Hextall 'excited' to finally get season started

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Hextall 'excited' to finally get season started

Ron Hextall said it was a smooth transition, coming back to the Flyers after seven years as an assistant general manager with the Los Angeles Kings.
 
Why wouldn’t it be? Outside of Bernie Parent, Hextall is easily the next most popular goaltender in Flyers history.
 
Fans love him. Players love him. Ed Snider loves him.
 
That’s what 11 years in the Flyers' net, plus another seven in the scouting office, will do for a guy.
 
“It feels good,” Hextall said of his homecoming. “I know a lot of the people. I’m excited to get the season going here.”
 
While it’s easy to understand why the Flyers wanted him back -- he bleeds orange and black even after winning a Stanley Cup in L.A. -- it’s not easy to understand why Hextall left the West Coast.
 
Essentially, this was a lateral move when he was next in line to succeed Kings’ general manager Dean Lombardi.
 
The answer requires thinking ahead.
 
Paul Holmgren has been the GM here since 2006. He received a three-year, $4.5 million contract extension on Jan. 18, 2011. That deal runs through the 2014-15 season.
 
At this point, the 49-year-old Hextall’s wait may not be very long.
 
Logically, there was no reason for Hextall to leave L.A. unless the Flyers indicated he’ll be in the big chair sooner here than if he had stayed with the Kings.
 
Hextall still hasn’t given specifics on why he came back other than to say the move “felt right.”
 
“I don’t necessarily have one decision why,” he said. “It just seemed the right decision at the right time. That’s about all I can say.”
 
Clearly, the road is fully paved for Hextall to advance.
 
“That’s not why I am here,” Hextall said. “It is my goal in the end to be a general manager. But when and where and how and if, who knows? Just one day at a time, to do my job and see where it goes.”
 
Hextall was the guy who pieced together a lot of those young faces in Los Angeles. The sounding board who advised Lombardi on trades -- Mike Richards, Jeff Carter -- and free-agent signings. He brings a different education, he says.
 
“Anybody you work for is educational,” Hextall said. “Clarkie (Bobby Clarke) and Homer and Dean Lombardi. Anybody you work for, it’s educational. You learn different ideas and different philosophies. To see the way another organization runs, it’s educational.”
 
When you’ve been in hockey a long time, then finally win a Cup as a member of management after being robbed of such at least once as a player, it’s easier to walk away to another organization.
 
Hextall felt he had achieved his goal with the Kings.
 
“Winning did make a difference in my decision,” he said. “When you spend seven years and build something, you want to see it through and I really did see it through. Was that a factor? Absolutely.
 
“If we would not have won it and you had built a team six or seven years, you kind of want to see it through. That played into my decision, for sure. Also, when you go outside an organization, you learn.”
 
The easy thing to say is Hextall is part of the Flyers' “old boys network.” True, the organization likes to keep as many former players as possible here in Philadelphia.
 
There’s more to it. The legacy the Flyers have can greatly influence the next generation of players.
 
Remember when Claude Giroux started here? Clarke worked with him on faceoffs. Having the legends around isn’t all that bad.
 
“When you establish an identity as a franchise, you have to grow with the times,” Hextall said. “But to have those guys around, it is invaluable to have Bob Clarke and Billy Barber and Bernie. There is something to it and something special to it.
 
“Now again, in saying that, we’re not in the '70 or '80s or '90s. So you have to move forward. You have to change. Philosophically, things have to change and you have to grow with the game or you’re old and have to be out.
 
“I think it is great for the young guys to see Clarkie and Billy. It’s special. In L.A., we tried to bring those guys around. There is something to it.”
 
Hextall has worked with just about everyone in the Flyers' organization. Some of the current media members -- including this reporter -- actually covered him in his prime as a player.
 
“Knowing philosophically where the organization is at, that makes the transition easy and I know the area and people,” he said. “The big team, I know a little bit. The minor team and young guys, I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
 
The only other former Flyers goalie who is a general manager in the NHL is Garth Snow with the Islanders. Do goalies see things differently?
 
“Everybody says as a goalie you kind of see the whole game, the whole ice,” Hextall replied. “I’m not sure. Everybody’s got their own preference. One of my preferences because I was a goalie, I really like a two-way defenseman. I really like 180-feet [red line to red line] players at all positions. I also think the way the game has evolved now, you have to play 180 feet. ... You don’t see anybody putting up 150 points anymore. You got to cover the whole sheet. Teams check so well.
 
“It really has changed from the 1980s to now. It’s a full-sheet game and those guys play both ends, both sides of the puck, are really important guys, especially when they are your top-end players.”
 
Hextall’s longtime agent, Steve Mountain, is still in business, still representing players. The two spoke this summer.
 
“I’m my own Steve Mountain now,” Hextall quipped.

Flyers-Islanders 5 things: Wild-card race about to get busy

Flyers-Islanders 5 things: Wild-card race about to get busy

Flyers (36-32-8) vs. Islanders (35-28-12)
7 p.m. on CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30

The Flyers welcome the New York Islanders to the Wells Fargo Center Thursday on a busy night in the wild card.

Here are five things to know for the game:

1. Let's get wild
Ready for some movement in the Eastern Conference playoff race?

The four teams ahead of the Flyers for the second wild card are all in action Thursday.

