Flyers

End to End: Impressions on the Flyers' hiring of Kris Knoblauch

End to End: Impressions on the Flyers' hiring of Kris Knoblauch

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 and Jordan Hall.

The topic: Thoughts on the Flyers hiring Kris Knoblauch to run the power play.

Dougherty
There doesn't appear to be much to dislike about the Knoblauch hire. If we're nitpicking, it would be he has no professional coaching experience, but that's the smallest of nitpicks. Especially when the Flyers' head coach, Dave Hakstol, came directly from the University of North Dakota to the pros without any prior experience. I don't think that's a concern at all.

Knoblauch was considered a high riser in the junior coaching ranks, and we know he was itching to make it to the professional ranks. We just didn't know it would come this quick. In late May, he told the Edmonton Journal that he's "ready to make the step [to pro]." One week after Erie lost to Windsor in the Memorial Cup, Knoblauch has made that leap.

I'm intrigued by the hire for a few reasons. Erie's power play under Knoblauch has been a top-two unit in the OHL for the past four seasons, so he comes with a pedigree. Some may look at the talent he's had to work with — Connor McDavid (2012-15), Andre Burakovsky (2013-14), Dylan Strome (2013-17), Alex DeBrincat (2014-17) — and say it would be hard not to boast a potent power play. But I don't believe it's fair to discount Erie's style of play here.

As eloquently broken down by The First Pass' Rachel Doerrie (h/t Broad Street Hockey), the Otters under Knoblauch played a puck-possession heavy speed game, similar to the Russian brand. "From your icing line to the offensive blue line, the puck goes North/South," Doerrie writes. "From the offensive blue line, move the puck East/West." It'll be interesting to see what changes Knoblauch brings to the Flyers' PP.

But I'm also curious to see if he'll work with Hakstol to implement some of this into the Flyers' play at 5-on-5. I don't see this necessarily as a sign Hakstol is on the hot seat as he enters Year 3 as the Flyers' coach. I do see it, however, as GM Ron Hextall jumping on a hot commodity who he believes can help the Flyers' man advantage and also help develop kids.

Another interesting note: It's Hextall's second coaching hire and both have come outside the organization. That's a welcomed change of pace.

Hall
Most importantly, I think the Flyers needed a fresh face.

Albeit not easy, change is oftentimes necessary. As difficult as it was to part ways with longtime assistant Joey Mullen, Hextall knew it was needed for the Flyers, which is a positive of the GM.

Here's what Hextall said on April 13 when he announced the firing of Mullen:

"It's just one of those things where I feel like we needed a change. He's one of the nicest human beings. Monday was one of the worst days of my life because of it. That was a hard thing to do. Mully's a great guy. I have an awful lot of respect for him. Please do not think that in any way I'm laying anything on him.

"He's a terrific human being, one of my favorite guys in the whole world, but my gut feeling was to make a change there."

From Jan. 15 to the end of the season, the Flyers' power play ranked 28th in the NHL with a 14.6 percentage. And after finishing with the league's third-most successful man advantage in 2014-15, the Flyers slipped to 11th in 2015-16 and 14th in 2016-17. The power play limped to the finish line this season, often looking stale and overly reliant on perimeter passing and shooting.

As Hextall pointed out, this was not all on Mullen. But new personnel and adjusted strategy should be welcomed.

With Knoblauch, the Flyers get a young (38 years old), up-and-coming coach who has been extolled for his ability to strategize, communicate and adapt.

"Connor McDavid was going to go play in the NHL no matter if Kris coached him or not, but he made Connor a better player," hockey agent Jeff Jackson said to The Associated Press. "He teaches a culture of winning and speed and puck movement, but he empowers all the kids."

This was a telling hire by Hextall and it's hard to dislike right now. 

But this is the honeymoon stage of hiring a new coach. Positives are typically flowing the moment the name surfaces, but we'll have to wait and see for the actual results.

Flyers' Muhammad Ali-type mentality behind season-high winning streak

Flyers' Muhammad Ali-type mentality behind season-high winning streak

BOX SCORE

The Flyers developed a Muhammad Ali-type mentality Saturday night.

It was hockey’s version of the rope-a-dope, where the Flyers took the Dallas Stars' best punches early on before going the distance, eventually wearing down an opponent that was playing their third game in four nights.

The end result was a 2-1 Flyers victory, extending their season-high winning streak to six games (see observations).

In fact, the Stars attempted to set the tone on the opening shift when Stars captain Jamie Benn tried to rattle the cage of Claude Giroux. They tangled on their way back to the bench with Benn extending his glove underneath Giroux’s chin.

“We knew they were going to have a good push at the start of the game,” Brian Elliott, who has started all six games of the winning streak, said. "We knew they wouldn't be able to keep it up playing a back-to-back. I thought our guys did a really good job of sticking to that game plan and staying patiently persistent."

The Flyers also knew the Stars would come out of the gates flying after a disappointing 5-2 loss at New Jersey the night before.

“We’ve been on the other side of it,” Giroux said. “Playing a back-to-back, it’s not easy, especially when you’re traveling and we really wanted to take advantage of that. Other teams took advantage of us before.”

