The decisions aren't getting any easier for Dave Hakstol.
The head coach's latest two chess moves were underrated. They harvested positive results and subsequently created a few more challenging calls directly ahead.
The first of Hakstol's maneuvering was a surprise game for Christian Folin in place of Andrew MacDonald, one of the team's respected leaders. While Folin's one and only outing before Tuesday inspired little confidence, he was a needed difference-maker during a 6-5 shootout win over the Panthers (see observations).
The perceived seventh defenseman played a clean game (one giveaway), provided physicality (three hits) and finished with a game-best plus-4 rating. MacDonald, who possibly rushed himself back from a lower-body injury, hasn't matched that effectiveness in his five games (see story).
If MacDonald isn't quite caught up from missing the bulk of training camp and Folin is that productive, Hakstol might find it difficult to not roll with the same defensive pairs Thursday. Folin was that much of a pleasant surprise.
"It's always a tough situation but there are good reasons," Hakstol said postgame Tuesday of sitting MacDonald. "There are things in Mac's game that he knows and we know that he can work at; he's a huge part of our team and he's going to be a big part of our lineup, so don't make too much of it. It was the right thing for our team tonight."
Hakstol also made a critical in-game adjustment Tuesday with his forwards. With his team trailing, 1-0, after the first period, Hakstol pushed Scott Laughton to the middle and bumped Michael Raffl up to the third line, knocking rookie center Mihkail Vorobyev down a unit. Alongside Wayne Simmonds, Laughton and Raffl helped create the Flyers' first goal and then the group tacked on another as momentum completely shifted.
After playing Jordan Weal 9:45 and 10:46 in his first two games, Hakstol rode the second-line center for 17:18. Weal delivered a two-point game (one goal, one assist), a 9-for-13 mark in the faceoff circle and the shootout winner, while the 21-year-old Vorobyev played a season-low 8:04.
Hakstol was to the point in his assessment and reasoning behind the decision.
"I thought we needed a little bit more from [Vorobyev]," Hakstol said. "You can't wait and hope, so we talked about it, we thought there was a legitimate switch there to be made that could give us a boost and those three guys (Raffl, Laughton, Simmonds) went out and did a good job.
"Misha is a young guy, he's got a lot of things to learn and it takes a little bit of pressure off of him to go and play on the left wing — lesser minutes, but still allows him to keep learning and pushing forward."
With Nolan Patrick nearing a return this week from an upper-body injury, Weal will likely be pushed out of his second-line center role.
Still, he made a statement Tuesday looking like a valuable top-nine forward, specifically down the middle.
When Patrick is back, who is the odd man out?
The dilemma for Hakstol will be possibly sitting Vorobyev, who has gone quiet over his last four contests.
The Flyers want their young players developing through playing, but a game-to-game guy like Hakstol may find it best for the time being.
After all, it won't be long before the next decision comes.
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