Dave Hakstol: 'There will be a change or two' vs. Canucks

Dave Hakstol: 'There will be a change or two' vs. Canucks

VOORHEES, N.J. — Another lifeless effort and another loss lead to more changes, but don’t read too much into the lines and defensive pairs the Flyers showcased Wednesday.

At least according to head coach Dave Hakstol.

“Well, we didn’t really have lines out there today,” Hakstol said after the team’s practice at Flyers Skate Zone. “We were just working on different things. There was kind of a mixture. I think we put seven forwards in each color and guys were just kind of mixing through. There will be a change or two to the lineup, yes.”

If Wednesday’s practice is indicative of the “change or two” Hakstol hinted at afterward, Travis Konecny might see time at right wing with Claude Giroux and Michael Raffl, and Nick Cousins could draw back in after being a healthy scratch for the last five games.

Konecny made the switch to left wing during training camp, a shift from right wing and center he played in junior and a move that helped his chances to make the Flyers. The 19-year-old has six goals and 20 points in 42 games thus far into his rookie season, playing in all but one game in which he was benched in San Jose on Dec. 30.

In five games since the benching, Konecny has two goals and 14 shots on goal. When Hakstol sat Konecny, the coach said it was for Konecny to “continue to develop.” Konecny responded with his first goal in 22 games against Anaheim the next game on Jan. 1.

Now, it appears Konecny could begin Thursday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks at the Wells Fargo Center alongside Giroux and Raffl on the Flyers’ top line.

“Today, he took a couple shifts on the right side,” Hakstol said of Konecny. “But that’s not really inherent of anything. I don’t have lines set for tomorrow yet. So what did I see out there today on the right wing? I wasn’t really evaluating the play offensively. There were some things we were working on defensively in terms of our rush coverage.

"We weren’t very good in that area during the second period (Tuesday), and we haven’t had a lot of time to work on things like that. Took 10 minutes today to try to get a little bit of that detail back.”

On Tuesday night, the Flyers’ offense continued to struggle to generate quality scoring chances, despite throwing 40 shots at Sabres backup goalie Anders Nilsson in a 4-1 loss in Buffalo. In the 11 games since their 10-game winning streak was snapped Dec. 17 in Dallas, the orange and black are 2-6-3 and have averaged 1.73 goals.

Jakub Voracek, who has six points in his last 11 games, spent Wednesday’s practice skating with Sean Couturier in the middle and Matt Read and Cousins at left wing. Pressed on if he was aware of any lineup changes for the Canucks game, Voracek said it’s Hakstol’s decision and doesn’t know what changes could be in store for Thursday.

“Everybody in the past played together,” Voracek said. “We know what to expect. No matter what the lines are going to be tomorrow or the next three games, we have to make sure we bear down. When we have the chances, we have to make sure we score.”

Cousins has not been in the Flyers’ lineup since Dec. 30 against the Sharks, a game in which he played left wing with Couturier and Dale Weise. After winning a roster spot in training camp, Cousins has been in and out of the lineup this season.

He’s been a healthy scratch nine games, and if he does sit out Thursday against Vancouver, that number will reach double digits. He’s already matched his point total (10) in two fewer games this season than last but has not been able to be a mainstay.

After practice Wednesday, Cousins said Hakstol has yet to address in detail what he wants Cousins to change in order for him to get back into the lineup.

“(Hakstol) hasn’t said much to me, actually,” Cousins said. “So, yeah, it is what it is. He obviously has his lineup that he’s sticking to and I’ll be ready when my name’s called. If and when that is, I don’t know. I’m just taking it day by day and working hard in practice.

“I’m just trying to stay ready. I’ve been working hard with (Ian Laperriere) after practice, working on little stuff that we need to work on. Working hard in the weight room. There’s nothing else I can do. I can only control what I can control. I don’t make the lineups. I'll be ready when my name (is called).”

Hakstol did hint Cousins could be back soon, perhaps as early as Thursday.

“Cousins has just been the odd man out here,” the second-year Flyers head coach said. “It’s not that he has to change a whole lot. There’s going to be a change or two with our lineup tomorrow. He’s certainly a guy, when he’s in, he always brings that scrappy, competitive edge to his game, but more than that, he brings some playmaking as well.”

Asked if he was more at the point of evaluation or an experimental stage in looking to solve the Flyers’ recent offensive woes, Hakstol conceded it was a combination of both.

“We’re not going to start mixing and matching all over the place,” Hakstol said, “but at the same time, we haven’t had a whole lot of success over the last 10 games. We’ll do things with reason and with purpose, and if we feel a change is necessary and makes sense, we’re going to make it.”

Loose pucks
Mark Streit took full practice with the Flyers on Wednesday but will not be available Thursday against Vancouver. Streit, who hasn’t played since Dec. 11, said Saturday’s game in Boston is an option and it’s a day-by-day thing. Streit is currently on long-term injured reserve, and when activated, the Flyers would have to make a corresponding move. ... Shayne Gostisbehere was paired with Nick Schultz, who has played just three games since Nov. 11. It’s unclear if Gostisbehere will be a healthy scratch against Vancouver. Streit was paired with Radko Gudas, and Michael Del Zotto skated with Brandon Manning. The Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald pair stayed together.

