Are Flyers just underachievers? GM Ron Hextall doesn't think so

Are Flyers just underachievers? GM Ron Hextall doesn't think so

To look at the Flyers and where they are in the playoff picture -- only three players are plus this season -- it seems safe to say this team has underachieved under Dave Hakstol.

They're not a great hockey club. They're not as skilled or as deep as Chicago or Pittsburgh or Washington.

Only a few players have had good or very good seasons, and they're minus players as well -- Wayne Simmonds, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny.

So on the eve of a four-game road trip that should tip the wild card one way or the other, how does general manager Ron Hextall square up with that assessment?

"I don't know if that's fair to say," Hextall said on Monday after the Flyers' team photo session at the Wells Fargo Center.

"Did we underachieve last night [against Carolina]? No. We're sitting there at 2-2 and we're outshooting them 2-1 and outplaying them, out-chancing them. Dominating the game essentially. A little bit of a microcosm the way our year has gone so far.

"So last night we scored more goals. Why don't we score more goals? Tough question to answer. We're getting to the net, our net-front presence is good. We're getting there for rebounds, we're doing a lot of the things we should do.

"There are some nights when it seems like it is puck luck. You can look at the whole year and say it's puck luck. We're focused again now on the stretch run and doing our part. We need a lot of help here but we're focused on doing our part."

Hakstol didn't get much offseason help. The Flyers' only two free-agent signings among AHL/NHL players were Dale Weise and Boyd Gordon. Gordon is now a Phantom.

Weise? He has four goals and eight points. Two goals in his last three games since coming back after being a healthy scratch for six games.

"When you sign guys, we signed Dale Weise, I assume that is what you are talking about, to a four-year deal," Hextall said. "If you are evaluating right now, you say, 'It hasn't exactly been ... he hasn't put up the type of numbers we hope.'

"He's playing pretty well lately. He is certainly a better player than he has shown over the course of the year. At the time, we added depth to our lineup. We expect 12 to 15 goals and he is nowhere near that. So, in a nutshell, we know Dale can play better."

Could Hextall have done something to help Hakstol earlier rather than waiting until the NHL trade deadline to acquire Valtteri Filppula?

Essentially, the only moves Hakstol has been able to make this season involve shifting personnel around in the lineup.

"Yeah, that's the game today," Hextall said. "We're in a cap world. There's 30 teams. There's not a lot of players, players sitting out there that are going to come in at a low number. That's the game today and that is why I believe in building an organization through draft and development and bring your players up.

"Have your depth players be your young players. You get two or three injuries, your young players come up and fill in and hopefully, you don't lose anything and that is the direction we are headed. That is where we are right now. The Taylor Leiers of the world. If a defenseman, God forbid, gets hurt, we have our young guys coming up."

As things now stand, the Flyers won't have anyone coming up for these final 11 games. Hextall wants to see how his young Phantoms do in the AHL playoffs. He wants to evaluate them there, not here.

"It's very important to let your kids develop in a winning atmosphere," Hextall said. "It's important. The other side of that is you want your kids to have a big chunk of the pie and that's how it is in Allentown. We've got a good team, but there's quite a few kids down there with a big chunk of the pie.

"They're playing regular shifts, power play, penalty kill. That's important. You don't want to overload too much with veterans so that the kids get pushed down and don't get in roles. There's that fine line with handing it to them and making them earn it.

"Scotty (Lehigh Valley head coach Scott Gordon) has done a great job down there and they've really hit it well with the kids being a big part of it and still being a competitive team. The Phantoms are in a good spot."

Hextall was asked about his own self-evaluation of the job he's done as GM.

"I let other people talk about stuff like that," Hextall replied. "At the end of the year, I'll sit down and look at everybody, including myself. If I'm not evaluating myself, I'm not doing a very good job."

Since club chairman Ed Snider's death, there is no Comcast executive with a broad hockey background to oversee Hextall.

Snider was notorious for calling or -- in later years -- texting his GMs during games, after games, in the middle of the night, to rant or inquire about what he liked and didn't like about his team.

There is no one like that within the organization, even allowing for Comcast president Dave Scott.

"It's not a lot different," Hextall said. "Mr. Snider, he was very understanding with where we were and where we were headed. He asked great questions.

"I talk to Homer (club president Paul Holmgren) on a regular basis and I talk to [Scott] on a fairly regular basis and we all know where we're headed. We're not very excited about the spot we're in right now but going to keep battling and do what we can do on our part.

"I can tell you that [Scott] is very into it. He watches all the games, sends texts after the game, whatever. He's latched onto it. He's engaged. We meet on an every other week basis and talk about the team. He's been great.

"Obviously, Mr. Snider had 50 years of experience and [Scott] doesn't have that. But [Scott's] a very sharp guy and he's doing a good job."

