Dave Hakstol

Dave Hakstol says blame starts with him for Flyers' latest loss

Dave Hakstol says blame starts with him for Flyers' latest loss


If the Flyers have an emergency chute, now would be the time to pull the rip cord.

On Thursday night, their Metropolitan Division free fall picked up even more velocity following a 5-3 loss to the Blue Jackets, a team that has made up nine points in a span of just two weeks to pull even with the Flyers at 81 points (see observations).

If what we were watching was a skydiving exhibition, Dave Hakstol knew something wasn’t right from the moment his team left the plane. 

“I thought their team was a little bit more ready to play, and that squarely comes to me,” Hakstol said. “I thought their team was a little bit more ready to play in that first 20 minutes and that can’t happen this time of year.”

However, it’s been happening for much of this month. The Flyers have been outscored 11-5 in the opening period of their last eight games, and while it explains only part of their failures, poor starts are a contributing factor to their 1-6-1 record in the month of March.

“It was definitely just readiness,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “I think the biggest thing for us is to realize what time of year it is. We can’t have any slow starts to these games — then we’re just climbing an uphill battle the rest of the game, making it hard on ourselves.” 

The Blue Jackets scored three goals on eight shots, but the Flyers were so disjointed defensively, Columbus could have easily added another goal. The Blue Jackets' second score was a lost battle along the boards and a coverage breakdown that the Flyers have been guilty of on numerous occasions this season. 

“We were pretty loose in our coverage,” defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “Maybe our level of intensity and attention to detail wasn’t where it needed to be and we kind of had to scrap back into it. But obviously, too little, too late.”

With the score 4-2, Alex Lyon replaced Petr Mrazek three minutes and 23 seconds into the second period and proceeded to shut the door, but by then, the damage was done. Right now, the Flyers need exceptional play in net and they’re simply not getting it. 

“Petr didn’t give up a bad goal tonight, but you look for a timely save from your goaltender and that’s what we didn’t get in the first half of the game tonight,” Hakstol said.

“I thought the fourth one, a 3-on-1, if I was to make the save there, the game could be different,” Mrazek said. “I didn’t have any big saves in the first period. If that fourth one I would stop, I would probably get the momentum back and we would still have a chance.”

For a team that had its sight set on winning the division just two weeks ago, it's now in a dogfight for its playoff lives. 

“The real honest truth is 11 games to go, it’s an even race,” Hakstol said. “There’s eight spots to be had and we’re right there. I told our players after [the game], I’ll take that challenge and I’ll happily take that on with our group.

“Things haven’t gone well here over the last six to seven games. We know that. But it’s that time of year, you’ve got to be able to clear the deck, clear the mind and really get focused on the next challenge ahead.” 

But the Flyers' descent continues to gain speed. All you can do is look up, hold your breath and hope the landing isn’t catastrophic. 

Flyers 'can't keep doing this' ... but they do

Flyers 'can't keep doing this' ... but they do


The Flyers' margin of error is paper thin right now.

Against the Bruins last Thursday, it was a failure to clear the puck out of their zone in the final minute that set up the game-winning goal.

Facing the expansion Golden Knights Monday, all it took was losing one board battle late in the third period that led to another regulation loss and a 3-2 setback at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

“It was a scrum in the corner and they play a good triangle down low and we knew that before the game,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “We just needed a little winger support, and they made a great play.”

Former Flyer Pierre-Edouard Bellemare fought off Wayne Simmonds, Valtteri Filppula and Radko Gudas to gain possession along the boards and behind the Flyers' net, which ultimately led to Ryan Carpenter’s one-timer goal from the left circle that beat Petr Mrazek with 2:40 remaining in regulation.

“I felt like we controlled this one,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “We didn’t get a puck out and that whole shift we didn’t get the puck under control. We had an opportunity to push it out at the blue line, and then we got caught outside of our coverage down in the slot.”

One mistake overshadowed another solid 60-minute effort in which the Flyers controlled possession and neutralized the Golden Knights' fast-paced attack, limiting Vegas to just 19 even-strength shots.

“We should have gotten a point obviously,” Simmonds said. “We've got to be focused. We played solid but we didn’t get the two points and that’s what matters. I guess it doesn’t really matter here. We've just got to make sure we play the full 60. If it’s not 60, it’s not good enough.”

And right now, as well as the Flyers have played recently, it simply isn’t good enough. In seven of their last eight games, the Flyers have scored two or fewer goals.

“We’re pretty pissed. We’re letting these games get away from us right now,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s March. We can’t keep doing this. We need every point we can get.” 