Flyers focused on actual game instead of Stadium Series event

Flyers focused on actual game instead of Stadium Series event

VOORHEES, N.J. -- The toughest challenge for the Flyers this weekend might be themselves.

They’re playing the Pittsburgh Penguins outdoors on Saturday as part of the NHL’s Stadium Series event. That should be a big deal.

Yet, given their circumstances right now, how can they possibly enjoy the moment?

Maybe had this game been played in early January, before the team hit a crisis point in the standings, and was winning, it would be easier to relax.

The fact is, the Flyers have lost seven of their last 10 games, are drifting as the 11th team in the Eastern Conference, and the second wild card they held for so long seems far from their reach.

Tough to have fun and soak up the atmosphere when there’s so much pressure to start making up ground in the playoff hunt.

“Yeah, we’re there to have two points,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said Thursday. “If this was earlier in the season, we could take it in a bit more, but it’s all business for us right now. It’s just playing.”

That attitude extends right up to coach Dave Hakstol, who didn’t break a smile when talking about what’s really important here.

His team is desperate for points. There are 22 games left in the regular season and 19 are against Eastern Conference opponents.

The Flyers need to win a bunch of games and get hot like they did last season in March if they are going to recapture a wild-card berth.

“Honestly, it’s business first,” Hakstol said. “There is something to the event and certainly something important with family and the type of event it is. But, let’s be honest. Right now, it’s business first. That’s what our focus will be.

“Points. Simple as that. It’s two points. We need the two points and it’s a road game and it happens to be in an event-type situation.

“So we’ve got to make sure we handle all of that in terms of our preparation. But the bottom line is it comes down to the two points that are at stake on Saturday night.”

Michal Neuvirth will make his sixth consecutive start in goal for the Flyers. He was a backup to Semyon Varlamov at Heinz Field during the 2011 Winter Classic as a member of the Washington Capitals against Pittsburgh.

“We’ve got to focus on the game,” Neuvirth said. “There is going to be a lot of distractions. Lot of families and friends in town. But we’re gonna go there and it’s all about business and trying to get the two points.”

Hakstol is only slightly concerned about the hype taking away from the players’ focus. If the Flyers were coming into this game on a win streak, he and his players wouldn’t be quite as uptight as they are right now.

You can cut the tension in the Flyers' dressing room these days with a skate blade.

“You need a little mental attention to detail there,” Hakstol said. “That’s what it is. We’re in that mold. I don’t think that’s a big hump to overcome. I think we’ll be OK.”

Heinz Field holds 68,000 people. The NHL expects 60,000 in attendance. Regardless, it will be the largest crowd ever to witness a Flyers game.

“It’s more exciting and a must-win for us,” said Michael Raffl, who played outdoors once in Europe. “A huge game no matter where we would have played it. We could play it at Skate Zone and we’d be excited.”

Giroux said it will be “weird” being on the ice because his past experiences in outdoor games saw him drown out the fans as much as possible. Yet he admitted the sheer number of fans this time might make that difficult to do.

“It’s pretty exciting to play in the Steelers' stadium,” he said. “Playing against Pittsburgh, it should be a great game.”

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane scored three goals for his third career hat trick to lead the surging Chicago Blackhawks past the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Thursday night for their third straight win and eighth in nine games.

Kane has 23 goals to lead Chicago, which closed within three points behind first-place Minnesota in the Central Division and Western Conference.

Rookies Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman each had a goal and assist. Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival scored his first goal of the season in his first game since Jan. 15.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews added two assists to extend his points scoring streak to five games and increase his output to 22 points in his past 13.

Jakob Chychrun, Ryan White and Radim Vrbata scored for the Coyotes. Chychrun and Vrbata each scored for the second straight game (see full recap).

Rangers outlast Maple Leafs in shootout
TORONTO -- Mika Zibanejad scored the shootout winner and the New York Rangers continued a strong February with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves and J.T. Miller scored the game-tying goal in the third period for the Rangers, who improved to 8-1-1 this month.

New York moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division with 80 points.

Connor Brown scored for Toronto, which fell to 1-7 in shootouts this season. Frederik Andersen had a stellar performance in defeat with 37 saves.

The Leafs hold the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division (68 points), two points back of Ottawa (70) and four back of Montreal (see full recap).

Islanders shut out Canadiens
MONTREAL -- Rookie Anthony Beauvillier scored in the first period, Thomas Greiss made 24 saves, and the New York Islanders beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 Thursday night.

Anders Lee scored in the second period and John Tavares added an empty-netter in the final minute to seal the Islanders' third straight win. New York has won the first two games on a crucial nine-game road swing and improved to 12-4-2 since interim coach Doug Weight replaced the fired Jack Capuano.

Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each had two assists, and Greiss got his third shutout of the season.

Carey Price finished with 21 saves as the Canadiens lost coach Claude Julien's 1,000th NHL game. Montreal is 1-2-0 since Julien replaced Michel Therrien last week and has totaled just 14 goals while going 2-7-1 in the last 10 games, including four shutouts (see full recap).