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When you follow sports long enough, you learn that you always have to expect the unexpected.
Sometimes a game will change thanks to something that you swear you’ve never seen before.
None of that was the case for the Flyers on the ice last night.
Nope. Things were pretty much just what we’ve seen before:
Lots of shots, not enough goals, mistakes, untimely penalties, bad goaltending and a fifth straight loss, this time 5-2 to the Vancouver Canucks.
But, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t something unexpected that took place off the ice.
It wasn’t from the players, who all were sounding the same frustrated tone you would expect. No one kicking over tables, or spitting fire and brimstone at the state of the team.
So as we trudged down the long hall to the coach’s press conference area, which on most nights feels like walking the Green Mile since we are usually on our way to an interview death sentence, the premise of this takeaways piece was starting to formulate.
This team is broken. Their failures are systemic. It needs a new look. A change of some sort, personnel-wise or otherwise. This team plays like shampoo directions – lather, rinse, repeat.
But then it happened, without warning, and it came so far out of left field that it put aside all preconceived notions about how Tuesday’s loss to Vancouver was going to be forever chronicled.
Dave Hakstol provided frank and accurate insight.
For once, the coach didn’t come across as smug, or as bothered by the questions being fired at him. Instead, he told you what was happening. What was wrong. He identified mistakes being made. He called out his goaltender. He questioned his own coaching decision. He was as as blunt and honest as I’ve ever seen him.
Does this mean he’s turned over a new leaf? That we can expect a change from stubborn stoicism to something more Ken Hitchcockian (more on him later by the way)?
But we want to celebrate this version of Dave Hakstol so much that we’re going to turn over these takeaways to him.
That’s right. Today’s takeaways are brought to you by Dave Hakstol (as well as Cozzi Jewelers).
Take it away, Dave!
1) “Tonight it’s not about the offense side of the game it’s about the hardness without the puck.”
Amen Brother Hak! Preach to the congregation!
It’s easy to sit back and watch a game of hockey, track scoring plays, chances, and puck possession. What’s not as easy to track, and sometimes not even easy to see – especially if you watch the game on TV – is what guys do when they don’t have the puck. And that’s where a lot of fault lies with the Flyers.
It’s not going hard to the net and taking away the goalie’s eyes, knowing you run the the risk of getting hit with a shot or get a stick to the small of the back. Just ask Wayne Simmonds.
“We got to get in front of the goalie,” he said. “If the goalie sees it, he’s going to stop it. You got to battle for second and third opportunities. That’s how you score in this league. You take one shot the goalie is going to see it and stop it. I take a stick in the back every power play. If I’m going to be there, I have to be willing to take physical abuse. That’s the way it is.”
To the heat map:
Look where the Flyers were shooting from and look where the Canucks were shooting from. Big difference eh?
But it’s not just in front of the net either. The Flyers lose a lot of board battles on 50/50 pucks. That’s more about determination than anything else. That’s the old “look yourself in the mirror” type play.
The Flyers need to play with an edge sometimes. They used to always play with an edge, but never had the team speed to keep up with the opposition. Now they have decent speed, but no edge. Take Simmonds out of the mix, and who’s the edgiest player in the lineup? It was Radko Gudas, but he’s out of action for three weeks after being over-suspended. Maybe the next guy is Robert Hagg? And he’s as level-headed as they come.
And don’t confuse an edge with intensity. The Flyers have a lot of intense players, from the Captain on down, but they don’t play with any physicality and it’s noticeable. And when it’s this noticeable, they are an easy team to play against.
2) “Our biggest issue is that we give up too many easy opportunities…”
Shall I show them some examples Dave?
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) November 22, 2017
Jordan Weal's turnover leads to a Boeser goal. pic.twitter.com/l5mKDBOOwg
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) November 22, 2017
On the first goal, Brandon Manning and Shayne Gostisbehere have a miscommunication and both are out of position which allows Daniel Sedin to have his breakaway.
Frankly, that Ghost Bear-Man Dog was a bad pairing of half-animal nicknamed defensemen all night.
On the second goal, yeah, Weal turned it over, but the mistake here is both defensemen changing at the same time. You just can’t do that, right Hak?