After racing to the top of the Metropolitan Division following a 1-0 shootout victory over the Canadiens on Feb. 26, the Flyers have mustered just three points (1-5-1) over their last seven games.

Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury came up with some spectacular saves to earn his 400th career victory. Perhaps the biggest was a sprawling glove save on rookie Travis Sanheim in the first four minutes of the third period. 

The former Pittsburgh Penguin also beat the Flyers for the 28th time in his career, which ranks third all-time behind New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur and New York Rangers great Henrik Lundqvist.

“We’ve had such a good rivalry,” Fleury said. “I thought it was always intense games and tough games, tough place to win. The crowd is into it, too, usually. With this team, it’s still fun to win here.”

As for the Flyers, they need to discover that enjoyment rather quickly. 

Thursday they host the Blue Jackets, who are now just two points behind the Flyers in the standings. 

March is not a good time to be a bubble team, no matter what sport it is.

Flyers need to get up to speed vs. surprising Vegas

USA Today Images

Flyers need to get up to speed vs. surprising Vegas

Of all the headliners that can be found on the Vegas strip, who would have imagined the Golden Knights, in their expansion year, would be right up there with Cirque du Soleil, Inferno and Chris Angel?

They shoot, they score, they entertain, and most impressively, they win. Only Tampa Bay averages more goals per game than Vegas does this season.

Vegas coach Gerard Gallant has performed a miracle that’s one part Herb Brooks, another part David Copperfield.

How can a coach bring together a collection of castoffs from across the league and build not just the best expansion team in league history, but one of the top hockey teams in the entire NHL, all while playing an uptempo, fan-friendly system?

“That’s a good question,” Flyers forward Jakub Voracek said. “They’re just skating very well, all of them. Obviously it’s hard to play against someone that’s skating so well.”

When these two teams played for the first time in Las Vegas in early February, the Flyers found out firsthand as they were outshot 39-18, the most lopsided shot total of any game this season, but were opportunistic in a 4-1 win.

Under Gallant, the Golden Knights have developed into one of the quickest puck-moving teams in the league and are constantly on the attack. Sean Couturier doesn’t believe there’s another team in the league that plays that style as well as Vegas does.

“I don’t think so,” Couturier said. “Not as good as they do. I think a lot of teams try and play like they do — spread the offensive zone, cycle the puck, control the play and get defenders out of position, but they’re really good at it.”

So if it works for the Golden Knights, why couldn’t the Flyers adopt a similar system?

For starters, Vegas general manager George McPhee was able to handpick his entire roster from a list of unprotected players — good players, at that. So if speed, puck control and skating ability were key attributes, then McPhee had the luxury of assembling that type of roster.

“What stands out when you watch them and when you play against them? Their speed presents a real challenge,” said Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol, whose team has 81 points, good for third in the Metro behind Pittsburgh (84) and Washington (83), and three points ahead of New Jersey (78). Washington hosts Winnipeg Monday night.

“You have to be ready to defend that and you have to be ready to counterattack against it.”

Secondly, the Golden Knights possess balance with no real “star power.” For most of this season, every line that Gallant has assembled has had to prove it's worthy of ice time, including the current top line of leading goal-scorer William Karlsson (35 goals) at center and Jonathan Marchessault (22 goals) and recent pickup Tomas Tatar (17 goals), formerly of the Red Wings. That trio has combined 74 goals on the season. The Knights also have 20-goal scorers in Erik Haula (24), James Neal (24) and Riley Smith (22).

“The biggest part of it is to have 23 players here, all kinda misfits who were left unprotected. So when they came with a simple system, it has to be 20 guys every night. You can’t have one line hot and the other three coasting,” said former Flyers forward Pierre Edouard-Bellemare, whom Vegas plucked in the expansion draft last summer. “[Gallant] played the guys who were working the hardest, and that was the indicator for the other guys, it doesn’t matter who your name is.”

Which probably wouldn’t work for Hakstol if Voracek, Couturier or Claude Giroux didn’t exactly bring their best effort every game. Gallant has been dealing from the same deck all season, a “use-it-or-lose-it” philosophy, you could say.

Impressively, it’s the same approach Gallant took with the Summerside Capitals of the Maritime Junior Hockey League back in the mid-1990s.

“The way I coach is the same I coached in junior hockey,” Gallant said. “Come to the rink, have fun, work hard and be competitive. I don’t prepare my team much differently than anyone else does. For me, it’s having fun and having a good attitude and make sure your players are ready to play.”

Proof what happens in Vegas certainly shouldn’t stay there.