It's time to give Dave Hakstol credit

It's time to give Dave Hakstol credit

It wasn't long ago when some fans filled the Wells Fargo Center with chants to fire Dave Hakstol.

Back on Nov. 28, the displeasure was bubbling amid a confounding 10-game losing streak. The Flyers were wrapping up a 3-1 defeat to the Sharks as the skid apathetically hit nine.

That's when the boo birds came out in full flock.

The scene, so ugly, forced Ron Hextall into the Flyers' dressing room postgame to deliver what felt like a state of the union address in front of cameras and recorders. Over the next handful of days, on multiple occasions, the general manager had to defend his head coach's job security, and at times vehemently.

Oh, how things have changed.

Since Dec. 4, when the free fall was halted, the Flyers have gone 23-8-3 with 49 points, third most in the NHL behind only the Bruins and Golden Knights. Hakstol's bunch has climbed into playoff position, sitting in third place of the Metropolitan Division and only three games behind the first-place Capitals. 

When the losing streak was at its worst, the Flyers were in dead last of the eight-team Metro. At the time, things looked troubling.

But give credit where credit is due. 

Hakstol deserves plenty of it this season, especially for his constant maneuvering of personnel, which has proved wise time and time again.

First, it was shifting Claude Giroux from center to left wing during training camp. That was not an easy decision when asking a player as decorated as Giroux, on the verge of turning 30, to make a position change. The result has been a career resurgence for the Flyers' captain. After 58 points (14 goals, 44 assists) and a minus-15 rating in 82 games last season, Giroux has 70 points (20 goals, 50 assists), tied for the NHL's second most, and a plus-15 mark through 60 games this season.

Not only has the move behooved Giroux, but it has also allowed for Sean Couturier's anticipated breakout. With Hakstol entrusting the 25-year-old to be his first-line center, the do-it-all Couturier is blossoming into the team's most valuable player, already shattering his career highs in goals (29), assists (31) and points (60).

This was all before the curtain even opened for the 2017-18 season.

To date, Hakstol's adjustments have only continued throughout the season — and they've worked. 

Despite topflight production early from his first line of Giroux, Couturier and Jakub Voracek, the Flyers struggled, so the third-year coach broke up the trio in order for more balance within the forwards group.

The split created room for Travis Konecny to eventually make his way onto the top unit — and so far, so good would be an understatement. The 20-year-old has discovered his first-round potential with 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in as many games since Dec. 28, a stretch in which the Flyers are 16-6-2.

To squeeze out even more ability, Hakstol has plugged in Konecny on the first 3-on-3 overtime grouping. In their last six games decided in OT, the Flyers are 6-0.

Meanwhile, Voracek hasn't missed a beat since joining the second line as he leads the league in assists with 55, the defensive pairing of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere has paid dividends, while the team is currently riding a historic stretch of discipline

And, most recently, the important choice of filling Wayne Simmonds' first-unit power-play role saw immediate results. Hakstol on Tuesday used No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick, who wasted little time rewarding his coach with a man-advantage goal on the team's first chance.

"Hak, first of all, is a very good coach," Hextall reaffirmed on Nov. 29. "He's as hard a working person as I've ever seen in the game.

"We're a young team, we have a lot of young kids coming and we're going to get better. We're going to play better than we're currently playing."

Hextall may be the most prudent general manager in the game.

He sure wasn't about to overreact 26 games into a season — and you can see why that's not his nature. What Hextall adamantly believed is what has transpired — the Flyers are improving under Hakstol.

There's no denying that. 

They were 8-11-7 and scoring 2.69 goals per game with a minus-9 differential (79-70) when the losing streak was at 10. They've been one of hockey's best teams since then with 3.24 goals per game and a plus-20 differential (110-90).

Look at the broader picture: Through 60 games last season, the Flyers were 28-25-7 with 63 points and a minus-29 goal differential (179-150). This season, at the same juncture, the Flyers are 31-19-10 with 72 points and a plus-11 goal differential (180-169).

With two new goalies and no Simmonds (upper-body injury) for two to three weeks, Hakstol has bigger decisions ahead, ones he'll have to get right with a postseason berth in the balance.

But he's already done a lot right — and it's time he gets a little credit for it.

Claude Giroux has No. 28 junior hockey jersey retired by Gatineau Olympiques

Claude Giroux has No. 28 junior hockey jersey retired by Gatineau Olympiques

At 30 years old last season, Claude Giroux scored 102 points in the best league on the planet.

Imagine a young Giroux playing junior hockey? He was a terror.

Giroux eclipsed the 100-point barrier in each of his three seasons with the QMJHL's Gatineau Olympiques from 2005-08.

Here were his stat lines:

2005-06 — 103 points (30 goals, 64 assists) in 69 games

2006-07 — 112 points (48 goals, 64 assists) in 63 games

2007-08 — 106 points (38 goals, 68 assists) in 55 games (added 51 points in 19 playoff games)

Giroux, who will eventually have his No. 28 retired by the Flyers, had his jersey raised to the rafters Wednesday night by the Olympiques.

Same No. 28, just a different sweater (which is awesome, by the way).

Here are some images from the night, courtesy of the great Flyers senior director of public relations Zack Hill. The first picture is Giroux with his mother Nicole and father Raymond.

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Flyers vs. Penguins Stadium Series weather forecast is looking dicey

Flyers vs. Penguins Stadium Series weather forecast is looking dicey

Lincoln Financial Field prepared for snow Wednesday.

Next will be the rain, which is difficult to work around when it comes to outdoor hockey.

That could be the case Saturday when the Flyers host the Penguins in the 2019 Stadium Series at the Linc. Puck drop is set for 8 p.m. on NBC. The chance of rainfall is at 100 percent during the evening and the rain may not taper off until early Sunday morning, according to weather reports.

All of this is things we've experienced before. We're used to it. Because of that, we're very, very prepared for weather delays. ... We can't play in a torrential downpour, but right now if you look at the weather forecast — and it does change hour by hour — there's no call for severe or heavy rain. So we're really confident based on what we're reading right now that the game will go as planned.

- NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer

Weather conditions are always a factor in outdoor games. You're dealing with an uncovered ice surface and all possible types of Mother Nature.

"Rain in large quantities, that can hurt us," Dean Matsuzaki, the NHL's vice president of events, said Monday on the the AccuWeather podcast. "First and foremost, we have to worry about player safety, so rain, snow, things like that."

It becomes even more substantial when considering the implications of the game. The Flyers and Penguins are fighting for a playoff berth. The Flyers entered Wednesday six points out of the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot, while the Penguins sat not-so-comfortably in third place of the Metropolitan Division (see standings).

"We actually joked about it after the last game [against the Pengins], I'm like, 'I don't know what's going to go on on the ice because it's going to be a battle out there,'" Travis Konecny said last Friday. "It's a big event for everyone to enjoy, but it might come down to one of the biggest games for us this year."

There has been no word of a potential postponement or time change for Saturday night's game. Both the Flyers and Penguins don't play again until Tuesday.

For the latest updates on the forecast, visit NBC Philadelphia right here, while checking out the sights and scenes ahead of the event below.

(AP Images)

(AP Images)

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