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November 28, 2017

Hextall, Hakstol running out of time to show they can fix Flyers

The Philadelphia Flyers go into Tuesday night’s game on their home ice with a whole lot of pressure on every player – and especially on head coach Dave Hakstol.

Hakstol’s Flyers return to their own ice just one night after losing their eighth consecutive game, 5-4 in overtime in Pittsburgh, where they once again blew a two-goal lead in the third period. Before it was over, the Flyers had again wasted a good-enough effort by goalie Brian Elliott (47 saves) and were torched during the three-on-three overtime.

This time, Hakstol did not try to spin the loss into a bundle of games in which, despite the losses, the Flyers picked up points.

While the Flyers have amassed five points in the winless streak, that amounts to just five of a possible 16 points, and the point-total does not matter as much as the manner in which the team has lost. The Flyers had leads in six of the eight games, two-goal leads in four of the last six. 

Hakstol is under intense scrutiny from a fan base that expected this team to be a threat to make the playoffs. Although there is still a whole lot of time before the postseason, the Flyers are falling off the pace and leaking oil.

Hakstol made a nice move when he took a risk by yanking Claude Giroux from first-line center duty and put him on a wing with Sean Couturier in the middle and veteran Jake Voracek. That combination has been terrific, but the lack of secondary scoring has removed the teeth from an offensive attack.

One of the many problems is that the Flyers had counted on Jordan Weal, who was awarded a new deal in the offseason, along with Travis Konecny and the usually reliable Wayne Simmonds, to pump in goals with some regularity.

Weal and Konecny have been disappointing, and it appears the latter still needs fine-tuning in his young career. As for Simmonds, it doesn’t take wide-open eyes to see he is dealing with sort of lower body injury that is hindering his ability to drive to the front of the net.

The Flyers have to be fearful that Simmonds’ issues will be ongoing throughout the season and that Konecny doesn’t reach his potential.

Making matters even worse is the fact that the Flyers cut ties with Brayden Schenn in the offseason and Schenn is among the NHL’s leading scorers while centering a top-line for the high-flying St Louis Blues.

The Flyers moved Schenn to make room for top draft pick Nolan Patrick and the true result of that trade won’t be determined until some of the prospects develop. However, in this season, Schenn is lighting it up and the logical question is why the Flyers coaching staff could not get the best out of him while he was here.

As for Nolan, he has missed a stretch of games with a concussion, but there have been large portions of games when it looks like he is struggling to adapt to the NHL. In limited action, Nolan has shown great skills and an ability to make plays that will help the Flyers in the long term.

The Flyers’ fan base is not the Sixers’ fan base. Flyers fans may have said they were willing to rebuild, but after years of counting on almost guaranteed playoff games, it is hard to accept.

And that is the real problem – do Flyers fans have the patience for the long term?

The Flyers’ fan base is not the Sixers’ fan base. Flyers fans may have said they were willing to rebuild, but after years of counting on almost guaranteed playoff games, it is hard to accept. Fans of the Sixers were willing to Trust the Process, but the team could count on the big NBA TV contracts to fill its pockets while the building was basically empty.

In the NHL, teams need people to pay their money to come and watch games live. In the NHL, your fan base lives for the thrill of the playoffs – and just getting there gives you the hope that you can make some noise and beat a favorite.

General manager Ron Hextall might have been selling the future, but after missing the playoffs, patience is thin. The Flyers fans hear about the future and they only hear the first two letters.

Hextall must take a lot of responsibility for putting together a roster so dependent on young defensemen. Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere are mainstays. Provorov has been terrific, but Gostisbehere has made many of the mistakes that hinder young defensemen with great offensive skills.

The Flyers also have Robert Hagg, 22, and Travis Sanheim, 21, on the blueline, putting them in a spot where 31-year-old Andrew MacDonald is welcomed back as if he is Bobby Orr.

Time and time again, it is apparent that the Flyers lack veterans to batten down the hatches. The Flyers have trouble locking down games, and they show the nervous energy and commit the mistakes of youth on defense as they let games and important points slip away late.

There's no question that Hakstol is the guy on the firing line for what has gone wrong, but Hextall is the man who put this roster on the ice. In the long run, there is every chance the Flyers have the prospects to again become a threat at playoff time.

In the meantime, time is running out for Hakstol to get this group better or the general manager to get him the help to get better.