Hextall: Flyers must be in better physical shape

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Hextall: Flyers must be in better physical shape

This is the final segment of a four-part Q&A with Ron Hextall, who just completed his first summer offseason in Philadelphia as the Flyers’ general manager.

Who in your mind has improved the most in the East and in your division?

Hextall: Oh, boy. Boy, that’s a good question.

Looks to me like the Rangers and Penguins took steps backwards.

Hextall: People maybe look at Tampa in the East and say they improved. I always say, if you don’t improve from within, you can only make so many steps. ... You can’t sign free agents X and Y and say, ‘Oh, we’ve gotten so much better.’ Maybe you look at Minnesota two years ago and say they were the exception with [Zach] Parise and [Ryan] Suter. You say, ‘Well, they should be a lot better.’ It didn’t work out quite like some people thought it would. For the most part, you can’t go out and sign a free agent or two and say you took this huge step. Because of chemistry and everything else that goes into it. If you don’t get better from within, your chances of moving too far ahead are slim. That’s where we focused this summer. Getting better from within. Not just on the ice, but some of our staff and minor league team. Little things we can improve in here like the analytical part or coaching part. There’s things we can get better. It’s not just the product on the ice which is a byproduct of all the little things that you improve on, whether it’s medical devices or training programs. Our team was very diligent about training [this summer]. Our team last year? I don’t think was in great shape. I really don’t, for whatever reason. We better be in better shape this year. 1 and 7 [start]? We can’t do that again. We got to be ready to go on opening night. We gotta fricking go! That type of thing far outweighs signing a decent free agent.

What did you learn from your father [Bryan Jr.] and grandfather [Bryan Sr.] in hockey?

Hextall: It’s funny. ... Probably the biggest thing coming out of being a son of an NHL player and grandson was you’re pretty much born into hockey. When that happens, you go one of two ways. You either love it or you hate it. And I loved it. I’d go to practice with my dad when I was 4-5-6 ... watch practice, skate before practice and skate after practice. Be in the locker room after practice. The whole lifestyle thing. People ask me why I was a goalie. I have absolutely no idea. ... The biggest thing I learned was the lifestyle and passion I had. My dad was a hard worker and honest player. He was an honest man. … I think I’m the luckiest kid ever. I still have fond memories of practices in Pittsburgh and Atlanta and Detroit and Minnesota. I remember Pat Quinn and Butch Deadmarsh in Atlanta fighting during practice and then coming out after practice and they were talking. And I couldn’t figure it out. They were on the ice teammates and they fought. Then after practice they are in the street clothes talking outside the locker room. I questioned my dad on the way home. Why were they talking? They just fought. They were both bleeding. Just the whole passion for the game. I’m rambling on a bit. The lifestyle and work habits is the short answer.

So what was your father’s answer to that question?

Hextall: He just said it was a confrontation. They got mad at each other. They fought, but they are still teammates. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, but I guess I should have because my brother and I fought like crazy, but would be best buddies 10 minutes later. I probably should have understood it. ... I got it figured out now.

Did you ever settle it with [Chris] Chelios since he lives in [Malibu] and you had seven years out there?

Hextall: No, but I took a lot of heat for talking to him one night in the press box. You guys all made a big deal of it. I don’t know what people wanted. Did they want Cheli and I to stand up in the press box and go at it? I don’t know. I respect him. He played hard. He would have been a great Flyer. I would have loved to play behind him.

What part of Ron Hextall the player has carried over to Ron Hextall the GM?

Hextall: [Laughing]. Thankfully, probably not much of it.

You were quick-tempered as a player.

Hextall: Well, yeah and I was reactive, but you have to be. It’s a fast game and things happen and you had to be. But in my position now, it’s whoa. You've got to be really methodical and think things through and don’t jump too quick. Funny, but when you think about it, it’s almost totally opposite of what I did as a player. And I think a coach has to be more like a player. A manager can’t be like a player. You've got to look for today and look for tomorrow and you've gotta look for the next four or five years. And you've gotta be patient. There are going to be times where we will go through a rough time and you’ll be wanting to do something. Sometimes you've just gotta hold the fort.