The Flyers started to turn up the heat in the opening minutes of the second period when they controlled play with extended shifts in the Stars' end of the ice, coupled with a pair of breakaway opportunities from Travis Konecny and Jakub Voracek.

“That (second) period was the one for me where we pushed the game in our direction,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “It was during the second period we were able to use everybody. Everybody was going and that allowed us to raise the pace of play a little bit.”

The Flyers were also propelled by their power play that finished the game 2 for 6 and a whopping 12 shots on net. After scoring on a rebound that deflected off the backboards, Shayne Gostisbehere landed the knockout blow with 1:10 remaining in overtime when "Ghost" blasted an overtime slapper during the 4-on-3 man advantage.

“A lot of that power play was going rover," Gostisbehere, who scored his fifth career overtime winner, said, "but you could tell we were feeding off each other, finding lanes and we were just relentless and a goal at the end just showed we weren't giving up there."

Stars coach and former Flyers bench boss Ken Hitchcock was attempting, for the second time, to become the third coach in NHL history to win 800 career games. Much of the reason he didn’t achieve the milestone was the careless penalties of forward Alexander Radulov, which led to both of the Flyers' power-play goals.

“It’s not team discipline, it’s individual,” Hitchcock said. “It’s disappointing to fight like we fought and battle. Come off, playing hard like this off a back-to-back, it’s really disappointing to take those two penalties at the end of the game.”

The Flyers also snapped a seven-game losing streak in contests that extended after regulation. The Flyers had dropped five of those in overtime and another two in the shootout.

“I thought we had a really positive attitude,” Elliott said. “I think everyone thought we would go out there for overtime and win. I didn’t think anybody had any doubts or anything. That’s all you can ask for going into those situations.” 

“I liked the way we approached overtime,” Hakstol said. “I didn’t think we pressed or pushed anything. We weren’t taking any long shifts, no high risk plays. I thought guys just went out and did their job and did it the right way.”

Right now, it’s a Flyers team that may not be floating like a butterfly, but they can certainly sting like a bee.

Craig Anderson leads Senators to 4th-ever outdoor shutout

usa-ottawa-montreal.jpg
USA Today Images

Craig Anderson leads Senators to 4th-ever outdoor shutout

OTTAWA, Ontario — Craig Anderson stopped 28 shots for his 40th career shutout, leading the Ottawa Senators to a 3-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night in the NHL 100 Classic outdoor game.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Bobby Ryan and Nate Thompson scored for the Senators, who have consecutive wins for the first time in more than a month.

Carey Price was kept busy as he stopped 35 shots for the Canadiens, but didn't get any offensive support.

The temperature at puck drop was about 12 degrees. Despite the frigid temperatures 33,959 fans filled the stands at TD Place for the first outdoor game for the current Ottawa franchise. The game was part of the NHL's 100th anniversary celebration (see full recap).

Hutton saves 48 shots, outduels Mason in battle of former Flyers 
ST. LOUIS — Carter Hutton made a career-high 48 saves to earn his ninth career shutout as the St. Louis Blues beat the Winnipeg Jets 2-0 Saturday night.

Vladimir Tarasenko and Vince Dunn scored for St. Louis, which snapped a two-game skid.

Hutton improved to 5-2-0 a day after being activated from injured reserve after sustaining a lower body injury. He was tested early and often as Winnipeg peppered him with 15 shots in the first period and 21 more in the second.

Steve Mason, making his first appearance since Nov. 25, stopped 28 shots as Winnipeg lost for the fifth time in six games.

Tarasenko opened the scoring on a power play 9:16 into the first period when he buried a pass from Alexander Steen. That goal was Tarasenko's 15th of the season and third in his last 12 games. It snapped a streak of four games for St. Louis without a power-play goal (see full recap).

Ovechkin's goal gives Capitals OT win over Ducks
WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin scored on a slap shot at 1:58 of overtime, and the Washington Capitals rallied from a two-goal deficit to beat the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 Saturday night for their sixth straight win at home.

Ovechkin's 23rd goal of the season came on a blast from the top of the right circle that beat Anaheim's John Gibson.

Washington took only 15 shots over the first 40 minutes and trailed 2-0 before Nicklas Backstrom knocked in the rebound of a shot by Ovechkin at 3:05 of the third period.

Evgeny Kuznetsov tied it just over four minutes later, beating Gibson on the stick side with a shot from the left circle.

Braden Holtby had 28 saves for the Capitals, who have won in a row and 10 of 12 (see full recap).

​Eberle's OT goal lifts Islanders past Kings
NEW YORK — Jordan Eberle scored 1:54 into overtime to lift the New York Islanders to a 4-3 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night.

John Tavares, Josh Bailey and Anders Lee also scored to give the Islanders the lead after they trailed 2-0. Thomas Greiss stopped 26 shots to help New York win for just the second time in seven games (2-4-1) and improve to 10-2-2 at home.

Oscar Fantenberg, Tyler Toffoli and Anze Kopitar scored for the Kings, who have lost three straight after an eight-game winning streak. Darcy Kuemper finished with 29 saves.

Kopitar tied the score 3-3 with 13 seconds remaining in regulation when he knocked the puck past Greiss after a scramble in the crease. Kopitar's team-leading 17th goal came after Lee had given New York a 3-2 lead with 3:16 left (see full recap).