The Philadelphia Flyers season came to an end Sunday, but before the offseason goes into full swing, let’s look at the moves in the last week that got the team to this point.
No Timeout in Game 4
Last week, Hakstol took a lot of flack for not calling a timeout after the Penguins scored their third goal in Game 3. The lack of timeouts continued in Game 4 after Pittsburgh’s second goal.
The Flyers let up the first goal on the power play, but climbed back into the game after a few great shifts. The crowd was into it and the team had spent nearly a full minute in the offensive zone.
Then Scott Laughton made a bad pass that Evgeni Malkin picked off, allowing him and Phil Kessel to go on a 2-on-1. Kessel’s shot squeaked through Brian Elliott and all of the Flyers’ work ended up as a two-goal deficit.
It would be difficult for most teams to bounce back after that. It was the third time in four games Philly had seen its momentum squashed by a turnover and some bad luck. Plus, it didn’t help that the team had scored just four goals on Matt Murray in the previous three games.
While a timeout probably wouldn’t change the outcome — the Flyers had issues battling back all series and the Penguins know how to hold onto a lead — there was no clearer time when the team needed some time to regroup. Even if Hakstol didn’t say a word, it probably could have had better results than trotting out five players with their heads hanging.
The next Penguins goal didn’t come until the second period, but again Hakstol showed a bad read of the atmosphere in-game.
Lineup Changes, Neuvirth in for Game 5
Hakstol actually made some lineup changes for Game 4, but those lasted just a game and made little impact. The ones in Game 5 carried over and somewhat resulted in the win.
On defense, Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere were split up and Robert Hagg, who played with Ghost, replaced Travis Sanheim. Provorov was paired with Andrew MacDonald, while the Radko Gudas-Brandon Manning was left unscathed.
I actually didn’t mind the Provorov/Gostisbehere split. Although those two are great together, spreading the talent around helped against a team with so much depth.
Where the issues lie — and where they’ve been for months now — is the Gudas-Manning pairing. Manning was the worst Flyers blueliner all season and Gudas wasn’t much better.
Keeping Manning and Gudas together is bad enough, but when you consider that Sanheim was scratched for them, it quickly becomes tragic. At times, Sanheim was the team’s second best defenseman and while Hagg should be in the lineup, it should have never come at the expense of Sanheim.
Meanwhile on offense, Hakstol got even more creative sticking Valterri Filppula between Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek, moving Sean Couturier to the third line with Scott Laughton and Wayne Simmonds and combining a trio of Travis Konecny, Nolan Patrick and Michael Raffl.
Having Filppula as a first-line center going into an elimination game seemed disastrous, but Patrick didn’t look great there in Game 4 and Couturier was still dealing with what turned out to be an MCL tear. Still, relying on one of the team’s most disappointing forwards over Patrick seemed risky.
Finally, we come to Neuvirth, who got back into the lineup as a backup in Game 4. However, that didn’t last long with Elliott getting yanked after the third goal in that game. Before Game 5, Hakstol hinted that Elliott would still be in net, but he surprised most by naming Neuvirth the starter.
This is where I actually agree with Hakstol’s tinkering. Elliott wasn’t having a great series and there wasn’t much to lose by giving Neuvirth a chance.
And as it turned out, everything went well for Hakstol in Game 5. Filppula had one of his best games of the year, Hagg was solid and Neuvirth was reminiscent of the Capitals series in 2016.
Of course, the biggest issue before Game 6 on Sunday was how long could that lineup hold up against the Penguins…
Like most NHL coaches, Hakstol bases his lineups on results. The one he used in Game 5 earned him and the team a surprising, gritty one-goal victory the Flyers could have only dreamed of earlier in the series.
So Hakstol stuck to his guns and kept the lineup the same.
I won’t make anyone relive Sunday but as we all know the Flyers got off to a good start and were ultimately squashed by a superior team.
There’s some things that can be blamed on Hakstol — the lineup choices, not shortening the bench enough — but I’m not so sure how much farther we can go.
After Game 5, the Flyers were drained. With a two-goal lead, it looked like Philly could hold onto the lead and force a Game 7, but before the second stanza was over, it was tied.
It would have been difficult for any coach to go into the Flyers locker room and rally an exhuasted team that squandered a two-goal lead in a matter of minutes. That doesn’t make me believe that there aren’t better coaches suited for that than Hakstol, but it’s a tough situation for anyone to be in.
The simple fact is that the Penguins were determined and could handle adversity. The Flyers could barely handle one-goal deficits but Pittsburgh knew what it had to do to get back into the game.
It was an unfortunate outcome, but most wanted the Flyers in the playoffs for experience for the young players — and they got just that. Patrick, Konecny, Provorov, Gostisbehere and more watched a back-to-back championship team handle adversity, erase a deficit and bury an inferior team — a lesson the young squad should be able to use in the coming years.