Flyers

Dave Hakstol returns as Alain Vigneault faces similar situation with Flyers

Dave Hakstol returns as Alain Vigneault faces similar situation with Flyers

Last season, Dave Hakstol asked his Flyers to “sack up.” The team was 4-6-0 through 10 games, giving up the NHL’s most goals and Hakstol pleaded for a spark.

The former Flyers head coach returns to the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night as an assistant with the Maple Leafs. A year later, Hakstol’s successor finds himself in a similar spot. Eleven games into 2019-20, Alain Vigneault is staring at his new team and challenging it, looking for a response just like his predecessor did.

Vigneault took the Flyers’ job in April because he believed in the potential. A head coach with two Stanley Cup Final appearances, Vigneault saw another sincere shot at the sport’s pinnacle achievement right here in Philadelphia.

Watching the Flyers get convincingly outworked and outplayed in consecutive losses to divisional opponents was not a part of his vision. He feels the Flyers are capable of much more and not many would disagree with that assertion.

The Flyers followed up an uneven 5-3 loss to the Islanders with an embarrassing 7-1 defeat to the Penguins. They finished October 5-5-1 and are a combined 31-38-7 during the season’s opening month over the past seven years.

In particular, Vigneault wants his established players to set the bar.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to push the reset button here,” Vigneault told reporters Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. “Our leaders have to lead by their play on the ice. We’re going to go home, reset and get ready for the next game.

“There’s no doubt in my mind and there should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that we’re a much better team than we’ve shown the last couple of games.”

Will the Flyers answer his call? They’ve got a fair challenge.

Vigneault is looking at his veterans who have been here before. The Flyers’ core has been given chances, it has gone through different head coaches and seasons.

This head coach might be its best bet to prove itself. The Flyers are nowhere close to panic mode, when everyone on the outside questions everything on the inside. This season, the Flyers have better depth at forward (even with injuries), two accomplished defensemen and their goalie of the future coming into the present.

They’ve made strides in special teams, scoring and goal prevention.

Through 11 games last season, the Flyers allowed a league-high 46 goals, scored 31, had the 24th-ranked power play (15 percent) and the worst-ranked penalty kill (67.5 percent).

Through 11 games this season, the Flyers have allowed 37 goals, scored 36, have the 10th-ranked power play (23.8 percent) and sixth-ranked penalty kill (85.3 percent).

But October wasn’t a whole lot different from years past.

And once again, the head coach is expecting much more.

It’s time for the Flyers to answer the call.

Following another divisional game Friday night against the Devils in New Jersey, the Flyers return home Saturday night to face the Maple Leafs.

Behind the Flyers’ bench, Vigneault will continue to look for his challenge to be met.

One of the coaches on the opposing bench will know how he feels.

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Flyers finally cooled off by the Capitals (and in the shootout of course)

ap_carter_hart_flyers_loss_capitals.jpg
AP Images/Matt Slocum

Flyers finally cooled off by the Capitals (and in the shootout of course)

BOX SCORE

The Flyers went toe to toe with the NHL’s best and highest-scoring team Wednesday night.

And they of course took the action into overtime and the shootout.

The skills competition is where they were finally cooled off.

The Flyers lost to the Capitals, 2-1, at the Wells Fargo Center as T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored in the shootout for Washington.

The Flyers (10-5-3), who have gone past regulation six times in the last seven games, had their four-game winning streak snapped. They did, however, extend their point streak to seven games (5-0-2). They are 8-2-2 since Oct. 21.

Sean Couturier nearly won the game for the Flyers when he nailed the post in overtime.

The Capitals (14-2-4) lead the NHL with 32 points and are on a 13-game point streak (11-0-2). They entered scoring an NHL-most four goals per game.

• Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux went scoreless over the team’s big weekend sweep of the Maple Leafs and Bruins.

With the Flyers in desperate need of a play in the third period, Voracek and Giroux connected for a power play goal to make it 1-1.

The sequence makes you wonder if those two will reunite soon on the first line to get both of them going.

• Head coach Alain Vigneault shuffled his lines in the second period and then not long after pieced them back together. It seemed to work as the Flyers turned it up a notch in the back end of the stanza.

The Flyers came inches away from knotting the game when Travis Konecny rung the post as a power play expired with 4:51 left in the middle frame. A minute later, Tyler Pitlick had an acrobatic chance in front but was turned away.