“Obviously you just have to have one D to get the change you can’t have two guys going,” Hakstol said. “That is just the reality of it. So yeah, if we get the puck deep it doesn’t matter as a group of D back there you just have to have one guy come and make a smart line change there.”
Whether that was on Travis Sanheim or Mark Alt is not certain as you can see by the video they both went at the same time, but it appears the Flyers are going to put it on Alt.
Alt was carrying his own equipment out the door after the game as he heads back to the Lehigh Valley. Sam Morin has been recalled and will likely make his season debut tonight against the Islanders.
But it’s not even about individuals, these struggles are team-related and need to be addressed.
“These are just bad judgement I guess,” Simmonds said. “If a D is pinching the forwards have to be back and we have to be back for our D to pinch, so it’s bad judgment.”
3) “Somewhere, fairly or unfairly we need a save from our goaltender.”
I already miss the days when the hoi polloi of Flyers Twitter were screaming for Michal Neuvirth to start regularly for the Flyers.
Michal Neuvirth has had some good games this year. And he’s had some terrible games this year. While I wouldn’t count last night as terrible, it certainly was on that side of the sliding scale.
Look, the Flyers make so many mistakes that they put a lot of pressure on their goalies. But hockey is a game of mistakes and a lot of times goalies need to erase those mistakes with a save. Some of those chances were tough for Neuvirth last night… but he’s got to make a save from time to time. Hakstol is right.
“I wasn’t as good as I need to be, so the coach made a change,” Neuvirth said.
But, before that he said this:
“It’s difficult not skating and having three days off over the weekend and only having one practice. It’s difficult, but I need to be better.”
He was sort of hinting the time off is what caused him to not be sharp, wasn’t he? Looking for an excuse, wasn’t he?
“That one was on me,” Hakstol said about waiting too long to pull Neuvirth. “I should have done that after the third goal to give our team the best opportunity. Once it gets to four it’s tough to get out of that hole. Our guys tried in the third period but I think the change after three would have been, maybe would have been the spark that our team would have needed. Hindsight is 20/20.”
I’m betting Neuvirth doesn’t get a start for a bit here….
4) “We have to put the work ethic, the preparation and the togetherness back into our game.”
Hakstol actually said this twice – which means it’s important enough to him that he notices it’s missing.
But really, let’s break down what he’s saying:
- The team is lacking work ethic – that’s an indictment of the highest order. It’s suggesting they aren’t playing hard enough. It’s a suggestion that the players are more apt to be passengers on a bus that nobody seems to be driving. That’s pretty damning.
- The team is lacking preparation – that’s on nobody but the coaching staff. Hakstol needs to get his own house in order. If a team isn’t prepared, then it’s all on his shoulders.
- The team is lacking togetherness – When guys are going rogue in hockey and not pulling on the same rope, that’s a major issue. Teams that aren’t buying in to each other don’t succeed.
The fact that Hakstol said this twice is the most damning thing from an ugly game. Usually when these are issues in sports, major changes are made. I’m starting to wonder if Ron Hextall is doing his best Nero impression and simply fiddling while Rome is burning.
Thanks for all the insight tonight Hak. It looks good on you.
5) Loose pucks
- Matt Read cleared waivers and was sent back to the Phantoms. Replacing him is Danick Martel, who was the Phantoms leading scorer. Unlike Read though, I don’t expect Martel to be sitting in the press box at games. He’ll likely make his NHL debut tonight in Brooklyn.
- Ivan Provorov and Jake Voracek scored the goals. That means with the exception of the top line, Flyers forwards have just one goal in the past six games.
- Brock Boeser is a heck of a player for Vancouver. Hakstol recruited him to North Dakota, but never had a chance to coach him. So, the Flyers coach does have an eye for young talent.
- My favorite story of the day was this gem from Dallas Stars coach Ken Hitchcock. It’s just one small example as to why I tell people all the time that Hitch was my favorite coach to cover in my nearly 20 years being around this sport. He’s blunt. He’s honest. and sees through all the bull crap the league tries to submit the public too.