On the surface, the Philadelphia Flyers had a decent-enough week capturing three points in three games. However, decisions made by the second-year head coach, Dave Hakstol, has left many who follow the Flyers’organization closely scratch their heads in both confusion and concern.
Philadelphia kicked off their week at home against the Ottawa Senators and wound up suffering defeat in a shootout. The reality is that the Flyers should have won this game. Unfortunately, Steve Mason failed to stop a wrap-around attempt from Kyle Turris with two minutes to go in the contest. Quite frankly, this shot should have never found the back of the net but would end up doing so as a result of poor play by the Flyers’ netminder. Once the game entered the shootout, everyone knew the orange and black were doomed due to their history of poor performances in this area.
Turris ties it. pic.twitter.com/NZpVTWTSN1
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) November 16, 2016
Thursday night’s matchup against the Winnipeg Jets brought controversy before the teams even took the ice for warmups when news broke out that coach Hakstol decided to scratch the team’s popular young defenseman, Shayne Gostisbehere. Although the entire Flyers’ fanbase was both puzzled and enraged by Hakstol’s decision, the night ended on a high note as the team walked away with a 5-2 victory.
The Flyers capped off their three-game week at home on Saturday with an afternoon matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Overall, the team played pretty well considering they were going up against one of the best teams the Eastern Conference has to offer. Unfortunately, “pretty well” was not good enough as the Flyers could not manage to score a goal and fell to the Lightning 3-0.
The Flyers season to this point can most accurately be described as mediocre. The team is 8-8-3 (19 points) through 19 games played which has coach Hakstol and everyone else in the Flyers’ organization searching for ways to take this team to the next level. Hakstol has taken to the approach of lighting a fire under the rear ends of the players he feels are not playing up to their potential by stressing that ice-time is earned not given.
This tactic has led to the benching of valuable and beloved players such as Gostisbehere, Michael Raffl, and Travis Konecny. Gostisbehere and Raffl have fallen victims to the “healthy scratch” this season, albeit for just one game. Konecny only took the ice for 16 shifts in Thursday’s game against Winnipeg due to his level of play not meeting the expectations of his coaches.
— Dave Isaac (@davegisaac) November 17, 2016
Providing wake-up calls for players whose level of play is not up to snuff has proven to be an effective strategy in some cases. However, this tactic needs to be practiced after considering who the player is and whether it is truly the time to take this measure. If you look back to last year and the season Jakub Voracek had, it would make complete sense to scratch him for a night to demonstrate displeasure with his level of play. He is a proven star with a large amount of professional hockey games under his belt. Even scratching Wayne Simmonds after a rough stint of games might prove to be the right move because you can almost guarantee that he would come back to the ice with fire in his belly ready to prove his worth.
However, scratching or benching young players with less experience can prove to have the opposite effect on his performance. When a young player is struggling, his confidence is already rattled. Putting him in the press box or sitting him on the bench will only deplete is confidence even more. I’d rather see a coach have his young players keep taking the ice so they can learn from their mistakes and make adjustments.
When it comes to the specificity of Hakstol’s decisions to bench or scratch a player, the moves just don’t make much sense. Gostisbehere has had a slow start to his first full season in the NHL but there is no one on this planet that would say that they would rather see Andrew MacDonald on the ice rather than “Ghost”. The entire Flyers’ blueline has been concerning to this point and removing one of your more valuable defensemen from the lineup to make a statement does nothing but jeopardize the outcome of a game even more.
The decision to scratch Raffl falls into the same category of confusing. Why in the world would you scratch one of your best defensive forwards who has the ability to score and put the likes of Chris Vandevelde on the ice? Again, Hakstol is lessening the chances of victory by trying to demonstrate that no spot on the ice is guaranteed and nobody is safe. More moves similar to these could prove to be costly towards the Flyers’ playoff hopes and Hakstol’s job.
— Dave Isaac (@davegisaac) November 18, 2016
Let the Kid Play
After news broke that the Flyers would be losing goaltender, Michal Neuvirth, for four-to-six weeks with a knee injury, Ron Hextall made the decision to call-up Anthony Stolarz from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Before being called up, Stolarz had been playing extremely well for the Phantoms going 6-2, averaging 2.39 goals against. Since joining the Flyers, the 22-year-old has yet to see any action in the three games he’s dressed for.
Mason has been playing better lately but Philadelphia’s goaltending has been a cause for concern this season. Neuvirth’s injury not only provides Mason with the opportunity to step up, it gives the Flyers an opportunity to see what they have in Stolarz. If this kid is the team’s future starting goalie, wouldn’t it make sense to give him the chance to show his stuff while he’s forced to be up with the team? Having him sit back and watch others play does nothing for his development.
In addition, if Stolarz demonstrates the ability to at least be a reliable backup for the rest of the season, it makes one of the other Flyers’ goaltenders expendable. The team is not going to keep both Mason and Neuvirth after this season. Wouldn’t it benefit the Flyers long term if they could deal one of them and get assets in return? Philadelphia will never know if they have the flexibility to make a move if they don’t give Stolarz the chance to play.
The Week Ahead
The Flyers have a week full of challenging games ahead of them. The team travels to the state of Florida to take on the Panthers Tuesday and will play the Lightning the following night. After that, Philadelphia will receive American Thanksgiving off and then take on a hot New York Rangers on Friday afternoon.
The Flyers have been dealing with back-to-back games a lot this season. I look for them to come away with a victory against the Panthers but fall to the Lightning in overtime. Games against the Rangers always prove to be highly contested battles between two teams that just do not like one another. I am predicting that the Flyers will make their home crowd happy on the day after Thanksgiving and steal a victory from New York.
John Gove is an elementary school educator who writes about hockey in his spare team. Over the past five years, John has covered the game at various levels. Now, he exclusively focuses his coverage on prospects and the developmental leagues.