• The Flyers’ third line could change soon. Carsen Twarynski, Kevin Hayes and Voracek haven’t gotten much going. The group has good size but hasn’t used it to its advantage.

Vigneault expects more out of Voracek and Hayes — and justifiably so. Voracek had the timely assist on the power play, while Hayes is without a point in eight straight games.

• Carter Hart came in 4-0-0 with a 1.92 goals-against average and .929 save percentage during November. He was brilliant against the league’s top-scoring team, making 35 saves.

Hart was once again clutch during the first period, making 15 saves as the Capitals took it to the Flyers in the opening 20 minutes. Prior to Washington’s goal by Brendan Leipsic, the Flyers had outscored the opposition 6-0 during the first frame in their previous four games.

Washington goalie Braden Holtby went 3-0-0 with 84 saves on 90 shots against the Flyers last season. He cracked only once Wednesday, finishing with 30 stops. Giroux was the only Flyer to beat him in the shootout.

• For the first time in 12 NHL games, Joel Farabee took a step back. He didn’t look like himself with the puck, quickly giving it away a few times instead of keeping it on his stick and making a smarter decision.

In the second period, he was briefly taken off the first line and both power play units, possibly a message from Vigneault telling the 19-year-old to get his game going and not be intimidated by the Capitals.

The rookie didn’t play much in the third period and didn’t see action in OT.

• The penalty kill continued its yeoman’s work. The Flyers, who entered as the NHL’s seventh-best shorthanded team at 85.4 percent, held the Capitals’ vaunted power play to 0 for 3.

The Flyers have not allowed a power play goal at home since Oct. 21.

The team’s own man advantage had fallen into a 2-for-17 funk before snapping out of it in the final stanza.

• Matt Niskanen, who spent his previous five seasons in Washington and won the 2018 Stanley Cup with the Capitals, played his first game against his former teammates since being traded to the Flyers during June.

He was his typical steady self.

Radko Gudas, who was sent to Washington in the trade, received a tribute from the Flyers during the first period.

• The Flyers open their fifth back-to-back set of 17 this season when they visit the Senators Friday (7:30 ET/NBCSP+).

The team returns home Saturday to play the Islanders (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

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Matt Niskanen's fine balance of saying hello and cutting the cord

Matt Niskanen's fine balance of saying hello and cutting the cord

Matt Niskanen will never forget his time with the Capitals.

When you give hundreds of thousands of fans a parade in a city craving a championship, it would be impossible to move on with no sentimental feelings for the past.

But Niskanen is now a Flyer and playing for a city that hasn't seen its hockey team win a Stanley Cup since 1975. Performing in orange and black is his focus, as hard as that is when facing his former teammates for the first time since being traded during June.

Niskanen won the 2018 Stanley Cup in Washington, the city's first major championship since 1992. The Capitals visited Philadelphia to play the Flyers Wednesday night and held a morning skate at the Wells Fargo Center.

The 32-year-old defenseman hadn't yet caught up with his old buddies. Following the game might be a better time for Niskanen.

"There’s that kind of special connection that you get when you have that kind of success with a team," he said Wednesday morning.

"There’s a fine balance of wanting to say hi to these guys and also you’ve got to cut the cord a bit, too. My focus is playing well with the Flyers right now. But I’m not that far removed from playing with these guys, so if I see somebody, I’ll chat and say hi.”

Niskanen has been excellent for the Flyers, impacting the club's improved goal prevention, special teams units and young defensemen. Some of his new, younger teammates have asked him about winning a Stanley Cup.

"A bit," the unassuming Niskanen said. "It’s not something that comes up all the time, or usually not in front of a big group. I try not to bring it up too much. On occasion, a few times they have.”

Alain Vigneault knew about Niskanen from coaching against him in the Metropolitan Division. The Flyers' head coach also heard from Scott Arniel — one of the Capitals' assistant coaches who was on Vigneault's staff in New York — about Niskanen.

“He told me that I was going to have a real solid leader, quiet leadership, but great role model and that’s exactly what we have," Vigneault said.

“Just by the way he conducts himself. If you watch him in practice, he’s always doing things the right way and he pays a lot of attention to details. When he talks to, whether it be a teammate or coaches, it’s soft-spoken but right to the point. We’ve got a great person there and we’ve got a defenseman that’s really helping us out.”

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