We’ve seen the good from Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol. We’ve seen the bad. And now we’re in a whirlwind of asking with puzzled looks on our faces, “what the hell is going on here, Dave Hakstol?” One thing is for sure, this questioning is not good for the long-term health of the team or this Flyers fan base. Everyone has a right to be concerned at this moment.
Over the past month, the Flyers head coach has made every Flyers fan and hockey guru scratch their head over weird incomprehensible decisions. Most recently it’s almost impossible to get past the fact that he benched the team’s best defender, Shayne Gostisbehere, a player who is making a difference on the ice and continuing to grow during his sophomore season. This, along with other puzzling decisions, has left this Flyers team, essentially, in a free fall.
Sure “Ghost” isn’t putting up the same amazing numbers he did last season (I can’t believe people expected him to do so), but he has four goals and 15 assists for 19 points in 42 games this season. He’s not the reason why the team is stumbling. Yet, us fans have been complaining and, once again, scratching our heads over the fact that Andrew MacDonald, who has been a frequent offender and utter non-factor, this season has not seen a healthy scratched. MacDonald has two goals and 10 assists for 12 points in 36 games. No one can tell me that keeping him out there game after game and week after week hasn’t hurt the team.
After winning 10 games in a row this past December, the Flyers are now 2-7-2 in their past 11 games. The hockey, if that’s what one would call it, played by the team this past weekend was horrible. They were dominated by the Capitals on national TV Sunday afternoon, losing that game 5-0. The Bruins spanked them on Saturday, beating them by a score of 6-3. What we’ve come to know from this team, this season is that they need dramatic improvement within their defensive zone structure, the goaltending and most glaringly, they need to repair the lack of 5v5 goal scoring. The Flyers have scored a grand total of 127 goals in 46 games this season. However, only 65 of their goals have been generated via 5v5. I said on a recent podcast show, there’s no way this team will get to the playoffs by simply relying on the power play. The team has scored 36 power play goals in 46 games, 4th overall on the power play in the NHL. Yet, they’re averaging only 1.66 goals per game at even strength.
Teams have learned that to beat the Flyers, they have to do it at even strength. That’s how you this team has been dominated. And that is why Hakstol continues to live and die with a heavy reliance on the power play. The offense simply disappears at even strength to the point where they cannot effectively score. So what happens now?
The Flyers General Manager, Ron Hextall, isn’t a dumb front office executive. He has vision and is probably as frustrated as us fans. He sees what’s happening and knows that some sort of change needs to come. The question is, when and how? Does he make a trade and, if so, who does he deal?
After having just purchased my 50th Anniversary Shane Gostisbehere jersey, it’s safe to assume Ghost could be a potential candidate as much as it pains me to contemplate. (Why not? Doesn’t it work that way? We purchase our favorite player’s jersey and then they’re either traded, released, move to another team, or sustain a life-long injury.). All kidding aside, I do wonder if Hextall will dangle Ghost in front of other teams as bait and attempt to acquire a player that will help the team at even strength. The only rationale for such a thought is that Ivan Provorov is showing what he can become and the Flyers still have Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim in Lehigh Valley waiting in the wings. I truly hope this isn’t the case, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this is an option for Hextall moving forward.
As we continue to scratch our heads and try to play General Manager and Head Coach in our brains, the reality is that playoff teams need to win on the road. This team has lost nine straight away from the Wells Fargo Center. Perhaps this Flyers team will show the spark in the second half of the season as we’ve become accustomed to over the past couple seasons. The one thing we can say with certainty is that bringing about that spark doesn’t mean benching or trading your best defensive player. Hakstol needs to quit messing with Ghostisbehere after benching him for a second time this season. It can mess with not only his confidence, but the team’s as well.
Get the lines figured out (I know, easier said than done), perhaps bring up some players from Lehigh Valley and get some consistency going from the Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek line that’s been on fire in the past and when I was down at the Wells Fargo Center last weekend (Flyers beat the Lightning, 4-2). While there are no clear and concise solutions to getting this team back on track, one thing is for sure – they cannot afford to stunt the growth of Gostisbehere.