ANAHEIM, Calif. — Right now, the Flyers have the appearance of a worn-down barbecue grill that refuses to ignite.
And Dave Hakstol is halfway through his set of matches.
Which is precisely why now’s the time to throw some lighter fluid on the situation. Tyrell Goulbourne and Nicolas Aube-Kubel aren’t expected to stoke the fire under their teammates’ feet, but the optimism is they can provide a spark to a downhearted squad, now 4-7-0 following Saturday’s unemotional loss to the Islanders.
Goulbourne and Aube-Kubel have an edge to their game; whether they brought that to the West Coast from Lehigh Valley remains to be seen.
“It can be a spark and that spark can come from anywhere,” Hakstol said Monday. “It could be one of those two guys that provides that spark. I know they’ll be excited. They’ll bring some fresh energy and that’ll be a positive for us.”
With that, Hakstol appeared to be leaning to playing both rookies against the Ducks Tuesday.
Last season, Goulbourne was called up at exactly the midway point with the Flyers in the process of completing their midseason turnaround. In Goulbourne’s first NHL shift, he annihilated Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo with an open-ice collision that led to Scott Laughton scoring the game’s first goal. That one hit set the tone as the Flyers ripped off the first four goals on their way to a convincing 6-3 win over St. Louis, and from there, the Flyers proceeded to win seven of their next eight games.
“I think that’s the reason I’m here is because of the way I play,” Goulbourne said. “I’m not up here for any other reason but to provide energy.”
Goulbourne played sparringly over his nine-game stint and was returned to the Phantoms several weeks later, but the timing of his arrival undoubtedly created a short-term impact.
Hakstol was hoping his challenge last Friday to “sack up” would kindle a few flames within his players, but it amounted to throwing another charcoal briquette on the pile. The team responded with its most lackluster effort of the season, a 6-1 loss to the Islanders. Right now, the Flyers need a punch to the gut, or better yet, someone who can deliver a hard right.
Strange as it may seem, but here we are 11 games into the season, the Flyers don’t have a single fight to their fight card. By no means is that the reason behind their uninspiring start with just four wins, but fighting still has its occasional place in the game — a sign of raw emotion and unbridled passion, placing the team over individual concerns while stepping outside of that comfort zone to provide a much-needed boost up and down the bench.
Even as fighting has been nearly eliminated from the NHL over the past five years, the Flyers have been good for at least two fisticuffs through the first month of the regular season. It seems rather odd that the only fight since the start of training camp came when Goulbourne went toe to toe with Islanders heavyweight Ross Johnston in a meaningless preseason game.
It seems even more bizarre that the Flyers are just one of three teams in the league that haven’t dropped the gloves along with the Blue Jackets and Coyotes. A fact not lost on Columbus coach John Tortorella, who believes the league as a whole has gotten soft, telling the media last week: “It's like a big hug-fest sometimes. There's no hate, and I miss that. It frustrates the s--- out of me, quite honestly.”
The Flyers need some of that hatred in their game. Tyrell Goulbourne and Nicolas Aube-Kubel have an opportunity to turn up the heat on a team that’s been lukewarm at best.
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