The Philadelphia Flyers put an end to their losing skid and things are looking up for management also. Travis Sanheim over Brandon Manning, Petr Mrazek and Alex Lyon swapping starts and Scott Gordon signing an extension are topics in this week’s review of general manager Ron Hextall and coach Dave Hakstol.
Travis Sanheim In Over Brandon Manning
After months of wishing, Flyers fans got their shooting star when Hakstol sat veteran Brandon Manning in favor of rookie Travis Sanheim. Between multiple scratchings in December, a demotion in January and a promotion in March, Sanheim finally played over Manning again.
The results were also in the Flyers favor. Philly defeated the Washington Capitals, 6-3, and although Sanheim didn’t factor into the scoring, it should be enough to convince Hakstol to keep the rookie in the lineup.
But even if the Flyers lost, I think Sanheim would still stick.
It would have been easy for Hakstol to use the “matchups” excuse against Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson and the Caps as a reason to keep Manning and his experienced grit in the lineup. Sunday’s tilt was also a huge game. The Flyers may have won the day before, but the team needed at least a point to have a successful weekend.
Playing Sanheim worked out well and so has his path since he was demoted. He admitted to losing confidence before he was sent to Allentown, but worked on things with the Phantoms and came back better than ever. The Flyers, meanwhile, solidified a spot in the playoffs before a recent slump.
Hakstol has somewhat deservedly taken criticism for his handling of rookies and young players. Besides Sanheim, Shayne Gostisbehere also admitted to losing confidence last season.
Despite that, the two, along with Travis Konecny, Nolan Patrick (who I believe Hakstol has actually handled very well), Scott Laughton and Robert Hagg have all developed into strong NHL players. Hakstol’s journey for his players hasn’t always been smooth, but the destination has been successful often.
Hakstol’s detractors have a point, though, that most of those prospects were top-tier ones. It will be crucial to see how prospects with less pedigree respond to the 49 year old’s tough love.
But this time we can say things worked out fine — even if it took longer than it should have.
Alex Lyon in Saturday, Petr Mrazek Sunday
After Petr Mrazek gave up four goals on 10 shots Thursday against the Blue Jackets, Hakstol did something he’s been reluctant to do this year — inserting the young Alex Lyon into a huge game. Instead of going back to the veteran, Lyon was named the starter for Saturday’s game against the Hurricanes.
It was the right move after Mrazek looked so shaky against Columbus and the investment in Lyon helped things too as the 25 year old stopped 23 shots to help the Flyers beat the Hurricanes, 4-2. Between the Columbus game, which Lyon took over in net for during the second period, and the Carolina match, Lyon stopped 43 shots and gave Philadelphia the opportunity to win in both.
But Hakstol didn’t want to ride the hot hand into Sunday’s game. Instead of Lyon, Mrazek was back between the pipes against the Capitals. Again, everything came up roses for the Flyers.
Mrazek made 25 saves in one of his more better, recent games in the orange and black. It was just the Czech Republic native’s second win in eight games.
Picking the starter for the second game was a tough choice. If Lyon faltered, some would say Mrazek should have gotten the start. If Mrazek continued his poor play, the other side would argue it should have been the hot goalie in net.
But one thing’s clear for the Flyers. If Brian Elliott isn’t back before playoffs, the team needs Mrazek at the top of his game.
Lyon has looked good in spells, but relying on him for a seven-game series against the Capitals or Penguins has doom written all over it. Mrazek hasn’t been great — or even good at most times — in a Flyers uniform, but he gives the club a markedly better chance of winning most nights.
Hopefully the win and tough choice by Hakstol helps him stay at a winning level over the next month.
Scott Gordon Signed to Extension
Since the Phantoms have moved to Lehigh Valley, Ron Hextall has always made a point of having a strong club in the AHL. He’s done that by bringing in skilled veterans and a coach with NHL experience in Scott Gordon.
Last Tuesday, Hextall made sure Gordon wouldn’t be leaving the organization by signing him to an extension. The Courier-Post’s Dave Isaac speculated that Gordon may not be sticking in Allentown, though:
Scott Gordon has signed an extension as coach of the #LVPhantoms. Semi-surprised he didn’t wait for a shot at the NHL this summer. Have to think there will be turnover then.
— Dave Isaac (@davegisaac) March 13, 2018
I don’t believe the turnover means Hakstol just yet — especially if the Flyers make the playoffs — but there’s no doubt the penalty kill that assistant coach Ian Laperriere runs needs a change.
The Phantoms’ penalty kill numbers haven’t been great this year at an 83 percent rate and 16th in the league, but as Isaac alluded to, Gordon’s succeeded in plenty of other areas.
In three years, the former Islander coach has compiled a 124-74-12 record, ended a long playoff drought and is gearing up for another postseason run this year. But most importantly, Gordon’s groomed a number of Flyers prospects.
Robert Hagg, Taylor Leier, Travis Sanheim and Oskar Lindblom have all been coached by Gordon. I also give the coach a lot of credit for Scott Laughton’s resurgence after a few disappointing NHL seasons.
Whether Gordon is promoted to the NHL bench or continues to navigate the farm system, Hextall locked up a key piece of his organization.