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April 04, 2018

Roenick: Flyers could make some noise in playoffs – and Hakstol is a big reason why

Let’s start by trying to forget Dave Hakstol’s wooden demeanor and stoicism. 

It’s daunting, we know, but let’s try really, really hard to forget what happened Tuesday night, when the Flyers failed to beat the Metropolitan Division basement-dwelling New York Islanders, a team which was 2-8 over its previous 10 games and 3-16 over its last 19 games. 

Try to see things through a glass-half-full perspective, in that Hakstol has taken a team that was 38-33-9 at this time last year through 80 games, to an improved 40-26-14 this year and in strong contention for a playoff berth with two games left. 

Again, it’s not easy to give Hakstol any type of credit at all, considering the Flyers didn’t show up for the first two periods Tuesday night, though they did beat the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins in overtime on Sunday. 

NBC NHL analyst Jeremy Roenick, who played three years for the Flyers and worked the studio portion of the Flyers-Bruins game on Sunday, has never wavered on Hakstol this entire season. Roenick said from the beginning of the season he thought Hakstol was a good coach and he liked what he was doing with the Flyers. 

Roenick feels Hakstol has done a quality job with a fairly young team and unreliable goaltending while redefining Sean Couturier’s game and resurrecting Claude Giroux’s. Both Couturier and Giroux have career highs in goals, assists, and points—and Giroux is in the MVP discussion with Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov. 

“Hakstol has done a really good job, and he’s been patient,” Roenick said. “Hakstol has been patient and supportive, and that’s everything a player wants. I like Hakstol. Just as what he’s done with Giroux, who’s having the best season of his career, as is Couturier. The Flyers are playing as a team and playing for each and with each other. That’s the difference you see this year. 

“When they struggle, not that they don’t work, but they work separately. They don’t work in unison, and that’s when they have problems. When they have worked within the system that the coach has worked out for them, things have worked out. They play defensively and they play more efficient. We saw that against Boston. I don’t think they worry too much about their goaltending. Now that may sound strange, but I think it’s a case of we may have a great goaltender tonight, we might not have a great goaltender tonight. We have to play great in front of the goaltender.”

Roenick said Hakstol’s structure has taken pressure off of Giroux and Jake Voracek, allowing the team’s veteran stars to play a loose, fun game. 

The Flyers have that potential to be the Cinderella team in the playoffs that no one expects to do anything, like the Nashville Predators were last year... They have all of the tools to do it.  – Roenick

“I think this is a team that is working on the same page, they’re working for each other and there are no separate agendas,” Roenick said. “That’s why they have been winning. It doesn’t matter who is [in] goal right now, because they are taking care of things, for the most [part], in front of them. You have guys that developed on this team under Hakstol, who developed their games. I think Travis Konecny is going to be a great player. Jonesy [Flyers’ analyst Keith Jones] thinks Konecny will be the next [Boston Bruin Brad] Marchand. 

“Hakstol moved Couturier to the No. 1 center, moved Giroux to the wing, moved Konecny up, took some responsibility from Voracek to balance one of the lower lines, those were genius moves. Look at what it’s done. Giroux, Couturier and Konecny are one of the best lines in the National Hockey League. Hakstol hasn’t been afraid to throw guys back to the minors, or bench a guy if he’s not playing a complete game.

“The Flyers have that potential to be the Cinderella team in the playoffs that no one expects to do anything like the Nashville Predators were last year. They could be the Nashville of last year, especially with Brian Elliott returning. This team, with the year Giroux, Konecny, Voracek and Couturier have all had, they have all of the tools to do it.”

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