Flyers

'Forward thinker' Kris Knoblauch great fit for Dave Hakstol, Flyers, Erie GM says

'Forward thinker' Kris Knoblauch great fit for Dave Hakstol, Flyers, Erie GM says

When Kris Knoblauch informed Erie Otters' general manager Dave Brown this week he was taking a job with the Flyers, Brown started laughing.

"What's so funny?" Knoblauch asked.  
 
"You just want to go to a team where you look like the head coach," Brown recalled Thursday to CSNPhilly.com.
 
Indeed.

If you place photos of Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol and Knoblauch side-by-side, they could pass as brothers.
 
"They look like twins," Brown said.

The Flyers hired the 38-year-old Knoblauch on Wednesday as Hakstol's assistant coach, replacing Joey Mullen (see story). Knoblauch also met with the Sabres and Kings before accepting his role with the Flyers, according to CSNPhilly.com contributor Dhiren Mahiban.

Knoblauch's focus will be the Flyers' erratic power play, which saw much success during the 10 years Mullen was here but faltered badly in the second half of last season. The Flyers failed to make the playoffs.

Brown has no doubts Knoblauch will fix the Flyers' PP because his unit with the Otters ranked either first or second in the OHL over the last four seasons. Erie became one of the best clubs in junior hockey during this time.

Knoblauch's Otters are the only club in CHL history to have four consecutive 50-win seasons.

"Kris is a forward thinker," Brown said. "He is someone open to a new idea and always looking for new ways to generate offense. He understands his players' wants and needs.
 
"A lot goes into Kris in how he gets them to open up and listen to what he wants them to get done. He talks to them to find out what they think will work … he's not a guy who jams things down your throat. When you make suggestions, he is more likely to listen."
 
Craig Button, a TSN analyst who is familiar with CHL coaches as well as top draft prospects, said Knoblauch represents another move by Flyers general manager Ron Hextall toward progressive thinking.
 
What does Button like best about Knoblauch?

"How about everything," Button said. "Where to start? One, he is smart. He's intuitive. He's a very clear communicator. He understands and knows that things don't always go as planned. He takes responsibility. He doesn't blame.
  
"He's creative and always looking for solutions. He's in control, but collaborative. Knows that others may have a better solution or improvement. He cedes the spotlight. It's never about him.

"He's confident in his abilities and lets actions speak for themselves. He's highly competitive. Don't let his calm demeanor define him. Still, waters run deep."
 
Knoblauch's Western Canada upbringing is in play when dealing with his players.

"He is a teacher by trade and the perfect teacher-turned-coach would be Kris Knoblauch," Brown said. "At first, he comes across pretty quiet.

 "He's that Saskatchewan guy with great core values and always transferring those over to his players to learn, not just what is on the ice but what is off the ice."
 
Knoblauch will be the youngest assistant coach on Hakstol's staff. He's said to have the ability to build strong relationships with young players.

Hextall saw those same attributes in Hakstol when he hired him two years ago.

Yet Hakstol struggled last season in handling some of his younger Flyers. In particular, the multiple benchings of Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Konecny. Even some of the slightly older veterans didn't like some of Hakstol's moves, as well.

Knoblauch's presence — even as an even younger coach than Hakstol, 48 — allows for another younger voice on the staff to handle players during difficult times.
 
"Kris relates to this generation of player," Button said. "He is absolutely loved by his players, but they also know he will hold them accountable."

Brown added Knoblauch had a knack for figuring out how to handle situations that would arise on some of his teams that included star players such as Connor McDavid, now with the Edmonton Oilers.
 
"Kris has no problem diffusing a situation by having a sit-down meeting with guys and saying, this is what I need from you and spelling out expectations," Brown said.

Erie forward Alex DeBrincat, the Blackhawks' 2016 second-round pick, on Thursday told Mahiban that Knoblauch is his "favorite coach" he's ever had. DeBrincat scored 65 goals and 127 points in 63 games this season for the Otters.

"It's cool to see him get that job. He definitely deserves it," DeBrincat told Mahiban. "He talks to his players a lot. He likes to get to know 'em. I think that really helps him out and helps him kind of feel out whether he should yell at this guy or not."

With that said, DeBrincat, who had 332 points in 191 games in three seasons playing for Knoblauch, says the Flyers' new assistant is a calming presence behind the bench and only yells when needed.

"He's a really calm guy and I think that definitely calms down the bench when something's not going right," DeBrincat said. "You look at him, and if he's frustrated, the guys will get frustrated. He's always calm behind there and just a good guy to have on your bench because he's so calm and it goes throughout the bench."

Knoblauch created detailed player profiles to get inside of a player's makeup to figure out how they could maximize their potential without setting unrealistic expectations.
 
"Kris sets very attainable goals," Brown said. "What he was so good at here was setting realistic expectations, which built confidence. That is where he excels."
 
One area in which he will be tested immediately is gaining acceptance by the Flyers' older veterans. As with Hakstol, Knoblauch never played in NHL nor held an NHL job of any kind.
 
"That may be a hurdle at first," Brown said. "Building trust with your players first and foremost is critical and he is very big at doing that. Once that happens, a lot of hurdles he would face will be eliminated for Kris."

