PITTSBURGH — Dave Hakstol didn’t feel the need to change anything during Thursday morning’s practice.
Same lines. Same pairings. And perhaps most importantly, the same personnel.
There’s a lot to dissect after a 7-0 Game 1 disaster, but in reality we should have seen the potential for a playoff calamity.
“Honestly, we just had too many holes,” Dave Hakstol said Thursday. “You have holes in your game and that team is going to drive a truck through them.”
For the Flyers, it was more like chasing Ferraris. And the Flyers’ holes may be too big for Hakstol to close.
As much as the Penguins and Sidney Crosby stir up this intestinal hatred around the Delaware Valley, this was the worst possible playoff matchup for the Flyers in the opening round.
They had proven they could play with Columbus, Washington and even Tampa Bay this season, but not Pittsburgh. Not for a full 60 or 65 minutes.
They dropped all four regular-season matchups, allowing five goals in each game, and when you break down the scoring, it wasn’t just Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins had nine different players score at least two goals in their regular-season series. The Flyers had just three.
Compare and contrast the lines, the pairings and the goaltending and you’d be hard-pressed to find an area in which the Flyers hold a distinct advantage.
Over the past 10 years, the Penguins have retooled their team around two of the greatest players on the planet, and credit Pens GM Jim Rutherford for filling in the necessary gaps during their current two-year Stanley Cup championship run.
Gone are Matt Cullen, Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino and David Perron. Replaced by Jake Guentzel, Derick Brassard, Bryan Rust and Riley Sheahan.
On paper, the Flyers and the Penguins both own a No. 2 overall pick as their second-line center.
However, the Penguins’ No. 2 is a Hart Trophy winner, three-time Stanley Cup champion with a 157 career playoff points, while the Flyers’ No. 2 just played his first career playoff game. It’s unfair to ask 19-year-old Nolan Patrick to play straight up against Malkin at this stage of his career. Sean Couturier may have handled that task in 2012, but he was a fourth-line center surrounded by a deeper, much more talented team.
As tremendous as Couturier and Claude Giroux played this season, they are now a combined minus-16 against the Penguins, whereas they’re a plus-54 against the other 29 teams in the league. The Penguins even bring out the worst in the Flyers’ best.
If they return to Philadelphia down 2-0, then why not make changes? You’re certainly not beating the Penguins in four out of a possible five games to win this series.
Robert Hagg, Jordan Weal, Taylor Leier. Give them all a shot. You can’t manufacture better playoff exposure and experience than this — facing a dynasty looking to pull off a three-peat that hasn’t been matched since the early 1980s.
If trade deadline deals help put a team over the top, the Flyers, in all fairness, are just as close to base camp as they are the summit.
If the Flyers were one or two players away from being a serious Eastern Conference contender, Brassard and Ian Cole would be on their roster, not the Penguins.
That’s a reality that Hakstol can’t change either.