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."

Capitals regain top spot in Metro as Ovechkin scores NHL-best 35th goal

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USA Today Images

Capitals regain top spot in Metro as Ovechkin scores NHL-best 35th goal

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Alex Ovechkin can stop fretting about what the Washington Capitals captain described as the worst game of his career.

He and the Capitals were much better in a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday, two days after a 7-1 meltdown at Chicago.

After being held without a shot against Chicago, Ovechkin responded by scoring his NHL-leading 35th goal, and Washington reclaimed the top spot in the Metropolitan Division

"Yeah, I think the last game I didn't play my game. I think it was the worst play of my career by myself. I take the blame on it," Ovechkin said. "I think we understand the game in Chicago was just forget about it, you know. We moved forward. We got two points."

Capitals coach Barry Trotz noticed how much more involved Ovechkin was against Buffalo, particularly after a few early exchanges with Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen (see full recap.)

Marchand's OT goal gives Bruins win over Flames 
CALGARY, Alberta — Brad Marchand scored his 22nd goal 3:36 into overtime to give the Boston Bruins a 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Monday.

After a turnover deep in the Flames end, Riley Nash sprung the Bruins' leading scorer on a breakaway and Marchand made no mistake, slipping the puck through the pads of David Rittich.

David Pastrnak also scored for Boston (36-13-8), which moved within one point of Tampa Bay for first place in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. Boston has two games in hand.

Matthew Tkachuk scored for the Flames (30-21-9), who fell to 1-3-4 in their last eight home games.

With the teams meeting for the second time in six days, Calgary was territorially outplayed by a wide margin in the first period but Rittich kept the Flames in it (see full recap.)

Cullen, Ennis star in Wild win against Islanders 
NEW YORK — Minnesota knows it needs to play better on the road to strengthen its push for a playoff spot. The Wild also want to do a better job of holding third-period leads than they have lately.

They accomplished both Monday against the New York Islanders.

Matt Cullen and Tyler Ennis scored in Minnesota's three-goal second period, and the Wild beat the Islanders 5-3. Jason Zucker added two goals, Joel Eriksson Ek also scored, and Devan Dubnyk stopped 32 shots as Minnesota improved to 4-1-2 in its past seven games.

The Wild just lost three of five on their homestand, including twice when they gave up the tying goal in the third period before falling after regulation.

"Having the lead in the second and keeping it is really good for us," Zucker said (see full recap.)

Arvidsson scores twice in Predators' win vs. Senators 
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Viktor Arvidsson scored twice to reach 20 goals this season, and the Nashville Predators beat the Ottawa Senators 5-2 on Monday night.

Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Craig Smith also scored for Nashville, which ended a two-game skid and tied Winnipeg for first place in the Central Division.

The Predators recorded two power-play goals and scored on the man advantage in their second straight game after going six games without converting on the power play.

Pekka Rinne made 36 saves to earn his 30th win of the season.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Max McCormick scored for the Senators, who played catch-up most of the game. Craig Anderson stopped 36 shots (see full recap.)

Goaltending help is on the way for the Flyers

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AP Images

Goaltending help is on the way for the Flyers

With injuries to Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, the Flyers wasted no time in finding a competent goaltender.

General manager Ron Hextall acquired Petr Mrazek from the Detroit Red Wings late Monday night in exchange for a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018 and a conditional third-round pick in 2019. According to sources, the Flyers were also in discussions with Toronto regarding Calvin Pickard but ultimately settled for Mrazek.

“We’re excited to have obtained Petr Mrazek. Petr is a proven NHL goaltender and given the situation we’re in, we needed a proven goaltender and we got one,” said Hextall. 

Hextall confirmed if the Flyers make the playoffs and Mrazek wins five regular season games, the 2018 fourth-round pick becomes a third rounder. If the Flyers advance to the Eastern Conference Finals and Mrazek wins six playoff games, the third-round pick then becomes a second rounder.

If the Flyers re-sign Mrazek for next season, then the Red Wings would also get the Flyers' third-round selection in 2019.

“Quite frankly when I look at this deal, I think it’s a fair and reasonable deal for both sides,” Hextall said. “If Petr performs, we pay more and Detroit gets more. I like the makeup of this deal. I think it’s a fair deal and I think both teams got what they wanted.”

Hextall had reportedly turned down Mrazek for a third-round pick last week, according to Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press, but that was prior to Neuvirth’s injury Sunday against the Rangers. Hextall also announced that Neuvirth is out “long-term” meaning weeks and not days, and quite possibly the remainder of the regular season.

As a backup to Jimmy Howard, Mrazek has appeared in 18 games this season with an 8-7-3 record, a 2.89 GAA and a .910 save percentage. In January, Mrazek posted back-to-back shutouts against the Blackhawks and the Devils before the Flyers snapped Mrazek’s shutout streak at 145 minutes and five seconds in a 3-2 overtime loss. 

The Red Wings will retain half of Mrazek’s $4 million salary in the deal, leaving the Flyers with a reasonable $2 million cap hit. He’s a restricted free agent at the end of this season.

Since Dec. 4, the Flyers are 21-8-3 and have jettisoned up the Metropolitan Division standings where they’re currently tied with the New Jersey Devils for third place with 70 points.

“This is a sign that our players have done a really good job,” Hextall said. “They’ve worked extremely hard. We’re in a tough situation. You lose your two goalies when you’re fighting for a playoff spot and our players have worked hard for a long time now. I didn’t feel like it was fair to not have a proven NHL goaltender for this team.” 

Mrazek is expected to join the Flyers for Tuesday's morning skate.