April 08, 2019
VOORHEES, NJ — There was something ominous and dark to the right of Flyers’ interim coach Scott Gordon and general manager Chuck Fletcher as they addressed the media Monday morning at the Flyers’ Skate Zone — no one was skating on the dim, abandoned rink to the right.
That’s because for the fourth time in the last seven years, the Flyers failed to reach the NHL playoffs, after finishing sixth in the Metropolitan Division with a 37-37-8 record for 82 points — their lowest point total since 2006-07 (56) and second-lowest total in a non-strike season since 1993-94 (80 points).
On Monday, Fletcher and Gordon tried to make sense of the Flyers’ collapse, while taking some not-so-veiled shots at previous Flyers’ coach Dave Hakstol, who the Flyers were 12-15-4 under before Gordon (25-22-4) took over.
Fletcher said Gordon would be a consideration as the head coach — and the players appear to support Gordon — especially when there is an endorsement from the future face of the franchise, goaltender Carter Hart.
“I think it’s pretty hard for anybody to do that, come in with the situation he was handed, at any level,” Hart said. “For him to do that at the NHL level and excel really speaks well to his coaching style and how much the guys respect him. I was with him from my start of pro in Lehigh and we both got called up the same day.
“He’s done a really good job of handling the day-to-day with us and with the situation he was given. For him to come in and excel the way he did really speaks a lot of words to who he is as a coach and as a person. Other guys really respect him and really like playing for him.”
Though Fletcher said the player’s input wouldn’t weigh heavily into his choice.
“Not really. They don’t. I believe they enjoyed playing for Scott and as I mentioned earlier, I thought they played better the second half of the year,” Fletcher said. “Regardless of what they say, I think how they played indicates normally what they feel about a coach. I’m not looking for input from our players. I was able to watch Scott for a long time.
“I’d like to sit down with Scott and I will talk about the future, the makeup of the team and what he feels we need. There are certain things I think we need to do starting in training camp next year to make us more competitive. Making sure we share the same vision. That’s something that will be part of the process like it would be with any coaching interview.
“Look, Scott did a good job. For me, I’m just think it’s prudent to take a little bit of time, decompress. We’re less than 48 hours after our last game. Let the emotions subside. Do a little bit of thinking, do some due diligence. I think the right decision will be easier to come to in a little bit of time.”
Chief among Fletcher and Gordon’s concerns this past season was how the Flyers played defense.
The Flyers finished 29th overall in the NHL in goals-against-average, giving up 280 goals for a 3.41 average. Only Chicago (291) and Ottawa (301) gave up more goals in 2018-19. It also didn’t help that the Flyers went through eight different goalies this season — an NHL record — before settling on the 20-year-old Hart.
But both Gordon and Fletcher appeared to be on the same page when it came to the reasons why the Flyers gave up so many goals.
Both stated the Flyers spent too much time in their defensive zone, and that’s because they didn’t spend enough time on the offensive end of the ice. There was no balance to the Flyers this season. If there was a time of possession stat in the NHL, the Flyers might be near the bottom of the league.
“I think, for me, the biggest thing that our forwards have to get better at is not just our entries and turnovers and that, but how we play in the offensive zone,” Gordon said. “When I look at shots against and look at time spent in the offensive zone, defensive zone, I look at different d-zone coverages of opponents versus ours, why some teams are giving up less goals or shots, the one common denominator.
“I’ve always felt this way, in particular this year, the amount of time you spend in your defensive zone, how good you are defensively, there’s a correlation of how good you are offensively.
“Not from a scoring goals standpoint, not necessarily a shot standpoint, it’s a willingness to work in the offensive zone under desperation like you would work in the defensive zone under desperation to keep the puck out of your net.”
Gordon pointed out that “when you don’t apply yourself into the details of defensive zone coverage, and it ends up in the back of your net, it’s very easy to point fingers as to who made the mistake.
“But the reality is if you’re in your offensive zone and you’re paying attention to the details of getting to the front of the net, beating your check off the wall, protecting the puck, cutting back, moving your feet when you get the puck, supporting to the puck, that is to me what makes a team better defensively.”
Gordon used the Flyers last game, a 4-3 loss to Carolina, as an example. The Flyers were outshooting the Hurricanes at one point in the third period, 10-1. Gordon asked a few players if that was the best defense that the Flyers played in his 50 games with them.
They responded, “yes.”
Gordon responded, “it wasn’t good. We didn’t have to play in the defensive zone. That’s why it was good.”
The Flyers were down 2-0 in 32 games this year and 1-0 in 50 games. They gave up 89 more goals than the best defensive team in the league — the New York Islanders (191) after the Islanders gave up an NHL-high 293 goals in 2017-18.
“A lot of reasons we fall behind in games is because we give up easy goals,” Fletcher said. “It’s not about effort. It’s about thinking, about working smart and playing better.
“To me, that’s why the coaching situation is important. It’s about making sure going into camp next year, we have to change some details, change our mindset, and have a good start.”
Gordon inherited a tough situation after Hakstol was fired. The Flyers were floundering near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division. Fletcher spoke about breaking “bad habits,” which Gordon had to correct.
Gordon and Fletcher spoke briefly, for about 10 minutes on Monday, and apparently saw the same flaws.
“We have some bad habits right now, flying the zone before we have possession of the puck, not getting in shooting lanes, not keeping the third guy high, turning pucks over in the neutral zone when there’s no time and space to make a play, and just recognizing things,” Fletcher said. “It’s mindset, but you need the mindset to embrace the habits. I think that’s going to be a focus in training camp, trying to do things day after day early when you have the practice time. It’s difficult once you get into the season.
“You don’t have practice time. You have mandatory days off, you have travel days. Second half of the year, you rarely practice as you folks saw. It’s just too difficult. Training camp is a great opportunity for an organization to implement changes and develop habits and then you build that up to the beginning of the season.”
“When I look back over the 50 games that I was here for, that’s the one area I probably could have as a coach put more detail in as far as not so much we didn’t talk about it, but I think those are habits, and I think those are habits that get created throughout training camp, throughout preseason and at the start of the year,” he said.
Gordon wasn’t pulled up from Lehigh Valley until December 17, 2018, when Fletcher fired Hakstol and named Gordon the interim coach.
Other than naming a new full-time head coach, Fletcher said other pressing priorities, roster-wise, include a back-up goaltender for Hart, with Cam Talbot and Brian Elliott in the mix, and securing a veteran defenseman.
“I think we could add in any area,” Fletcher said. “Clearly, we need to find a goaltender to play with Carter. Certainly, a veteran defenseman could help. I think some help up front as well. I think we score, but maybe finding another experienced guy that can help with that mindset, playing the right way, that could contribute both ways.
“You can get better defensively, which is a key. The third way I hope we get better is the continued improvement of the young players and that has to be part of it. You can’t go outside your group and add four or five guys every year.
“It’s just hard to expend all those assets all of the time to go outside your system, so we’re going to continue to need growth from the payers that are here. We’re going to actively look for some outside solutions, but part of getting better next year will be see continued growth from the key young players.”
Follow Joe on Twitter: @JSantoliquito
Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports