Philadelphia Flyers

Can Dave Hakstol, Flyers find balance between creative and cautious?

Can Dave Hakstol, Flyers find balance between creative and cautious?

For the first two months of the 2016-17 season, the Flyers were second in the NHL with 102 goals scored in 32 games (3.19 per game).

The problem was, they surrendered the league's second-most goals with 95 (2.97).

At the time, the Flyers were 19-10-3 and rising because of a 10-game winning streak.

The question was, would that ratio ultimately balance out in the win-loss column?

As nice as the scoring was, head coach Dave Hakstol was not pleased with the number of pucks mounting in his own net. Once the wins started fading and losses started piling because of crooked numbers by the opposition, the Flyers turned defensive.

Goals were less common as tight, low-scoring games took over. Hakstol even benched two of his most innovative players with the puck, Travis Konecny and Shayne Gostisbehere, a combined eight times to have the two focus on little things.

From Dec. 15 to the end of the season, the Flyers scored the NHL's third-fewest goals at 110 in 50 games (2.20 per game), while allowing the 11th-fewest at 136 (2.72).

The Flyers went 20-23-7 over that span and, of course, missed the playoffs.

Systematically, did the Flyers restrict creativity?

"I think that you look at all different aspects," Hakstol said Thursday. "There's a foundational side of the game where we talked about play without the puck and needing to be real solid in that area. We didn't start the year very strong in our play without the puck. We addressed it and improved it greatly as the year went on. With the puck, I think as you look at the game, there is room for creativity."

The Flyers will continue to get younger, especially next season, which is expected to result in faster players with greater skill. The Flyers hope to accentuate those characteristics because, well, the teams that score are the teams that win.

Sure, discipline and possession with the puck are important, but the Flyers simply did not score enough, specifically at 5-on-5 (128 goals -- 27th).

The challenge will be can Hakstol and his staff adjust and find a preferred style as more skill makes its way to the big club?

"Hak, he's a smart guy. He's a smart guy," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Thursday. "He knows what's going on. I think if you look lately here, we started playing really well. The one thing any coach, I don't care where, and I've been around a lot of them over however many years, they hate turnovers. Turnovers are a huge thing in a hockey game. Your players are all going north and all of a sudden there's a turnover and you're not set up defensively. That's where a lot of goals are scored -- quick breaks, 3-on-2s, when the other team is not set up.

"That's what systems try to do -- turn pucks over, get teams off guard. They're not in defending mode, they're in offensive mode, that's when you quick break. That's when you get scoring chances. It's hard to get scoring chances nowadays."

Jakub Voracek echoed his GM's sentiment, mentioning the increase in difficulty of scoring in today's NHL. He also knows an adjustment is needed because the Flyers didn't do enough.

"It's harder and harder every single year to get goals, but I think it's the system and the teams playing right now, it's a defensive system," Voracek said. "That basically everything is jammed up in the middle, we've got five guys, one is a defenseman that has to get it through. It's almost impossible to get it through. So it's obviously harder to score. But we have to find a way."

Hextall was adamant about the Flyers' wanting players to play freely and to their strengths. There's an exception, though.

"It's risk and reward," Hextall said. "And there are times where players have to recognize the risk vs. reward. If it's a 40 percent chance you're going to make a play for a scoring chance and a 60 percent chance it's going to go back the other way, it's probably not a real good risk to take. If it's 90-10, it's a good risk to take."

Is that shackling a player, though?

"No," Hextall said. "He's taking 10 percent of his plays that he might try to make, out of the mix. We do not want our players to not be creative. We want our players to be creative. We want Konecny, (Claude) Giroux, Voracek, we want them to make plays. We want them to set up scoring chances, we want them to score goals. What we don't want them to do is turn pucks over and come back our way and we end up minus-20, minus-25. That's got to stop. That minus stuff has got to stop. It has to stop."

What must start is the Flyers' striking a better balance between that risk and reward.

"You look at the different areas of generating opportunities, in the National Hockey League right now, a lot is off the rush," Hakstol said. "That's an area where we're really taking a step back and really looking at things. Looking at different ways to allow players to have that creativity."

Claude Giroux's left wing tryout takes to Madison Square Garden

Claude Giroux's left wing tryout takes to Madison Square Garden

VOORHEES, N.J. — Claude Giroux said he doesn't know what to expect.

The one thing we can expect is the left wing experiment to hit the Madison Square Garden ice.

Throughout training camp practices, the Flyers have dabbled with their top-line center shifting to the wing. They're now ready to try it in game action, head coach Dave Hakstol said Sunday, when the Flyers visit the Rangers Monday night for the fifth exhibition contest.

Giroux hasn't thought much of the move but he's been more than open to allowing the coaches to give it a test run.

"Hopefully get the puck a little bit more," Giroux said after practice. "We'll see.

"If it happens tomorrow and it goes well, it's obviously an option that we're going to look at this year."

In 2016-17, Giroux scored a career-low 14 goals for a full season. His 58 points marked a fourth straight drop-off. Despite playing all 82 games, he did not look or sound healthy for much of the season. At 29 years old, playing the wing could relieve some of the physical demands of playing center, both offensively and defensively. It could also free up Giroux for greater looks and alleviate the pressure to make plays, while instead creating and finishing from a separate perspective.

"Entering the zone, he's got so many different options," Hakstol said. "He's a guy that can make plays on his backhand entering the zone, he can open up the top of the offensive zone by taking — if there's soft ice available inside of the line, he can delay and make plays back through the middle. He's got so many options there that he's able to create because of his skill set. And defensively, coming off that left side, it's a good spot for him — coming out of our zone and through the neutral zone."

If all goes well Monday, how much would that change moving forward?

"Everything that we have in place has a purpose to it," Hakstol said, "and I'll leave it at that."

Giroux has played winger before in the past — and produced — so this switch is not new or a substantial adjustment. To him, it's all about simplifying.

"Game is still the same," Giroux said. "There's not much different to center and winger. Obviously breakouts, you're on the boards, but offensively, you're kind of all over the place, so it doesn't really matter."

During practice, Sean Couturier centered Giroux and Jakub Voracek on the first unit. That's the expected line for Monday night, although Hakstol said Sunday's practice combinations could differ from the ones they'll utilize in the game.

With Giroux on the wing, an aspect to watch is the faceoff circle. How the position change factors into the number of draws Giroux takes is uncertain.

"I think that depends on the coach," Giroux said. "I think I'll obviously take faceoffs on the power play and then a couple on the PK. And on my strong side 5-on-5, I'm sure I'll be taking a couple. With the new rule, a lot of centermen get kicked out, so it's good to have me and Coots on one line."

As for everything else in regards to the wing, Giroux will know more once he has the answers to the questions.

"I can't really judge on it until I actually have a game under my belt," Giroux said.

The game evaluation begins at the Garden.

Penguins say they will accept invitation to visit White House, Donald Trump

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Penguins say they will accept invitation to visit White House, Donald Trump

The Pittsburgh Penguins say they've accepted an invitation from President Donald Trump to go to the White House after winning the Stanley Cup.

The Penguins released a statement Sunday saying they respect the office of the president and "the long tradition of championship teams visiting the White House." The Penguins were honored by Barack Obama after winning the Stanley Cup in 2016 and previously by George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s.

"Any agreement or disagreement with a president's politics, policies or agenda can be expressed in other ways. However, we very much respect the rights of other individuals and groups to express themselves as they see fit."

Trump revoked the White House invitation to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors Saturday, after the team had said they might not accept.