(photo: Dinur Blum)
The team didn’t have much time to get acclimated to Hakstol’s system between training camp and preseason. The training camp and preseason only lasted a combined three weeks before the regular season started. After the first month of the regular season, the Flyers had a 4-4-2 record. The team’s record was 7-10-5 at Thanksgiving, but since then they have gone 13-5-3 and stockpiled 29 points to climb right back into the playoff race.
The major reason for the turnaround has been the players learning the system and what is expected out of them from the head coach. Hakstol has had time to figure out his players and what each can bring to the table. The two other major factors that have caused the season to turn around was the call up of defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere and lines changes made by Hakstol prior to the game on December 15 and then again on January 2.
Gostisbehere’s was recalled after an injury to defenseman Mark Streit, who would be out six weeks. In his first game, he assisted on the game-winning goal in overtime. He is a mobile, puck-moving defenseman, who can get his shot through from the point. In 23 NHL games this season, he has six goals, nine assists, 16 points and is a plus five. Gostisbehere has three game-winning goals, which have all come in the overtime session. He replaced Streit on the first power play unit and has contributed four power play goals.
The Flyers offense has been pretty stagnant this season only scoring 94 goals, but they have been scoring more the past four games. Hakstol made line changes prior to the game on December 15 against the Carolina Hurricanes. He had Sean Couturier centering Wayne Simmonds and Jake Voracek, who made the move to left wing. The top line consisted of Michael Raffl, Claude Giroux and Brayden Schenn. Since then Couturier has found his offensive game, driving to the net and shooting the puck when he has the chance. He has six goals, six assists and 12 points in 11 games played.
Hakstol made more line changes during the game on January 2, against the Los Angeles Kings because Giroux was slumping. Voracek stayed on the left side joining Giroux and Simmonds on the top line. Couturier was now centering Raffl and Schenn. The line of Raffl-Couturier-Schenn has six goals, eight assists, 14 points and two game-winning goals since being put together. The line of Voracek-Giroux-Simmonds has three goals, nine assists, and 12 points since being put together, and they’ve had their fair share of chances, but haven’t been able to convert on them. The Flyers have 15 goals on four games since the switch was made.
The goaltending duo of Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth has been good all season for the Flyers, and helped them win some games. They have given up some soft goals, but have also made key saves at crucial times during games. The defense has been joining the play in the offensive zone and shooting the puck more. The defense can get caught out of position and the need to avoid the turnovers in their own end of the ice.
The Flyers special teams haven’t been great this season and have room for improvement in the second half. The power play has only converted on 15.4% of its opportunities, which is second to last in the league. The first power play unit has been getting chances, but just can’t seem to find the back of the net. There is a drop-off from the first power play unit to the second. The first power play unit has 16 of the 19 power play goals this season. and the second unit only has three. One of those three goals came from Sam Gagner, who is currently playing in the AHL.
The penalty kill ranks 24th out of 30 teams at 78.3%. The penalty killers have to do a better job of being in position/communicating and clearing the puck out of their own zone when given the chance. Mason only has a .788 save percentage on the penalty kill so he needs to be better too. While on the penalty kill sometimes the goalie has to be the best penalty killer and come up with some save and that hasn’t been the case with Mason this year.
If the Flyers want to stay in the playoff race then they need to improve the special teams and not get ahead of themselves and not look past any team on the schedule.