Ron Hextall: Flyers' No. 1 need is 'goal scoring, playmaking'


Ron Hextall: Flyers' No. 1 need is 'goal scoring, playmaking'

Ron Hextall can’t predict the future.

There is no crystal ball on the desk of his office outlining the Flyers' offseason path. Free agency is two months away while trade talk is frivolous with the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs still in session.

But he does know his team is no longer playing.

And he has a reason why.

"We need some upgrade up front,” the Flyers’ general manager said last week. “We need some goal scoring, playmaking — [that] would be our number one need."

That realization likely became much clearer in the postseason, when the Flyers lost their first-round series to the Capitals in six games.

Part of the problem was Washington and its top-five defense and penalty kill.

Don’t think Hextall will rest on that when writing his offseason to-do list.

"The best team doesn't always win a series,” he said. “If you look at the series, you look at the special teams, and a few things that could have happened there, we could have won that series. Were we the better team? I think you can certainly argue that Washington was the best team in the league, but you can still beat the best team in the league. It's happened in sports over and over."

The Flyers scored a playoff-worst six goals — one of which was an empty-netter. During the regular season, they ranked 22nd in the NHL with 2.57 goals per game. The previous season, they were slightly better at 2.59 and didn’t make the playoffs.

Each season from 2007-08 to 2013-14, the Flyers were a top-10 goal-scoring club. The past two seasons, they slipped to the bottom 10.

“We need to get better,” Hextall said. “We made the playoffs and lost in the first round. We're not going to sit around all summer here and rest on making the playoffs and losing to Washington in six games. So yeah, we need to get better. That's my job.”

While Hextall understands the Flyers are not a finished product, he expects more from the current group.

“It's also every player’s job to find ways to make himself better this year and to contribute to the team and make us a better team,” he said. “It's also the coaches’ responsibility, too, to look at what we did right and what we did wrong. It's certainly my responsibility to do what I can to make our team to make it better."

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol put things in a “broad sense.” But really, he described the difference between an elite team and one on the fringe of the playoffs.

“I felt like the difference in the series at the end of the day was our opponent made more plays than we did,” Hakstol said. “Both teams played extremely hard, both teams played a physical series and a very competitive series, both teams defended hard. They made more plays than we did. We have to address that as a group and it’s something we have to build in and do a better job of beginning on Day 1 of training camp next year.”

Like Hextall said, it comes down to playmaking.

The Flyers’ front line has talent, but can it be better? It was just barely enough to make the playoffs and not nearly enough to succeed in them.

Claude Giroux finished the 2016 postseason with just one point and lots of frustration.

He won’t forget it.

“When you have a tough time, it’s important to not just brush it off, it’s important to look at it and kind of study what you did and how can you get better,” Giroux said last week. “You just learn from it. We fought really hard in the series to come back in Game 6. We need to learn that’s how we’ve got to play. Obviously the situation that we’re in right now, it’s a little tough. We’d love to be still playing but we just need to learn from this.”

Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Jakub Voracek combined for one goal.

Schenn will be one of Hextall’s offseason priorities, while he looks for Voracek’s rebound in 2016-17.

“I don’t think we’re that far,” Simmonds said. “I think we’ve got a great core, a great group of guys, everyone likes each other — we’re pretty tightknit. I think this year, we built and we got better and better through the year.”

Some added ammunition at the top could be the difference.

How will Hextall acquire it? He goes back to his organizational philosophy.

Hextall will look to improve but won’t stray from the plan.

"We'll try everything,” he said. “First of all, the first thing we have to look at is where we can get better from within. Whether people improve in fitness levels, players on the way up, those are ways we can get better. Then we'll certainly look at the free-agent market and if something makes sense, we'll look at the trade market and if something makes sense, we'll do it.

“But I can't seem to find right now what's going to come about because I truly don't know who's available July 1."

He did have a message, a challenge of sorts, for the team already intact.

"You know what, I think it should be open competition every year,” Hextall said.

“Obviously you have your top players, but there should be competition at the goalie position, on D and up front. I think it will be a very competitive camp next year. I don't know exactly who we'll have in place, but obviously a lot of the guys that are here now will be back.

“So I think it will be a very competitive camp and guys need to be ready for it."

Flyers cap off crucial weekend with win over Washington

Flyers cap off crucial weekend with win over Washington


A three-goal second period highlighted by Oskar Lindblom's first career NHL goal propelled the Flyers past the Capitals, 6-3, Sunday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Lindblom's first career goal came one night after picking up his first NHL point, an assist in Carolina.

The Flyers have regained their scoring touch with 13 goals over their last three games after managing just 11 in the five previous games.

Claude Giroux picked up an assist, tying him with Eric Lindros for fifth place on the franchise’s all-time scoring list.

