Grading Hak & Hex: Lineup Switches & Penalty Kill

Updated: February 13, 2018 at 10:53 am by Wes Herrmann

Last week, I started off this column by detailing how the Philadelphia Flyers were in one of their losing streaks, but most of the blame couldn’t be placed on coach Dave Hakstol or general manager Ron Hextall.

This week, the team’s on a winning streak, but it’s not all roses for management — specifically Hakstol. But the choices he made may not be as bad as they’re being made out to be.

Leier on Third Line, Scratched for Weise Next Game

In about a stretch of about two weeks, Taylor Leier went from healthy scratch to the fourth line to the third and back to healthy scratch.

On Tuesday, the 23 year old moved onto the third line with Scott Laughton and Jordan Weal. It was the first time Leier had moved higher than the fourth line — and there’s plenty of reason it took so long.

Leier is fast, but not much more skilled than a top AHL scorer and is just mediocre defensively. Expecting him to produce in a scoring role would probably be too hopeful.

Hakstol seemed to realize that quickly, replacing Leier with Michael Raffl, who was on the fourth, on the third line and inserting Dale Weise on the fourth. The move gave the Flyers their best nine forwards in the top nine, but fans were still upset that Weise was in the lineup over Leier.

Leier is probably the better player, but I did make a point on Twitter that the 23 year old is probably too fast to play with Valtteri Filppula and Jori Lehtera. That isn’t the best way to build a lineup by any means, but if Hakstol is adamant on playing Lehtera, Weise is the better option between the two.

On another note, this move probably won’t make too much of a difference. With such small roles, the difference in impact won’t be noticeable most games.

And if you don’t believe me, just look at the last three games with Weise in the lineup. Fans went into an outrage when the move was made, but the Flyers have picked up six out of a possible six points with the former Canadien in the lineup.

However, I will say that if Haksol was building an optimal forward group with the players he can use, Leier and Matt Read should be flanking Filppula with Lehtera and Weise in the stands.

Patrick, Filppula Swap Versus Canadiens

Mere hours after the Weise-Leier flip, Hakstol sent fans into another frenzy when he swapped Nolan Patrick and Filppula in the third period of Philadelphia’s game against Montreal Thursday.

With a 4-2 lead, Hakstol demoted Patrick to the fourth and moved Filppula up to the second. Suddenly, Filppula was playing with skilled wingers like Wayne Simmonds and Jake Voracek and Patrick had the ill fortune of playing with Lehtera and Weise.

Patrick had a rough second period in that game, getting pinned in his zone frequently, and taking a holding penalty, which he’s been guilty of often this year. Logically, fans and analysts figured that the rookie was being punished for the dreadful second stanza.

After the game, though, Hakstol said the switch was to get a better matchup against Montreal’s second line. Filppula may be declining offensively but he’s still reliable in his own end — and probably even more than Patrick.

The decision was effective, too. Montreal scored once in the period, on the power play and the Flyers were able to seal the victory.

The swap was a smart one by Hakstol and shows the worth of Filppula. He’s not your average fourth liner and can be counted on for some crucial defensive minutes.

My only concern with the move is whether it would have been made had the Flyers not scored twice early in the third. The game went quickly from tied to a two-goal Philly lead. If it hadn’t, would Filppula still move up to the second line?

I hope not. The Finn is good defensively, but Patrick is the one to be relied on for scoring. That’s simply a “what if” at this point, but if a similar event happens in the future, it will be interesting to see what Hakstol does.

Aggressive PK Against Knights

The Flyers were only penalized once against the Golden Knights, but it was one of their best kills of the season.

Instead of the unit’s usual matra of hanging back and trying to block lanes and shots, the Flyers were aggressive and forced the Knights to make plays. Often times it led to turnovers and clearings from the penalty killers.

Almost unfortunately, the Flyers didn’t have to kill another penalty the rest of the game, so it couldn’t be determined if the kill was just a lucky one or a new tempo to come. It’s also possible Philly played that way since the Knights are fast and aggressive.

I don’t want to get too much into this topic, since it could have just been a flash in a pan, but keep a close eye on the Flyers’ penalty kill the next time it’s on the ice.

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