Loose pucks
It was unclear whether Nick Cousins was making the trip. He did not practice. He took a high hit during the Pittsburgh game and remains under concussion watch.

Best of NHL: Nikita Kucherov hat trick lifts Lightning over Bruins

Best of NHL: Nikita Kucherov hat trick lifts Lightning over Bruins

BOSTON -- Nikita Kucherov had his third career hat trick to lead Tampa Bay to a 6-3 victory over the Boston Bruins on Thursday night, snapping the Lightning's three-game losing streak.

Jonathan Drouin had a goal and two assists, Brayden Point had a goal and an assist and Anton Stralman also scored to help the Lightning pull three points behind the Bruins for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Peter Budaj finished with 28 saves for the Lightning to earn his 29th win of the season. Ondrej Palat had three assists, and Jake Dotchin and Victor Hedman added two each.

Riley Nashy had a goal and an assist for Boston, and David Pastrnak and Zdeno Chara also scored. Tuukka Rask stopped 23 shots as Boston, which won seven of the first eight games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, has now lost four straight and six of 11 (see full recap).

Oshie beats Bobrovsky to give Caps SO win
WASHINGTON -- T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington's 35th shot of the game. Orlov's goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead (see full recap).

Senators take down Penguins in shootout
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan scored in the shootout to lift the Ottawa Senators to a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night.

Mike Hoffman scored in regulation for the Senators and Mike Condon finished with 34 saves, including two incredible point-blank stops in overtime to keep the game going.

Nick Bonino had the goal in regulation for the Penguins and Matt Murray stopped 29 shots.

After being outplayed for much of the first two periods, the Senators were much better in the third and tied the score 1-1 on the power play at 9:43 as Hoffman beat Murray over the shoulder with a wrist shot just 14 seconds after Matt Cullen was penalized for holding (see full recap).

Flyers regroup behind Steve Mason for big win over Wild

Flyers regroup behind Steve Mason for big win over Wild

BOX SCORE

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- When Zach Parise scored for the Minnesota Wild just 2:07 into Thursday's game, the Flyers were in another difficult position on the road.

This time, they responded with the type of game they've needed on the road all season.

The Flyers scored three unanswered goals by Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Jakub Voracek to beat Minnesota, 3-1, and snap a four-game losing streak on the road (see Instant Replay).

"They're a tough team to handle in their transition," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said of Parise's goal. "It's quick and it's fast. The players on the bench were outstanding, talking, real calm. Just go out and push it the other way the next shift and I thought we were able to do that."

The Flyers responded with one of their best efforts on the road in nearly two months and pulled within six points of Boston for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference (see standings). The Bruins lost, 6-3, at home to Tampa Bay.

Steve Mason made 24 saves in goal for his 100th win with the Flyers as the team was rarely challenged thanks to an all-around performance that has been missing on the road. The Flyers entered the night tied for the second-fewest road wins in the conference this season.

"Certain things on the road, you've got to be a little more specific with your game and detailed, and I think we did a better job of that tonight," said Flyers defenseman Nick Schultz, who returned to the arena where he played 10 seasons with Minnesota. "Everybody throughout the lineup did that and that's why we got a big win."

The beginning looked all too familiar, though.

An innocent looking dump-in slid to Mason, who tried to cover the puck. The puck went off his stick and Parise quickly poked it past Mason. The Wild had four quality chances early before the Flyers took control.

"They came hard early on in the game and to be able to match that speed; that was a completely different pace of game compared to what we came from in Winnipeg," Mason said. "So, it almost took a second to get your bearings straight to get up to speed."

The Flyers weathered the early flurry by Minnesota, which is safely in playoff position in the West but is facing its own late-season issues. The Flyers killed off both Wild penalties, allowing just two shots on the penalty kill.

Couturier's 12th goal of the season was critical in tying the game with 2:01 left in the first (see feature highlight).

"Coming into the room after the period, I think it's important when you get a big goal like that," captain Claude Giroux said. "You feel like you have the momentum a little bit, so it definitely helped us a lot."

Read provided the lead in the second and the Flyers, who are now 15-2-2 when leading after two periods, pressured in the third. They outshot the Wild, 9-4, in the final period.

"We didn't sit back," Hakstol said. "I thought we were confident with the puck and made some plays and spent a good amount of time in the offensive zone. We played with real confidence in our game."

Mason had been critical after the Flyers lost in Winnipeg on Tuesday, saying the team needed to be more desperate. The Flyers responded Thursday in the difficult position of being on the road and allowing the first goal.

"We knew we had to be better," Schultz said of Mason's comments. "I think on the road, you've got to be at least a .500 team and take care of business at home, and we haven't done that this year. So, obviously, we've got to get better and I think we did respond tonight. Now we have to build on it."