Maybe Dave Hakstol wanted more grind and less flash.
The Flyers’ head coach created a stir Thursday by benching two of his youngest and most talented pieces on the roster, without explaining the specifics other than “a couple different things that they’re aware of that they can improve.”
Nonetheless, up went Shayne Gostisbehere to the Wells Fargo Center press box, accompanied by Travis Konecny, and in came the replacements: Nick Schultz and Dale Weise.
Sitting in those cushioned seats? A 2015-16 Calder Memorial Trophy runner-up in Gostisbehere, and a 2015 first-round draft pick in Konecny — two players with dazzling ability and playmaking potential, only 23 and 19 years old, respectively.
But against the dynamic and swift-moving Canadiens, Hakstol countered in a surprising way. He turned to the 34-year-old Schultz, a stay-at-home defenseman, and Weise, a 2008 fourth-rounder with a checking pedigree.
Risky but bold moves by a second-year NHL coach overseeing a team trying to fend off eight other clubs for the Eastern Conference's final playoff berth.
The outcome, though: a 3-1 win over the Atlantic Division’s first-place team to answer a lopsided 5-1 loss two days prior at the hands of the skidding Hurricanes.
“The players that were in the game tonight did an excellent job,” Hakstol said. “What effect a change or two had? Well, that was the result. The guys that were in tonight did a very good job, but that’s a credit to the players that are in the lineup, going out and having just a real determined effort for the 60 minutes of the hockey game.”
Against Carolina on Tuesday, the Flyers compiled 14 penalty minutes and 14 giveaways. On Thursday, just two penalty minutes and 12 giveaways, while outhitting the Canadiens, 34-19, and limiting them to 16 shots, well below their average of 30 per game.
It was a more judicious and controlled game from the Flyers.
“We were patient, we played smart and we’re going to need that in the next few months in order to be successful because all the teams are going to grind,” Mark Streit, who was paired with Schultz, said. “All the teams are going to play well defensively.
“We just need to keep it simple and play north, get pucks in, and go to work. I think once we’re in their end, we can grind them out and create and we had some really good offensive zone time, especially in the second. It tires the other team out if you don’t have to defend. You play in their end and you are so much fresher in the end.”
Playing in the opposition’s end isn’t possible when possession sways because of turnovers.
“I think that’s what kills us most nights if we’re losing, we’re turning pucks over,” Wayne Simmonds said. “Tonight, we didn’t seem to turn too many over, and if we did, we had guys coming back as hard as they possibly can. That’s playoff hockey. Let’s be honest, you’ve got to play like that the rest of the year.”
Hakstol was pleased with his alternatives. Weise had three shots, three hits and a takeaway, while Schultz was a plus-1 and blocked a shot — not anything otherworldly, but role-playing efforts the coach wanted.
“I liked the way both of them played,” Hakstol said. “I thought the combination with Mark Streit and [Schultz] — which hasn’t been together really since last year — I thought those guys did a good job; a lot of calmness to their game, especially defensively.
“I thought [Weise] added something up front. He had some good opportunities, a couple good looks.”
The two helped the Flyers atone for Tuesday.
“I thought we played probably our worst game of the year in Carolina,” Simmonds said. “But when we get a little kick in the butt, we generally play better.”
As for Gostisbehere and Konecny, the two received their own kick in the butt by watching from high above. The benching was Gostisbehere’s third of the season and second for Konecny. Whether or not it was warranted, you’d have to think it’s their last.