Petr Mrazek stopped 25 shots, winning his fifth game since joining the Flyers. If the Flyers reach the postseason, then the conditional pick to Detroit would become a third-round selection.

In a potential first-round playoff preview, the Flyers won their season series against the Capitals, improving to 3-1-0.

• The Flyers struck first after winning a key offensive-zone faceoff. Giroux pushed the puck behind him to Shayne Gostisbehere, who ripped a perfectly placed slapper about two feet off the ice, forcing Philipp Grubauer to change the angle of his glove.

• Alex Ovechkin can sneak up on you at a moment’s notice and he doesn’t always need to uncork that 100-mph slap shot as evidenced by his 43rd goal of the season. Ovechkin snuck behind the Flyers' defense and redirected a puck past Mrazek. It was just his second goal in his last eight games against the Flyers, and he was unnoticeable until that moment.

• The Flyers quickly responded just 3 minutes, 11 seconds after Ovechkin's goal. In his 14th game, Lindblom ripped a shot high blocker side from the right circle. Credit Lindblom for applying a good forecheck that led to Michal Kempny’s errant pass that led to a 2-1 Flyers lead.

“The kid is getting some confidence right now and you can really tell,” Gostisbehere said. “He’s really going and Jake’s (Voracek) been really building him up there.”

• Interesting to see rookie Robert Hagg paired with Radko Gudas in his first game back from injury. I expected Hagg to be back with Andrew MacDonald, who he’s been with for much of the season. For the most part, Hagg looked good with Gudas, although he pinched and no forward picked him up on the back side leading to another Capitals odd-man rush. 

• Sean Couturier can’t buy a goal right now. He’s been stuck on 29 goals for over a month and he had a pair of prime chances in the same sequence Sunday. His first attempt came on a backhand pass from MacDonald that he tried to slide under Grubauer’s five hole. However, over the past three games he’s been contributing offensively with an assist in all three games. I feel it’s only a matter of time before Couturier gets No. 30.   

• The Flyers' three-goal second period was one of the best all around 20 minutes in a while. Constant pressure offensively with a flurry of prime scoring chances. They were also able to eliminate some of the defensive breakdowns from the first period as Mrazek didn’t have to produce any top-notch saves.

• Coming off a disappointing game in Carolina, Gostisbehere was bumped off the puck at the Caps' blue line and as he stumbled to the ice, it led to a 3-on-2 and a nice sprawling save from Mrazek to keep the game scoreless. If you’ve watched him closely, Ghost’s performance has dipped a little over the past several games.

Late rally gives Flyers something to show for strong effort

Late rally gives Flyers something to show for strong effort


RALEIGH, N.C. – Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol commended his team for a complete 60-minute effort that was needed to overtake and defeat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-2 at PNC Arena on Saturday night (see observations).

“It’s an important two points, but I guess, as important I thought it was a really hard-working, start-to-finish win for us,” he said.

Placing Alex Lyon in net to lead from the back end, the young netminder made 23 stops, many critical, that allowed the Flyers to generate momentum to strike all at once in the third period.

Trailing 1-0, containing the Hurricanes’ speed and ability to maintain puck possession was a priority – somewhat of ‘survive and advance’ mindset to have in March.

The Flyers won 27 of 48 draws, a stat that eventually evened out, but was a critical one that the Flyers led in for two periods, before taking advantage of Carolina turnovers in the third.

 “It was a grind,” Hakstol said. “I liked the way we played in the first two periods. We talked about a couple of little things we can maybe improve going into the third, but the biggest thing was making sure we went out and got a big penalty kill to start with and just go back at it.”

For 40 minutes, Hurricanes netminder Cam Ward stymied shooters like Jakub Voracek and crease cleaners like Wayne Simmonds, among others, but the force of the shield he presented eventually diminished late in the game. The Flyers scored all four of their goals in the final 11-plus minutes.

While giving the puck away 10 times, 15 takeaways allowed the Flyers to regain possessions and capitalize on their chances when it counted most. 

“I don’t know if there was a catalyst,” Hakstol said when asked to identify the turning point in the game for his team.

“A lot of times it’s the simple, hard things that you do. That’s what it takes to score at this time of year.”

The win pulled the Flyers back into a tie for third place in the Metropolitan Division, a floating buoy line extending to the wild-card spot they will tread beside for the remainder of the season, unless they can compile more wins like this one.

“We needed a win for a lot of different reasons,” Hakstol said. “We needed the two points in every respect, but we needed a win for our group in here to have something to show for their hard work. When you lose games and can’t put wins together, the negatives really start to magnify, even though there’s a ton of positives. On a couple of different levels, this was an important two points.”