Grading Hak/Hex: Defense, Couturier on PP, Goalies

Updated: November 7, 2017 at 4:46 pm by Wes Herrmann

The Philadelphia Flyers couldn’t have had a much worse week in term of injuries. Nolan Patrick, Sam Morin and Andrew MacDonald remained out, Radko Gudas suffered an injury and Shayne Gostisbehere didn’t return until Saturday night.

Despite the injuries, the Flyers stayed pat removing themselves from trades, signings and waivers over the past seven days. That decision plus Sean Couturier, the goalies and challenges are the topics in this week’s analysis of the Philadelphia management.

No Defensive Acquisitions

When the Flyers were forced to trot out with AHL veterans Mark Alt and Will O’Neill on their bottom pairing Thursday night against the St. Louis Blues, I don’t think most Philly fans would have had an issue with general manager Ron Hextall if he decided to make a minor move to upgrade the blue line.

The team was down four defensemen in MacDonald, Gostisbehere, Gudas and Morin. Of the rearguards playing, only Brandon Manning had 100 games of NHL experience.

Hextall had one known opportunity to make a move when Arizona Coyotes defenseman Adam Clendening was put on waivers Thursday. With just a one-year deal and a $650,000 cap hit, a claim on the 26-year-old didn’t seem like the worst thing.

But Hextall let the waiver opportunity pass and didn’t seem to pursue a trade.

Gostisbehere may have returned Saturday, but Alt was still playing and MacDonald may not return for another month. The merits were there to acquire a blueliner that could be waived later in the season.

However, against the Blues there was no reason to believe the Flyers needed another defenseman and Alt has played fine in his three games with the club. With the banged-up defense, the club carried a 1-1-1 record last week.

In context, that’s not so bad. But it’s also possible Philadelphia could have gone 0-3 in those games. The team didn’t dominate any of them and only mustered one non-empty-net goal in its win.

For now, Hextall made a suitable decision by not acquiring a defenseman. That could have been very different, though.

Couturier On Power Play

Replacing Brayden Schenn on the power play was a big talking point last season and into training camp. Most figured Oskar Lindblom would take the spot. But the Swedish prospect ended up missing out on a roster spot — let alone a power-play spot.

Valtteri Filppula earned the low-slot opening that Schenn found so much success in over the past few years.

There was definitely a step-down, but Filppula still produced, scoring three goals and one assist on the man advantage. Still, the Flyers saw a need for a change and so they made one.

Thursday night, Sean Couturier replaced Filppula on the first power play unit and although the first-line center doesn’t have any power-play points yet, the move makes sense.

Couturier is having his best season ever. Most noticeably his offensive game has been soaring playing with stars like Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek.

The 24-year-old has played on the second unit for a few years, usually from the half-board spot on the left side, where he can get a shot off. However, Couturier doesn’t have the strongest or fastest shot, which always made him look out of place.

Schenn’s power-play goals usually resulted from quick releases in the slot or rebounds. With Couturier’s better offensive knack this season and bigger frame, he should be able to cash in more in front of the net than Filppula ever did.

Hakstol Challenges Goalie Interference

The first time coach Dave Hakstol challenged a goal, him and his team got burnt badly. To set the scene, the Flyers had climbed back from a 3-0 deficit against the Nashville Predators, took a two-goal lead and squandered it with a little more than a minute left trying to kill a 5-on-3. The score was 5-5.

But the goal, courtesy of Scott Hartnell, could have been offsides. Hakstol decided to challenge on about a 40 percent chance it would be overturned. It wasn’t.

Instead of having to kill a 5-on-4, the Flyers were taxed with another 5-on-3 situation and couldn’t hold off Filip Forsberg and the Preds, losing in regulation and giving up a point — or possibly two.

Against the Blues, Hakstol was faced with another challengeable goal — this time scored by the Flyers. Brandon Manning’s point shot found the back of the net in the opening minutes of the second period Thursday, but was waved off by the officials due to goaltender interference by Jake Voracek.

On the replay, it was easy to see that Voracek was outside the blue paint, goalie Jake Allen touched him first and then Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo knocked Voracek into his own goalie. Hakstol challenged and got the call overturned.

That was a much easier decision than the one Hakstol had to make in the Predators game, but he didn’t shy away from a challenge after the outrage he endured from his last one.

No Shying Away from Neuvirth

One of the biggest critiques of Hakstol last season was his handling of the goalies. He frequently rode one of the netminders whether they were playing well or not. For example, Steve Mason started 54 games last season despite carrying a .908 save percentage.

To start the year, Hakstol seems to be using the same approach, leaning toward newcomer Brian Elliott more than Michal Neuvirth. That’s despite the fact that Neuvirth has had the better games of the two.

This week, though, Hakstol didn’t lean on Elliott. The former Flame gave up three goals in the loss to the Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday, but didn’t have a bad game.

It still warranted a switch to Neuvirth and the former Capital made the most of it, stopping 33 shots, including a very impressive third period, and earning a shutout.

Given Hakstol’s past tendencies, he would have gone back to Elliott Saturday against the Colorado Avalanche, but he wasn’t swayed this time. Neuvirth was back in net against the Avs.

The 29 year old’s game wasn’t as stellar Saturday night. The Flyers did come away with a point, but lost 5-4 to the Avalanche in a shootout. However, the loss wasn’t on him and if Elliott had played, we’d be wondering what Neuvirth could have done.

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