Robert Hagg

Why has Dave Hakstol gone away from Robert Hagg?

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Why has Dave Hakstol gone away from Robert Hagg?

VOORHEES, N.J. — If you wanted to hang a banner that represented the thoughts of Flyers fans, perhaps the most prominent message at the Wells Fargo Center would read “Play the Kids.”

And if you look up and down the Flyers' roster, it would appear Dave Hakstol shares that same sentiment.

On a nightly basis, you’ll find 19-year-old Nolan Patrick, 21-year-olds Oskar Lindblom, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny, and more recently 22-year-old Travis Sanheim. All of this youth is why the Flyers are one of the youngest teams in the Eastern Conference.

But sometimes it’s not enough, and more recently, the most perplexing decision has been to sit the most seasoned rookie, 23-year-old Robert Hagg, who was on track to play all 82 games until an injury sidelined him for the first time on March 10. 

“First of all, if you told me a young player would play 70-something games, I would be pretty good with that,” general manager Ron Hextall said. “It’s not like you’re expecting him to play every single game. Hagg has done a good job for us and I know when he comes back in, he’ll do a good job for us.”

From a solid job to now no job, Hagg appears to be the first Flyers player this season to lose his role after sustaining an injury. 

“I don’t know, maybe,” Hagg said. “I played two games since I came back. Hexy wanted to get me back, as well, to get the timing right and all that stuff. It is what it is and you have to deal with it. The team is doing pretty well right now, so getting into the playoffs is all that matters.”

Despite spending most of the season on the right side of Andrew MacDonald, Hagg was paired with Radko Gudas in his two-game return and it proved to be a choppy combination. Then again, so has Sanheim and Gudas and at times, Brandon Manning with Gudas. 

Sunday against the Bruins, Gudas was clearly the worst of the Flyers' six defensemen, especially in the Flyers' end of the ice, while committing the types of mistakes you’d expect to see from a rookie like Hagg, who had played rather consistently for much of the season. 

“He wasn’t clean enough with the puck,” Hakstol said Sunday about Gudas. “Games come down to small plays and how efficient you are with the puck, especially when you’re playing against good players, it's important. There was a couple of those tonight. In most cases, he had second effort that helped them clean it up, but there was a couple of plays that he needs to be cleaner on.” 

When Sanheim returned to the Flyers following an 18-game stint with the Phantoms, Hakstol was cautious to not pair him with Gudas again, and consequently, Sanheim has played considerably better with MacDonald. 

Like Gudas, Hagg hits hard while separating the player from the puck, he’s capable of killing penalties, blocking shots and positionally it appears the rookie is just as reliable.

Or maybe not. 

“[The coaches] see about 50 times more video than what we see,” Hextall said. “Yeah, you tend to err on experience, but if a young guy does it and can do it, coaches will give him a chance.”

And with Hagg, you can’t help but wonder when that chance will come again.

Robert Hagg finds himself the odd man out vs. Rangers

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Robert Hagg finds himself the odd man out vs. Rangers

Rookie Robert Hagg will be a healthy scratch for the first time in his career following his performance Tuesday in Detroit, where the defenseman played just 12:39 and finished with a minus-2 rating, including just four shifts and 2:28 during the Flyers' third-period comeback.

Hagg missed four games with a lower-body injury, and when he returned he played on the left side, paired with Radko Gudas. For most of the second half of the season, Hagg has played the right side with Andrew MacDonald as the team’s second pairing.

“It’s not always about the individual,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “The pair (Hagg and Gudas) didn’t have easy chemistry there. We ended up in some situations with and against the speed and ended up with some bad gaps. The pair and combination wasn’t as effective as we needed it to be.”

Lyon in the crease
If Hakstol wanted to be a very unconventional think-outside-the-box coach, he would start Petr Mrazek for a period and then bring in Alex Lyon for the remaining two periods and beyond.

Lyon will start tonight’s game against the Rangers, the same team he earned his first career win against after replacing Michal Neuvirth following the first period. 

Some of Lyon’s best work this season has been coming in cold off the bench. He owns a .970 save percentage in games he has entered in relief, and a pedestrian .890 save percentage in five games he has started.

“It’s not just based on one performance, it never is,” Hakstol said. “ It’s always based on situation and a player’s body of work. Alex’s body of work has been good. He came in the other night and did an excellent job and that’s part of the decision.”

Shorthanded shortcomings
The Red Wings scored the tenth shorthanded goal against the Flyers Tuesday, matching the Colorado Avalanche for the most 5-on-4 goals allowed this season. 

This season, the Flyers are 4-4-2 in games in which they’ve given up a shorthanded goal, but more importantly, many of those goals have been momentum killers — the difference between tying a game or facing a two-goal deficit.

In the Flyers' 5-1 loss to the Rangers on Jan. 16, New York forward Paul Carey scored shorthanded with ten seconds remaining in the first period that extended the Rangers lead to 3-1, and took away any hope for a Flyers' comeback.    

“The Rangers are going to come with the kitchen sink on their penalty kill and they’re playing without a lot of pressure,” Hakstol said. “At times, you’re going to see two, three and four guys on their PK come up the ice offensively, so we’re going to have to do a very good job of that tonight.” 

Much of the blame can be attributed to the power play’s 1-3-1 setup — Shayne Gostisbehere serving as the only player on the point with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek in the circles, Sean Couturier in the high slot and Wayne Simmonds down low.

When a turnover or giveaway is committed between the circles and the blue line, typically only Gostisbehere or the player taking his spot at the point is the only player back to defend, leaving the Flyers wide open for a two-on-one shorthanded chance against.   

“We starting off taking a chance with one defenseman out there,” Gostisbehere said. “That’s just the name of the game. I don’t think there’s too many power play units with two D out there right now. I think for us, it’s staying within ourselves and keeping it simple.”

A look at why Sanheim is back, but maybe not for long

A look at why Sanheim is back, but maybe not for long

In comes one rookie defenseman, but out goes the other.

The reason for Travis Sanheim's recall Friday night under emergency conditions is because Robert Hagg will miss two weeks with a lower-body injury, while Johnny Oduya is out Saturday and day to day with a lower-body injury, as well.

So, the 21-year-old Sanheim is back and will play his first game since Jan. 13 as the Flyers host the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.

How long Sanheim stays is in question, though.

When the 36-year-old Oduya, claimed off waivers Feb. 26, is healthy enough to play, it's presumed he'll enter the lineup. The Flyers will then have to make a decision on Sanheim because he's here on emergency loan and they also won't like the 2014 first-round pick sitting as the seventh defenseman.

That's the reason why Sanheim had been with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley since Jan. 22 — so he could play and develop. With the Phantoms, Sanheim certainly earned his way back to the Flyers, as he put up 16 points (one goal, 15 assists) and a plus-14 rating in 18 games.

Expect Sanheim to slide into the Flyers' second defensive pairing alongside Andrew MacDonald.

Meanwhile, losing Hagg for two weeks is a blow to the Flyers. The 23-year-old had played all 68 games thus far and was steadily reliable, while also leading the NHL in hits with 232.