As Flyers stumble to finish line, where does responsibility fall?

As Flyers stumble to finish line, where does responsibility fall?

NEWARK, N.J. -- Dave Hakstol has never hidden from responsibility.
 
He didn't on Monday after his team's third straight loss.
 
"Starting with me, we've got to do better," he said.
 
On Thursday, the Flyers were arguably their worst -- an unjustifiable 6-2 loss to the lowly Devils, who had dropped 10 consecutive games before having their way with Hakstol's bunch.
 
Such a performance begs for responsibility, right? It's getting to that point and time in the Flyers' season, as the playoffs look farther out of sight.
 
Ultimately, the players have to perform, but can the coach do more?
 
Can he push a few different buttons?
 
Can he send a message through the locker room?
 
Can he still motivate his players?
 
Hakstol, in just his second NHL season, is already facing trying times and questions.
 
"I'm going to work -- work to prepare and fight and battle every single night," Hakstol said Thursday when asked if he feels his seat getting warmer. "That part of it doesn't even enter my mind. I'm worried about wins and losses and the performance of our team."
 
After his team's third loss in as many games against New Jersey, which has outscored the orange and black, 14-3, Hakstol wouldn't address the Flyers' bewildering problems with the Devils, who they play twice more this season.
 
"I haven't given much thought to that," Hakstol said. "Tonight, we lost a hockey game. I'll get into that at another time after the season when I have some time to think about it. Right now, I'm worried about this one tonight and the next one coming up."
 
The Flyers still have fire in their bellies, according to captain Claude Giroux.
 
"Yeah, we're angry," he said (see story). "We know we're a better team, we know we can be in a better position. That's not the case and we need to keep working, keep working to be a better team."
 
Brayden Schenn, on the other hand, wasn't having it when asked about his coach's job security.
 
"It's not my job to start worrying about the coaches and stuff like that," Schenn said. "It's on us players to go out and play better. I'm not even going to start commenting on that. Us players have got to be better and we know it. We've been inconsistent all year and that's on the players."
 
The Flyers are 7-10-2 since the start of February and have scored the NHL's second-fewest goals since the start of December (102 in 46 games). Inconsistency has been general manager Ron Hextall's biggest gripe, oftentimes having him feel at a loss.
 
"It does sometimes because you're sitting there going, 'It's the same team every night, right?'" Hextall said pregame Thursday. "You're going to have peaks and valleys, that's reality. You're dealing with human beings, not robots. We understand that. But our valleys have been a little too low for me."
 
Hextall said he wants to see growth every season. In the points column, that will not be the case with 2015-16 to 2016-17. The Flyers would have to win their final 12 games to match last season's point total of 96.
 
"We want to get better every year, get younger every year," Hextall said. "That's the goal. If we can get better this year … we've got a few games to let that play out.
 
"You learn lessons as players and I think the lessons for us is, if you're not going to be consistent, it's hard to stay in a playoff spot. We're good enough. You look at a lot of nights, we're good enough."
 
Can the leadership group be better?
 
"I think there's responsibility for [the whole team]," Hextall said.
 
That goes for the coach and his staff, too.
 
Going the college route?
NCAA free-agent players often sign with NHL teams around this time of year as their collegiate seasons come to a close.
 
Last season, the Flyers signed Yale goalie Alex Lyon in early April. Lyon is currently playing for AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.
 
Will the Flyers make a signing this season?
 
"Yeah, it would be nice," Hextall said. "We'll see."
 
The decision is heavily dictated by the college player finding his best fit.
 
"You can never have enough depth," Hextall said. "Offensively, I think we do have some good players coming and I don't think they're that far away, but you can never have enough. You can never have enough young players. You can never have enough guys that can score or make plays. If we can add to our pool, that would be great. Unfortunately, when you have a lot in your pool, sometimes they're looking and going, 'Hmm, is this the right spot?'
 
"In the end, college free agents, they typically get the best fit for themselves and typically it's with an organization that's a little bit thin. Not always."

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."