup after a 10-game suspension, had some early mixups with defensive partner Travis Sanheim. That is to be expected after a long layoff.

“It’s unbelievable, it feels great,” Gudas said at the first intermission. “I’ve had this date circled on the calendar. I’m looking forward to getting the two points and doing everything I can to help the boys out.”

• The Leafs had another excellent scoring chance after Nolan Patrick won a defensive faceoff. The Flyers got caught up along the boards when the Leafs gained control of the puck and James van Riemsdyk was able to maneuver in front of Patrick for a dangerous chance that went just wide of the net. If Patrick isn’t contributing offensively, he can still be responsible and protect the ice in his own end.

• Jordan Weal’s been playing better than Travis Konecny lately and has been bumped up to the third line with Patrick and Dale Weise. Early on, Weal had a nice move but couldn’t extend his backhand shot around Andersen for the goal. Weal had an early burst in the first period.

• The Flyers ran a set play off the face-ff as Couturier backhanded the puck to the top of the circle and Giroux one-timed for a shot. It looked like Andersen wasn’t anticipating it and was slow to react. The goal was Giroux’s 13th of the season and he is now one shy of his 2016-17 total.

• Just 27 seconds later, the Leafs score in transition when Patrick Marleau came down the left wing and snapped a shot past Elliott. The puck seemed to catch Elliott under his right arm. Elliott was square to the shot but it somehow trickled underneath his blocker for a goal he would certainly like to have back. 

• The Maple Leafs got away with a clear tripping as Komarov got his stick in the skates of Shayne Gostisbehere, who stumbled and then fell to the ice. Not sure what the referee was looking at, but if called the Flyers would have had a 5-on-3 power play for about 1:25. It was Komarov with a wicked boarding play on “Ghost” the last time these two teams faced each other on Oct. 28.    

• It’s always interesting to see the different methods that Ivan Provorov utilizes to play defense in his zone.  Late in the opening period, Provorov dug his left shoulder into rib cage of high-flying Mitch Marner in an effort to slow him down and separate him from the puck. 

• The Flyers opened up the second period with a sustained shift of around a minute with the line of Michael Raffl, Valtteri Filppula and Jakub Voracek doing the dirty work down low. The Flyers were able to generate four shots on Andersen. In fact, the Flyers outshot the Leafs 7-0 in just the first three minutes of the second period.

• Elliott flashed some quick reflexes off a double deflection after Dominic Moore got a stick on the slap shot that went off Provorov. Elliott was quick to snag it with his glove. Minutes earlier, Nazem Kadri’s snap shot deflected off the left post.

• Gudas made a poor pass to Couturier, which led to a turnover. As the Leafs regrouped, Josh Leivo got behind Gudas on a clear breakaway when Elliott made his best save of the night to get enough of the glove on the puck and keep the game tied at 1-1. Gudas struggled in his first game back.

• Following a Voracek tripping penalty, the Leafs capitalized on their first power play of the game. Defenseman Morgan Reilly wristed a shot that JVR was able to deflect up and over Elliott. That’s the first power-play goal allowed in five games after the Flyers’ PK was a perfect 6 for 6 on the recent three-game road trip.

• In the opening minute of the third period, Giroux had a grade-A opportunity. Couturier took a shot low that Andersen extended his pad on to create a perfect rebound opportunity for Giroux, who cut across the crease. Andersen was able to turn aside Giroux’s chance as well.

• After outshooting the Leafs by a wide margin, the Flyers finally tied the game up at 2-2 on a sequence that all started when Andersen hesitated on what he wanted to do with the puck from his net. As he tried to pass it out, the puck hit off Konecny and stayed in the offensive zone. Eventually, Konecny launched a shot that went off two Leafs players and past Andersen. For Konecny, he’ll take any goal he can get with just one over his last 19 games.

• After giving up that first goal, Elliott was locked in. The Leafs had a centering pass from behind the goal line right to Connor Brown, who got off a point-blank shot. Elliott seemed to read it perfectly and made a dangerous play look rather easy.

Lineups, pairings and scratches

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Valtteri Filppula-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Dale Weise
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Travis Konecny

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Robert Hagg-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Alex Lyon

Scratches: Forward Jori Lehtera (healthy) and defenseman Mark Alt (healthy).

Best of NHL: Islanders shut down Capitals to snap 5-game skid

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Best of NHL: Islanders shut down Capitals to snap 5-game skid

NEW YORK -- Jaroslav Halak made 31 saves after getting a vote of confidence from his coach, and the New York Islanders beat the Washington Capitals 3-1 on Monday night to snap a five-game winless streak.

Brock Nelson, Andrew Ladd and John Tavares scored goals for the Islanders, who built a 3-0 lead early in the second period and ended Washington's four-game winning streak.

It was the second time this season that Halak held an opponent to a single goal and the third time New York has allowed one goal as a team. Halak's strong performance came after coach Doug Weight sternly defended his goaltenders following the team's skate Monday morning. New York was 0-3-2 over its last five games.

Braden Holtby made nine saves for the Capitals before being pulled after the Islanders scored their third goal 1:34 into the second period. Philipp Grubauer made 17 saves in relief, and Dmitry Orlov scored Washington's only goal (see full recap).

Bernier makes 39 saves as Avalanche top Penguins
PITTSBURGH -- Jonathan Bernier stopped 39 shots and Mark Barberio scored in the third period, helping the Colorado Avalanche top the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 on Monday night.

Blake Comeau added an empty netter against his former team as Colorado won its second straight after a string of six losses in seven games. It was Comeau's seventh of the season.

Barberio put the Avalanche ahead to stay 6:17 into the third. His slap shot off the rush hit Pittsburgh forward Riley Sheahan in front and got past goaltender Tristan Jarry.

Bernier was on track for his second shutout of the season before Phil Kessel scored his 15th goal for Pittsburgh at 19:48. Bernier beat the Penguins for just the second time in 10 career games (see full recap).

Perreault, Jets beat Canucks to snap skid
WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Mathieu Perreault scored two goals and added an assist to help the Winnipeg Jets halt a three-game losing streak with a 5-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night.

The win was the Jets' seventh straight victory at home and they have points in their last 11 games (10-0-1) at Bell MTS Place.

The Canucks have lost three straight in regulation for the first time this season.

Dmitry Kulikov, Josh Morrissey and Nikolaj Ehlers also scored for Winnipeg (18-8-5). Ehlers' 14th of the season was on the power play and gave him goals in three straight games.

Brock Boeser scored his team-leading 16th goal for the Canucks. He also extended his goal-scoring streak to three games.

Connor Hellebuyck made 25 saves for Winnipeg (see full recap).