The Philadelphia Flyers are sinking, and they’re sinking fast. They have lost seven games in a row, each one seemingly more frustrating than the last, and need to right the ship quickly.
Head coach Dave Hakstol has made changes throughout the three weeks without a win, but none have worked. Well, none have worked sufficiently enough to get the Flyers a win. Ron Hextall even called up two reinforcements from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in Danick Martel and Sam Morin. Those two have provided a spark, with Martel’s hustle and grit rubbing off on his teammates, but it has yet to result in a win. The Flyers have come close, but they haven’t gotten over the hump.
“At least they got a point” is something to grasp at after overtime losses, it’s certainly something I have tried to remain positive about during this long losing streak, but that isn’t a fun narrative. Coming back to earn a point is one thing, but four loser points in seven games is another. In all four of overtime or shootout losses during the streak, the Flyers have either blown a two-goal lead (at Winnipeg, vs. Calgary, vs. New York), or blown two one-goal leads (at New York).
Hakstol has tried different combinations during the seven-game losing streak. The only line to remain intact is the top trio, and for good reason. The middle-six has seen a few mix ups, and even the fourth line was dismantled with a few different wingers joining Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier. A few lines have played well together, particularly the second line of Martel, Nolan Patrick, and Wayne Simmonds in recent games, but they have still failed to find a way to win.
While the coach takes the blame during a losing streak, which is justifiable, the players haven’t been executing either. There is plenty of blame to go around, but the easy target is the man in charge: Dave Hakstol. He hasn’t done himself any favors either. Last season he consistently played two replacement-level veterans over players that were less experienced but more skilled. His decisions to healthy scratch struggling young players, Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Konecny, were also choices that fans still question. The questionable decisions just pile up, and it results in a laundry list of reasons fans want Hakstol’s head on a platter.
Now, with the Flyers in the midst of a seven-game losing streak, Hakstol is going back to the well. He is planning on going with a veteran-heavy lineup tonight in Pittsburgh. Jordan Weal was demoted to the fourth line a few games ago, and Taylor Leier was taken off the penalty kill on Friday, which were both precursors of what’s to come. They will both likely be scratched in favor of Dale Weise and Jori Lehtera. Weal and Leier undoubtedly have more skill than Weise and Lehtera, but Hakstol isn’t alone in making the “safe” choice by playing veterans over rookies. Coaches around the league do it all the time. Even some of the best coaches, like a guy Philadelphia was clamoring for in Mike Babcock, rely on their veterans a bit too much.
It’s not a decision that I agree with, nor would I make it myself, but the rationale is there for Hakstol. It’s grasping at straws a bit, as Weal and Leier would likely give the Flyers a better chance of winning, but at this point he’s tried everything else. He scratched Dale Weise for one of the young guys during the losing streak, and the Flyers still lost, he scratched both of them, and they still lost. Weal has been incredibly disappointing this season, and hopefully this can light a fire under him and get him going. Leier has struggled on the penalty kill, but his play at even strength hasn’t been an issue. Putting Weise and Lehtera back in the lineup isn’t a great decision, especially against the Penguins.
Andrew MacDonald returning from injury and taking Sam Morin’s place in the lineup is something that I saw coming and don’t have as much of an issue with. Having a few rookies in the lineup is fine, but having three rookies making up half of your defensive corps could be a problem. I would rather have Morin in the lineup than Brandon Manning, but there is some value in having more than three experienced defensemen. Once Robert Hägg and Travis Sanheim settle in more than they already have, we could see them go with three rookies. But Hagg still has his hiccups, and Sanheim still struggles in the defensive zone at times.
Morin was called up for a few games to let MacDonald get back to 100%. He’ll likely go back to the AHL where he’ll play 20+ minutes a night, rather than be the Flyers’ sixth defenseman playing 15 minutes a night, or as the seventh defenseman being a healthy scratch.
Hopefully Morin is back up before too long, but there was no doubt that MacDonald would return to the top pair once he was healthy. This will also even out the pairs a bit, as Hagg and Gostisbehere are reunited on the second pair. Patience is still key with Morin and with this team in general. However, they need to win now so they don’t get close to a double-digit losing streak, which they could hit this week.
Dave Hakstol is in a tough position between developing the young guys and needing to win now. At times like these it seems like he’s doing neither, and that could be the case, but the players aren’t playing to their potential either. The young guys are progressing, however, with the rookies improving every week and the younger guys getting enough playing time. Getting the veterans back in the lineup is a bit of a panic move to try to win now, but they’ve been getting less playing time over the past few weeks. Hopefully this is just a one game stint for at least one of Weal or Leier in the press box, and ideally it would just be one game for both.
A win tonight would be huge. Not only would it break their losing streak, but it would be against the Penguins as well. Hakstol is using one of the coaching cliches in relying on his veterans for a big game, he just has to hope that these decisions don’t sink his ship.
Photo by Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
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