Best of NHL: Senators snap 5-game skid in return home

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USA Today Images

Best of NHL: Senators snap 5-game skid in return home

OTTAWA, Ontario -- Craig Anderson made 27 saves to stop his seven-game losing streak and the Ottawa Senators snapped their five-game skid Wednesday night with a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers.

Bobby Ryan, Cody Ceci and Zack Smith scored for the Senators (10-13-7), who returned home from a seven-game road trip and improved to 2-10-2 in their past 14 overall. It was only their second victory in regulation since Nov. 11, which was the last time Anderson had won.

Michael Grabner and Pavel Buchnevich scored for the Rangers (16-12-3), who dropped to 4-7-0 on the road. Henrik Lundqvist had 27 saves, becoming the 15th goalie in NHL history to reach 20,000 for his career.

Ottawa, which eliminated the Rangers in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last season, was coming off a 3-2 loss at last-place Buffalo on Tuesday night (see full recap).

Pitlick, Benn lift Stars over Islanders
NEW YORK -- Tyler Pitlick scored twice and Jamie Benn had a goal and two assists to lead the Dallas Stars to a 5-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Wednesday night.

Alexander Radulov and Remi Elie also scored for the Stars, who won their second straight after a three-game skid. Kari Lehtonen stopped 32 shots for his 300th career victory, and John Klingberg had two assists.

Anders Lee scored twice for the Islanders, who have lost five of seven (2-4-1), and John Tavares and Josh Bailey each had two assists. Jaroslav Halak, starting for the seventh time in nine games, was pulled near the midpoint of the second period after giving up four goals on 20 shots. Thomas Greiss came on and stopped six of the seven shots he faced (see full recap).

Sean Couturier proving he belongs in Selke Trophy conversation

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Sean Couturier proving he belongs in Selke Trophy conversation

VOORHEES, N.J. — By definition, the Frank J. Selke Memorial Trophy is awarded to the NHL forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game.

Since the day Sean Couturier arrived in the league as an 18-year-old rookie straight out of the June draft in 2011, the defensive element has always been part of his game. He was tasked with shutting down one of the league’s premier centers in Evgeni Malkin as a teenager and a fourth-line center. His commitment to defense was the primary reason the Flyers drafted Couturier eighth overall in 2011.

Of all the NHL’s major postseason awards presented in Las Vegas next summer, the Selke may be the one piece of hardware the Flyers have the greatest chance at claiming, as Couturier has refined his all-around game. The paradox of the award is how winners typically need respectable offensive numbers to receive serious consideration for what’s regarded as a defensive accolade.

The last 21 winners have all scored at least 20 goals, while 11 of the last 12 winners have racked up 50 or more points. Couturier has never reached either scoring plateau, which probably explains why he’s never finished higher than eighth in the voting. He’s currently on pace this season for 41 goals and 82 points.

“It would be a nice recognition,” Couturier said Wednesday. “Obviously, just getting your name thrown out there with those guys that are there every year, it’s kind of nice. It gives you that extra boost to kind of push yourself and try to be as good as you can.” 

This season, Couturier has proven he belongs in that elite conversation. Tuesday’s game against the Maple Leafs was a vintage Selke effort: winning faceoffs, including draws that led to goals, staying committed defensively while playing 1:35 of the final 2:12, preserving a one-goal lead.

Over his last 50 games dating back to last season, Couturier also owns an impressive plus-32 rating.

“I know some people don’t like the plus/minus. Five-on-five, if you’re in the plus, it's usually a good thing and you’re helping your team win," Couturier said. "My mentality is still the same: being solid, taking care of details and like I said, if you take care of details defensively, the offense will come and that’s always the thought process I’ve had.”

Another Selke measurable is faceoffs — an area in which Couturier has improved greatly over the past two years from a 48 percent success rate to winning 55 percent from the beginning of last season.

“It’s the one area of his game that he’s taken a lot of pride in,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I think if you look at the numbers in both faceoff dots, he’s done a real good job, as well as the neutral zone."

For an award voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, there’s almost no way to accurately assess the defensive play of 300-plus forwards without extensive video review, as most writers are solely covering the team in their city. So faceoffs, plus/minus, consistency on the penalty kill coupled with shorthanded goals can be areas that separate Selke candidates.

Currently, Boston’s Patrice Bergeron is the Selke gold standard as a four-time winner, and he’s finished first or second in voting in each of the past six seasons. Fair or not, Bergeron’s reputation alone will likely land him in the top three once again barring injury.

“When you look at (Anze) Kopitar, Bergeron and (Jonathan) Toews, I think Coots is up there with those guys,” Jakub Voracek said. “Without a doubt [Couturier is a Selke candidate]. He’s got 15 goals in 30 games. His stick is very good and he’s always one step ahead defensively. He doesn’t over-backcheck. He just knows what kind of responsibility that he has. You can see it on the PK, it’s really hard to get a puck through him. Those kind of players are very hard to find.”

Just ask the Flyers' organization. They haven’t had a Selke winner since Dave Poulin 30 years ago.