It took two games for one of Dave Hakstol’s fatal flaws to rear its ugly head and cost the Philadelphia Flyers once again.
After winning the season opener in a rather convincing fashion against the Vegas Golden Knights, one would assume that the Flyers would stick with their winning lineup heading into Colorado. However, that was not the case.
Hakstol said before the game that he determined before the road trip began that he would be using all seven defensemen on the two-game trip. Christian Folin is that seventh defensemen, and he entered the lineup in Colorado.
That meant that, despite all six defensemen playing well against Vegas, one had to sit out. The odd-man out ended up being Radko Gudas, who Hakstol said was healthy and played well in the opener.
Folin, a stay-at-home defenseman that should be a team’s seventh, showed exactly why he is your typical seventh (or worse) defenseman. He has size, but that doesn’t make up for his lack of speed. That was one of the main problems against a speedy Avalanche team, a team that is even faster than the Golden Knights, who the Flyers disposed of on Thursday night.
A poor preseason already had many hoping that Folin would rarely crack the lineup, and he continued to make that same impression in his first regular-season game with the Flyers.
Folin directly or indirectly impacted three of Colorado’s four goals against Brian Elliott, with their fifth being an empty-net goal. His first shift with the Orange and Black ended up with a goal against; and that somehow wasn’t the lowest point of the night.
He does deserve some slack on the first goal, however, as he made a good play in the neutral zone to disrupt a pass and allow Nolan Patrick to take the puck. Unfortunately, Patrick got stripped and the Avalanche had a quick rush.
After Andrew MacDonald fell and took a Colorado player with him into the corner, Folin was left to defend the front of the net by himself. He tied up one man, but the Avs kept hacking away and the third try was the charm.
It was a decent effort in front, but they got too many cracks at it. Folin’s poor night only continued from there.
After the Flyers tied things up midway through the first period, Folin had another folly just three shifts later.
Patrick won a defensive zone faceoff, but Folin’s chip around the boards was retreived by the Avalanche. He got the puck back a few moments later after a shot hit the side of the net, but his clearing attempt off the glass was too weak, getting knocked down and kept in the zone.
He got the puck back yet again, with a few open teammates, but spun the puck off the boards right to where Samuel Girard was waiting.
Girard skated in, fed J.T. Compher, and the forward blasted a one-timer past Folin and Elliott for the Avs’ second goal of the night.
At this point Folin had four shifts (2:33 time on ice), made multiple mistakes, and was on the ice for two goals against.
He continued to play poorly, but got bailed out by his teammates or Elliott throughout the night. Then he made his final mistake in the closing minutes.
Folin got blown by on the power play and was forced to take a hooking penalty as Elliott poked the puck away. It may have been a weak call, but it was a penalty nonetheless.
The Avalanche then scored on the ensuing power play to go up by two goals with less than four minutes remaining. They had four goals, with Folin having a hand in three of them.
Folin ended up with decent numbers if you look at the box score, or even the advanced stats, but stats alone never truly tells the story. Anyone who watched the game on Saturday night, or who watched Folin play during the preseason, knows that he is not one of the six best defensemen on this roster.
Hakstol’s idea of getting all seven defensemen into a game early on the season makes sense. However, maybe stretch that out to the first week of games where there is a back-to-back involved (Tuesday vs. San Jose, Wednesday at Ottawa) to get fresh legs in. Making a lineup decision for the second game of the season before the opener is played doesn’t seem like the best idea.
Gudas absolutely did not deserve to be a healthy scratch on Saturday night, nor did any of the players who contributed to the win on Thursday. Folin’s debut proved that he needs to be the seventh defenseman, and it pretty much confirmed that Gudas would return to the lineup for the home opener.
It’s only one player, and it’s only one game, but poor personnel decisions is one of Hakstol’s fatal flaws.
The Flyers have one of the best rosters on paper that they’ve had in recent years, and Hakstol is going to need to utilize them in the best way possible. He has been able to keep the ship steady through rough waters and has helped guide players along, but lineup optimization is not one of his strong suits. He’ll need to get better with that as this roster has gotten better, or he could be on the hot seat if this team hits a rough patch in a make-or-break season.