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.

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

With the Flyers on their bye week, let’s discuss a few topics.

Going End to End this week are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

Today’s question: What adjustment would you make on the Flyers' defense?

Dougherty
There is not much in Dave Hakstol’s arsenal to significantly improve the team defense with a lineup change. Sure, scratching Andrew MacDonald could be a positive step, but that does not solve the problem here. We can point fingers at the defensive group because the Flyers have allowed the league’s second-most goals at 144. They’re part of the problem.

What is plaguing the Flyers is not just the play of their six defensemen on any given night; it’s their overall team defense. Some forwards are quitting on the backcheck, and not providing enough support in their own zone, missing their own assignments.

The Flyers, I believe, are struggling with the lack of practice time. And while it is true that every team is dealing with the same compact schedule as the Flyers, Hakstol has to maximize the little practice time he gets going forward and preach team defense. Gaps have been a major issue with the current group of blueliners, and that is an area assistant coach Gord Murphy has to fix. Hakstol has singled out the team’s rush defense as an issue, and that’s another area the team has to work on, too.

A lot of the same issues that were appearing in the beginning of the season when the Flyers were struggling are reappearing in their game now. They were able to make adjustments earlier in the season to hone their game defensively. More film study and more coaching are just a couple of the adjustments I’d make with the current options.

Hall
Sometimes it takes a fresh face, some new blood to spark change.

If anything, it sends a bit of a message.

The Flyers have options at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley and general manager Ron Hextall didn’t rule anything out last Sunday.

But, of course, given the Flyers’ salary cap conundrum, it’s not as simple as just calling up a player.

So, the easiest thing that can be done is change within the current personnel. That means scratching MacDonald from time to time, just how Hakstol has done so with Shayne Gostisbehere, Brandon Manning, Michael Del Zotto, Radko Gudas and many Flyers forwards.

MacDonald hasn’t been as bad as some may think. Oftentimes, his mistakes are magnified more than others. But too frequently do we see him out of position or misreading a play on a goal against. And that’s been true for all Flyers defensemen, yet MacDonald seems to be one of the only spared of the consequences.

Benching MacDonald isn’t a drastic fix and it may not do much at all, but it’s something we haven’t seen since Nov. 19.

Paone
This a really tough question because, to be quite frank, there is no easy solution here to fixing a Flyers defense that has been mired in a state of miserable play and has played a large part in the team's allowing 3.50 goals per game in the 14 contests since the 10-game win streak ended in mid-December. 

It's not like Hakstol or Hextall can push some magic button here and have things fixed in a matter of moments. The Flyers have salary cap and roster issues, so it's going to be tough to bring in a player via trade to help fix things on the back end. Same goes for bringing up a prospect because space on the roster would have to be made first.

This situation leaves the Flyers to fix the problem from within with the defensemen they currently have at the NHL level. They're going to have to play their way out of this. And that's why I'm interested in focusing on the younger defensemen like Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov right now. We know what the veteran defensemen on this team are and they've been through this sort of thing before. This will not be the last team-wide rut the younger defensemen will play through in their careers. It will happen again. They're going to have to learn how to play through this and not let it affect their individual play. That's why I didn't agree with Ghost's benching in Boston last weekend.  Sure, he has not played well this season and the warts to his game have been evident. And there are times when sitting back, taking a breather and watching can be beneficial. But I'm a believer that a young player has to play through his growing pains and grow from them.

This isn't going to be an answer most of you will like to hear, but with the way the Flyers' hands are tied, they're just going to have to play their way out of these defensive struggles with what they have.