The Bruins (vs. Stars) still lead the pack at 86 points, followed by the Lightning (vs. Red Wings) with 83. The Islanders come to Philadelphia with 82 points, while the Hurricanes (vs. Blue Jackets) also have 82.

And one more team to follow: the Maple Leafs (at Predators), who lead the Bruins by only one point for third place in Atlantic Division.

2. Time to streak?
With all the inconsistency, the Flyers are looking to win three games in a row for the first time since Jan. 22-25.

The final six contests for the Flyers are no cakewalks because every single one is against the Metropolitan Division. The Flyers are 9-13-2 in divisional play and have a record of 6-9-1 against the remaining clubs on the schedule.

They still have to play the Blue Jackets and Rangers, two top-five NHL teams.

And they also get the Devils twice more, a team that has won the first three meetings between the two by a combined score of 14-3.

We'll see if the Flyers can flip the script and make things interesting.

"We're not going to quit until the end of the season," Travis Konecny said Tuesday. "That's the way we are. It's the character of our team. It's the things we've shown all year.
 
"Our games may not show it at times, our scores, but I think each and every night we always compete, we always battle. I think things are starting to happen for us."

3. Weal's turning
Jordan Weal has provided a legitimate jolt to the Flyers, who desperately needed offense.

He'll see more and more ice time if he continues to perform the way he has in the past two games, putting up two goals and an assist.

Dave Hakstol has liked the early chemistry on the new second line of Weal, Valtteri Filppula and Wayne Simmonds.

"I think right now, Wayne Simmonds is playing some of his best hockey of the year in terms of a power forward game," Hakstol said Tuesday. "He is just a straight forward, power forward right now. He is very tough to handle down low and I think that is adding an element for Fil and Weal there."

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Shayne Gostisbehere has looked like his old self offensively the past two games in which he has one goal and two assists. He's been active with nine shots, while his point blast looks sharp. The Flyers will need more of that the rest of the way.

Islanders: It has to be John Tavares, who does so much for the Islanders. The captain has 28 goals and 37 assists this season. Twelve of his 65 points have come in the previous 12 games. He also has put up 15 goals and 14 assists in 37 career games against the Flyers.

5. This and that
* Steve Mason will make his 14th start in the last 16 games. Over his past 13 outings, Mason is 8-4-1 with a 2.10 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.

* Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss has been tough on the Flyers in two starts this season, going 1-0-1 with a 1.95 goals-against average and .951 save percentage.

* New York has lost two straight games and six of its last nine.

* Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk is likely to return from a foot injury that has sidelined him since March 5.

Flyers taking 'never die' approach to final playoff push

Flyers taking 'never die' approach to final playoff push

Nothing has changed for the Flyers as they enter Thursday night's game against the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
They remain six points behind Boston for the wild card. They still have four teams to leapfrog over to claim the second wild card spot.
 
Their Tragic Number remains 6 points -- points the Bruins need to eliminate them or points the Flyers need to lose to eliminate themselves.
 
The only difference tonight is the Flyers are playing head-to-head against a team in front of them in the chase.
 
The Islanders absolutely feel they're in this thing even after losing to the Bruins this week. So if they think like that, why not the Flyers?
 
"Obviously a team that is in the race with us," said Flyers captain Claude Giroux. "But, in general, we know we pretty much have to win every game. Our focus is on the Islanders. The big picture is not a picture we like to see.
 
"But at the end of the day, we have to worry about the New York Islanders. It's the only thing we can control now. We can't control future games or other teams."
 
There was genuine euphoria after the Flyers' comeback, 3-2 shootout win over Ottawa on Tuesday. Some of that excitement was immediately tempered when the players realized Boston had won as well.
 
Yet there is a noticeable difference in the Flyers dressing room right now. Guys are looser and more relaxed after three wins in their last four games.
 
"We keep doing what we keep doing," coach Dave Hakstol said. "Guys keep showing up. We're playing hard for each other and taking care of business. We've been real focused on doing that, day after day and night after night."
 
Several players said this week that the games right now are "fun" to play, despite the obvious pressure to gain a playoff spot that is virtually impossible to attain at this point because the numbers overwhelmingly favor clubs ahead of the Flyers.
 
Have games become "fun" because the players are resigned that it's out of their hands and they are now content to allow the chips to fall where they may be?
 
"No, I'll be honest, I think we are seeing some results," Hakstol said. "When you play hard and don't get results it's not fun. But we've continued to play hard and are getting some of the results right now.
 
"We all know the reality of our situation and don't have to revisit it day-in, day-out. We know that for us the most important thing is take care of our own business. That's the single-minded focus of our group right now.
 
"Come to the rink, playing hard together and winning becomes fun. We got to just turn the page, come out and play hard again."
 
Among those Flyers who believe the impossible is doable is defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere.
 
"Our motto is ‘Never die,'" Gostisbehere said. "We know what's against us here. We're just taking it game by game and we're just trying to win every game.
 
"I think you can tell it's a little looser in this locker room, but we’re still going out there putting our best foot forward and trying to win games."
 
The Flyers are 2-1 against the Isles this season.
 
Lineup:
 
F: Read-Giroux-Voracek
Weal-Filppula-Simmonds
Weise-Couturier-Schenn
Vandevelde-Bellemare-Konecny
 
D: Provorov-MacDonald
Del Zotto-Gostisbehere
Manning-Gudas
 
G: Mason; Neuvirth