Last question … why was John Paddock (defensive coach) cut loose? He held a variety of jobs here over the years.

Hextall: My beliefs are having a big enough staff, but not too big a staff. I really felt like we needed a defenseman [to coach the defense]. A defenseman who played the position and could teach our defense on the ice during the game and video sessions. I have a lot of respect for John. We’re from the same province [Manitoba]. I’ve known him a long time. He is a fricking good human being. If you ask me the hardest thing I’ve done since taking over, that was it. I thought about that and fretted over that for a period of time and in the end, it made sense. I didn’t want to have an extra coach. ... Gord Murphy is a real teacher and former teammate. A real smart player and kinda calm, methodical, well thought-out guy. He is going to be really good for our defense. That’s not saying anything bad about John, but he was a forward and Lappy [Ian Laperriere] was a forward and Chief [Craig Berube] was a forward and [Joey] Mullen was a forward. ... Forward, forward, forward. That was a hard decision and a really tough thing to do because he was a good man and I had a lot of respect for him.

Flyers look to limit goals against, improve 5-on-5 play in second half

Flyers look to limit goals against, improve 5-on-5 play in second half

VOORHEES, N.J. — As bad as things have been for the Flyers – just three wins in their last 14 games – there was no massive shakeup during their mandatory, five-day “bye” week.
 
General manager Ron Hextall didn’t make a trade, nor did he make any roster moves involving a call-up from the Phantoms.
 
Coach Dave Hakstol took one day off, then got back to watching video and live games, almost in a scout mode.
 
When the players hit the ice Friday afternoon at Skate Zone, Hakstol’s lineup was pretty much the same.
 
The only change saw Matt Read re-enter the lineup on the top line with Claude Giroux and Michael Raffl after missing two games with a skate cut.
 
The lines and defensive pairs remained the same. Goalie Michael Neuvirth will start Saturday against New Jersey at Wells Fargo Center.
 
“For me, the biggest thing is our overall performance,” Hakstol said. “Coming out of a break, that may be a tough thing to do -- to put it all together. But I think the energy will be there both mentally and physically. That’s important. The overall performance.
 
“The results are important on a different level when you start looking at the playoff picture and the race. At the end of the day, two points are going to be important, as well.”
 
The Flyers begin anew with back-to-back games against New Jersey here on Saturday and then the Islanders on Sunday in Brooklyn.
 
They will play four Eastern Conference opponents between Saturday and next Thursday before they begin the three-day All-Stark break.
 
Three of these games are against Metro Division opponents while the fourth is against Toronto. The Maple Leafs happen to hold the second wild card that the Flyers previously had going into the bye week.
 
“Guys realize the situation we are in,” Brayden Schenn said. “We know the circumstances. The break came at a good time, mentally ... Guys know what we’re coming into there with the back-to-backs.
 
“You were kinda scoreboard watching. We know where we’re at. We’re in a dogfight battle with teams for those wild card spots. There’s a lot of hockey left. It’s no secret. Everyone pays attention where we’re at.”
 
Hakstol said after his one-day off, he went right back to work in evaluating where this team is. That the team remains intact without any kind of moves seems to send a message to the players.
 
That message is: it’s on you at this point. Don’t count on getting help from the outside. It has to come from within the current roster.
 
“Anything we’ve talked about is us as a group doing things we do well,” Hakstol said. “We’ve had a rough couple weeks where we haven’t been able to do the things we need to and want to consistently.
 
“I’m very confident in this group and this team. For us, what the players said is true. It was a real good time to have a mental and physical break. Now it’s time to get back to work.”
 
What has to improve right from the get-go is the Flyers' 5-on-5 play. Forget for a moment they have scored 75 goals and are 13th in the NHL averaging 2.76 goals a game.
 
The critical factor is 5-on-5 goals against. The Flyers have allowed 98 goals in that situation – only Colorado [100 GA] has allowed more. Their 3.13 goals against is 28th worst in the league.
 
Unless those number improve significantly, they won’t be in the playoffs.
 
“We have to stay within our system,” said defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. “We give up too many odd-man rushes. Especially in those final games before the break. That’s a big thing.
 
