The winning streak is over, but in a busy week, the Philadelphia Flyers finished with three wins and just one loss. The team’s efforts have put them just four points behind a Wild Card spot. A few weeks ago, getting this close didn’t even seem like a possibility.
Coach Dave Hakstol’s usage of Travis Konecny and Brian Elliott look further into the winning streak and beyond, plus Matt Read’s continued demotion are topics in this week’s grading of Hakstol and general manager Ron Hextall.
Konecny on Fourth Line
Travis Konecny’s ice time had been in peril last week and when Hakstol put him on the fourth line things looked even worse. But, the fourth line is one in name only. Some nights they even see more minutes than the third line.
The move paid off quickly. On Tuesday, the same day of the change-up, Konecny potted the Flyers’ second goal with Scott Laughton picking up an assist.
The fourth line trio, including Taylor Leier, hasn’t recorded a point since then, but Konecny’s minutes have increased for the most part. From 10 minutes against the Leafs to 14 against the Dallas Stars, the 20 year old is getting more of the minutes he needs. However, last night, Konecny played just under nine minutes.
Besides the mostly increased ice time, the bottom line continues to bring energy and a hard forecheck to the Flyers’ lineup. The line isn’t as strong defensively as with Michael Raffl, but there should be more of an offensive danger for other teams to plan against.
Hakstol deserves credit for finding a way to get one of his offensive weapons minutes where he can succeed, but Monday night cannot become a regular thing.
Matt Read in AHL
This non-move isn’t specific to this past week, but after a four-point stretch in two games, Read’s name was dug up by Flyers Twitter on Thursday. Just like when he was demoted to start the year, fans argued that the veteran’s a better player than Jori Lehtera and Dale Weise — and they’re not wrong.
Read has always struggled to put up points, but his advanced numbers indicate a strong play driver. On top of that, the 31 year old brings speed to a lineup and is a good defensive player. However, there’s some factors that work against him that are out of his control.
Weise and Lehtera have two years and one year left on their contracts, respectively. Read has just this season remaining. Sending Weise or Lehtera down implies that both of them will be Phantoms for the rest of their time in the Flyers’ organization. That can scare away free agents in the future. It’s also an easier salary cap hurdle to get over for Read to spend this year in the AHL.
Stemming from that is the fact that both — namely Weise — were Hextall acquisitions. The former Canadien has been the GM’s biggest signing in free agency thus far and Hextall’s not likely to admit failure a year and a half into the contract.
Lehtera was not pursued by Hextall in the Brayden Schenn trade, but him and his salary cap were added so Philadelphia could acquire two first-round picks from the St. Louis Blues. Still, Hextall’s fingerprints are all over the deal. It’s not the same for Read, who was signed by Paul Holmgren as an undrafted free agent in 2011 and extended by him in 2013.
As for the actual on-ice contributions, Weise and Lehtera are both big bodies. Read is a diminutive winger, which the Flyers have three of in their bottom six in Konecny, Jordan Weal and Taylor Leier.
Weise and Lehtera’s board work are both a step above Read’s and this is where I can understand Hakstol and Hextall’s thinking. A fourth line of Read, Leier and Scott Laughton is likely to struggle against any grinding defense.
Still, if the Flyers wanted to optimize their lineup, it probably includes Read over the other two.
Last season, Hakstol took a lot of heat for how he handled his goalies. He’d frequently ride a goalie for stretches, usually Steve Mason, or start one when it made more sense to start the other.
This season, the coach has been dealt a tough hand at the wrong time with Michal Neuvirth’s injury. The team needs wins after the 10-game losing streak and call-up Alex Lyon has struggled in the AHL and hasn’t played in the NHL at all.
Elliott was at the top of his game leading into Monday’s game. He was named Third Star of the Week two weeks ago and Second Star this past week, playing in every minute of Philly’s games.
But Monday was one of the worse games Elliott has had in an orange and black jersey. Every goal that the Los Angeles Kings scored could have been stopped, but the former Blue looked tired.
One of Hakstol’s goalie stretches that came under fire by fans last year was during the 10-game winning streak. Mason played eight games, while Anthony Stolarz played just two, again during a Neuvirth injury. At the time, Philly was racking up wins and looked like a playoff team.
It’s a similar stretch this year, but the wins are even more necessary. However, if Elliott tires in February or March, will fans look back at this stretch as another misstep by Hakstol?
It’s definitely possible, but most would probably follow Hakstol’s steps. In a better situation, Lyon could have played against the Buffalo Sabres, Thursday, but the team couldn’t even afford losing two points against the lowly Sabres.