The Philadelphia Flyers are down 2-1 in their series to the Pittsburgh Penguins where there’s been plenty of highs, but too many lows. In this week’s grading of general manager Ron Hextall and mainly coach Dave Hakstol, we’ll look into the decisions that got the Flyers to where they are at now.
With two of the three games on the road — where the home team gets the last change — and the lone home game being a lopsided affair from the halfway point, it’s tough to get a read on the line matchups Hakstol was looking for. But we can at least glean some info from the first three games.
For the offense, Hakstol tried going line for line against the Penguins. The top six played the top six, the third line had the third line and the bottom line went against the Pens’ fourth. With the Flyers’ roster makeup that’s the best way to go.
It’d be more ideal if the team had a strong shutdown third line that could take some defensive minutes against Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, but Hakstol learned how that can go with Valtteri Filppula during the regular season. That leaves the team with the only option of having Sean Couturier and Nolan Patrick as the matchup centers.
On defense, Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere have been the most used pairing — not that anyone’s surprised by that. But the curious part is the pairing of Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning being used as the second unit.
Much like the offense, it would be nice if there was a gentler dropoff after the first pairing. Unfortunately, the Flyers have two third pairings at the time being, but I think Hakstol is doing it right. Gudas is intimidating and decent defensively (usually better when not paired with Manning) and getting Travis Sanheim easier competition should, and has, helped him contribute more offense.
It would be easy to say that the matchups have failed since Philly is down 2-1 in the series. There are things that can be blamed on Hakstol, but as for the line matchups, sometimes a team is just overmatched.
Same Lineup in Game 2
Count me as one of the people that were skeptical of Hakstol’s decision to not change the Flyers lineup after the 7-1 shellacking in Game One. Although, I could understand the reasoning, I probably wouldn’t have done it myself.
The biggest issue was that the top players were the worst players in Game 1. The first line was invisible and the top pairing of Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov were a combined minus-six. Meanwhile, the usual replacement culprits — Jori Lehtera, Scott Laughton, Matt Read — were actually the best Flyers on the ice.
Then there was also the hope that the embarresment from Game 1 would be enough to fuel the team to a revenge win.
Still, I probably would have put Travis Konecny back on the first line and consider inserting Robert Hagg for Brandon Manning.
However, where I agreed with Hakstol was keeping Elliott in net. I don’t believe Petr Mrazek would give the Flyers any better chance of winning despite strong playoff numbers in a small sample size.
But, it wasn’t just Elliott that worked out for Hakstol, just about everything turned out great for the coach. Konecny scored a goal and the first line even produced one courtesy of Sean Couturier. Manning could have made a better play against Patric Hornqvist on the lone Pens goal, but he wasn’t an issue across the whole game.
Hakstol deserves credit on this one. He stayed pat when most probably wouldn’t and pressed the right buttons. He played a part in the series getting tied at one.
No Timeout in Game 3
The Flyers went into the first intermission of Game 3 down 1-0, but should have been confident. They barraged the Penguins with plenty of should-be goals to start the game and still fought back after the Pittsburgh goal.
Less than seven minutes into the second period, the team was down 3-0, giving up two power play goals. It was obvious that the Flyers — and any team in that situation — were about to unravel.
But Hakstol let the play continue after that third goal and Brian Dumoulin responded by putting a puck five-hole on Brian Elliott to give the Pens a 4-0 lead. If there was any hope left, it was effectively buried six feet deep.
After the game, Hakstol blamed himself for not taking a timeout, which he should. His team had taken two penalties when it needed to be disciplined and quickly lost momentum. Instead, the Pens continued their dominance. Unsurprisingly, the Flyers continued with their undisciplined play taking a number of unneeded and careless stick penalties.
I don’t believe a timeout would have changed the outcome of Game 3, but those arguing that Hakstol can’t read his team or the atmosphere of a game certainly has evidence to add to the file.
Line Adjustments in Game 3
It took two and a half games, but Hakstol finally made some major in-game line adjustments (though there was no reason to change the lines during Game 2). Toward the end of the second period of Game 3, Oskar Lindblom dropped to the fourth line, Travis Konecny jumped to the second and Scott Laughton was promoted to the third.
Naturally, Lindblom’s demotion caused the biggest resistance on Twitter. The Swede has been good for long stretches of the season and is not the right player to match with Jori Lehtera and Matt Read. I agree with the last part, but Lindblom has been near-invisible in this playoff series. The team needed scoring and promoting Konecny and Laughton, who is incredibly snake-bitten, made more sense than giving Lindblom more minutes.
The strangest thing among the promotions and demotions, though, is Michael Raffl remaining on the top line. Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier had chances at the beginning of Game 3, but haven’t been their usual selves throughout the series. Pairing Konecny with them may give the line a boost it needs.
With practice Tuesday for the Flyers, these will be the issues to watch out for. Does Lindblom stay in the lineup? Or does Jordan Weal get back into a game? Konecny’s been promoted once; does that continue?