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November 28, 2017

Should the last-place Flyers fire Dave Hakstol?

Flyers NHL

The Flyers lost again Monday night. It was the kind of ignominious setback that gets people talking — and in the case of the Flyers’ freefall during this eight-game winless stretch, the talk is about lopping off coach Dave Hakstol.

This winless streak is the longest the Flyers have had since the 10-game winless streak in 2008, from Feb. 6, 2009-to-Feb. 23, 2008. By the way, those 2008 Flyers reached the Eastern Conference finals, where they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

This Flyers team looks destined for nowhere.

Entering tonight’s San Jose game at the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers reside in last place in the NHL’s Eastern Conference Metropolitan Division at 8-9-7. Their league-leading seventh overtime loss came after the 5-4 demise to the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins on Monday night.

Against Pittsburgh, they blew a two-goal lead for the fifth time this season, for the fourth time in the last six games — and a two-goal, third-period lead for a second-straight time. The Flyers are 2-10 this month — regardless of Hakstol’s current count that is upped to eight of the Flyers’ last 11 where they’ve “gotten a point.”

They haven’t won since their 3-1 triumph over Chicago on Nov. 9. Their eight victories eclipse only two teams in the league, fellow division bottom-dwellers Buffalo and Arizona, which have six victories apiece.

Is it schematic or a lack of talent that the Flyers are having issues with?

“It’s the same old problems that have haunted them the last few years, inconsistent goaltending and the lack of scoring from their third and fourth lines,” said NHL analyst Jeremy Roenick, who played for the Flyers for three years and still keeps an eye on them. “Secondary scoring is so important in the NHL. You can’t rely on one line to win hockey games for you.

“You’ll find teams shutting down your main offensive weapon leaves you a very low percentage of winning the hockey game. Some of the guys on that team have got to step up and do things that are out of their character. They’re not doing that. I think Sean Couturier has been amazing this year, playing probably bigger than I thought he was capable of. Brian Elliott will be very good, then let up a bad goal and the team deflates.

“When you’re punch drunk and something happens, then you’re like, ‘Here we go again.’”

There’s been a lot of that recently. A young defense doesn’t help. Travis Sanheim (minus-5/plus-minus) is a rookie, and despite all of the considerable talents of Ivan Provorov (minus-1/plus-minus), he’s played only one NHL season, as has Robert Hagg (plus-11/plus-minus). The undersized Shayne Gostisbehere (0/plus-minus) is in his third full NHL season and sometimes appears stuck in rookie mode.

It’s interesting that Roenick is not ready to lay the blame on Hakstol.

“I still believe in Dave Hakstol,” Roenick said. “I believe he has the right mentality and the right game plan for this team. He’s not getting the results and production that he needs. The players just have to bear down when situations get tough and not second-guess themselves. That’s what’s happening here. This is a team that, no question, needs an identity. That’s for the leaders to create. Everybody has to follow them.

“But I do think [Claude] Giroux and [Jakub] Voracek have been great. Wayne Simmonds has slowed down, but I can’t really say anything bad about Simmonds because he always gives you everything that he has. He may be hurt. Nolan Patrick may not have the speed for the NHL, as I said before. He’s very smart, but you have to get to the puck to make those plays.”

Elliott deserves a temporary reprieve for the way he played Monday night. He made a career-best 47 saves — with little help from anyone in front of him. His glove stab of Sidney Crosby’s bullet to the upper left corner with 1:10 left in regulation should have sealed a Flyers’ victory. Instead, no one cleaned up the front of the net when the Penguins’ Jake Guentzel scored the tying goal six seconds later on a fluky bounce.

Then in overtime, Crosby was allowed to sit on the doorstep and deflect Kris Letang’s shot over a sprawled-out Elliott.

Hakstol may not be totally to blame for lapses like that.

In recent years, the Flyers let go of players like the NHL’s best goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky, who leads the league with a 1.92 goals-against-average.

More recently, Brayden Schenn, who the Flyers traded this summer to St. Louis for center Jori Lehtera, who has played in 15 games and produced 2 points, and two first-round picks, one of which is center Morgan Frost, an 18-year-old who looks promising playing for the minor league Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

But Frost isn’t helping the Flyers now, while Schenn is sixth in the NHL with 30 points and tied for seventh overall with 20 assists — and a big reason why the Blues have the best record in the NHL.

"Right now, they’re on pace to be in last place. Their talent is better than last place — that’s for sure.”

Locally, the heat is building around the Flyers coach. WIP morning drive host/PhillyVoice columnist Angelo Cataldi demanded that Hakstol be fired now. Cataldi brought up the interesting stat that when Craig Berube was fired, he was clipped with winning percentage of 47 percent. Hakstol’s winning percentage is 47 percent over two seasons, according to Cataldi.

Fellow WIP talk show host Glenn Macnow is a respected hockey aficionado who knows the game — and the Flyers — as well as anyone. True angst comes across his face at the mere mention of Hakstol. He sees the Flyers’ plight as a combination of depth and Hakstol.

“There is enough front-line talent that they should be winning more than they are,” Macnow said of the Flyers. “I think the coach doesn’t do a particularly good job of putting players together. I think he shows all of the emotion of a wet paper towel in a way that doesn’t appear to inspire anybody.

“When he said after the [New York Islander 5-4 overtime loss on Nov. 24] that they have points in seven of their last 10 games, it showed this is a franchise that has so severely lowered its expectations that winning no longer appears to be important.

“When you send that message to your players and your fans, you show that you’re settling for mediocrity. To me, it’s more so schematic than talent. They’re not a particularly talented team but they’re good enough to make the playoffs. Right now, they’re on pace to be in last place. Their talent is better than last place — that’s for sure.”