“When we’re giving up that many, it’s not going to be in our favor. It’s not fair to judge our goalies in those games because we didn’t give them too much help out there.”
 
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who plays on a checking line, said the 5-on-5 goals against is a telling stat.
 
“You have it right there,” he said. “You don’t have to say much more than that. You cannot be a consistently, good team in the league if you are that low in goals against. It’s something we have to all work together at, as players.”
 
Hakstol said the Flyers enjoyed success 5-on-5 when they were winning because their team play was “consistent” game-to-game.
 
That hasn’t been the case during this 3-8-3 stretch.
 
“Our 5-on-5 game hasn’t necessarily regressed, but the consistency of it has,” Hakstol said. “That’s when you see the holes defensively. That’s when you see some of the problems you run into.
 
“We’ve got to get back to it. Back to a full 60-minutes of good 5-on-5 play. That’s up to each and every one of us, taking that responsibility and making the push to do that.”

In different spot after bye week, Flyers ready for playoff push with 'new perspective'

In different spot after bye week, Flyers ready for playoff push with 'new perspective'

VOORHEES, N.J. — When we last left the Flyers on Sunday evening, they were picking up pieces of themselves all over the ice at the Verizon Center after a 5-0 beatdown by the Washington Capitals.

They have had to stew over that defeat all through their five-day NHL mandated bye week, which ended Friday afternoon when they reported to Skate Zone for a rare 4 p.m. practice.

They’ll host the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night.

“You go into the break thinking about [hockey], but the whole point of it is to refresh mentally,” said Wayne Simmonds, who got engaged. “I didn’t drive myself crazy over it. This a little stretch here before the final playoff drive.”

When Claude Giroux became engaged in late November, the Flyers won eight straight as part of their 10-game streak.

“So to replicate that, we need everyone in here to get engaged,” Simmonds said. “We've got a lot of work to do. We know that. We got off to a good start compared to the past and then we faltered.

“We know we've got to be better. We all have to be accountable to each other. We’re not starting from scratch, but we need a new perspective here. Come out of the gate and do it the right way, again.”

A lot has happened since the loss in Washington. The Flyers remain fifth in the Metropolitan Division, but the layoff has seen them plummet to ninth overall in the Eastern Conference.

None of that, however, is as important as this: the Flyers no longer hold the second wild card. Toronto has it now with the same number of points as the Flyers — 50.

Difference is, the Maple Leafs also have two games in hand on Dave Hakstol’s club. Worse, the Carolina Hurricanes are snapping at the Flyers' skates with 49 points and they have three games in hand.

All of this is entirely the Flyers' fault as they’ve gone 3-8-3 since their 10-game win streak ended.

Yet they remain in striking distance of the wild card, although they are 11 points out of third, which is an automatic playoff spot.

They are fortunate they’re not farther behind in the wild-card standings.

“For sure, over those days there ... our division did lose a little bit,” Brayden Schenn said. “It’s going to happen. But at the end of the day, if we don’t win hockey games, it’s not going to matter what the other team will do.”

After Saturday’s game against the Devils, the Flyers head to Brooklyn for a Sunday night encounter with the Islanders. Sit five days, then play a back-to-back. Ah, the joys of the NHL schedule this season.

“We know we lost all that ground we gained with the 10-game winning streak,” said Jakub Voracek, who shaved off the beard he’s had for a year and a half during the break. “We are right there in a playoff spot. Now we keep pushing.

“We have 36 games left. We go game by game. I don’t remember how many points out we were last year with the playoffs, but we’re in a better position now.”

Last year after 46 games, the Flyers had 48 points, but were seven points out of a wild-card playoff spot. They have two more points now but are in better wild-card shape.

They know they have to get themselves going quickly but the harsh reality is, they seldom play well coming out of a four or five-day break.

Most of the players went away during the break and didn’t think about hockey. They said they wanted to come back refreshed with a new attitude and clean slate. It starts Saturday.

“We have to stop overthinking things,” Voracek said. “When we were winning, we just kept going. When you are losing, you begin to overthink things.

“You’re a half step slower thinking whether you should go or not. That’s our problem. We have to refocus. Everyone is excited to be back. Get back to work. Push this team to the playoffs.”