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.

Brawl-filled game sets stage for Flyers-Devils season series

Brawl-filled game sets stage for Flyers-Devils season series

NEWARK, N.J. — Once all the flying fists had settled Thursday night, Nick Cousins stood in the visiting locker room, cleaned up in dress clothes.
 
It was the calm after the storm as Royal Rumble between the Flyers and Devils had finally ceased at the Prudential Center.
 
Cousins smiled just slightly and offered some appropriate foreshadowing.
 
“Should be a good rivalry here this year,” he said. “Two teams that don’t like each other. I’m excited for the next game.”
 
The next four, really.
 
The Metropolitan Division counterparts play five times this season. If meeting No. 1 is any indication of what’s next, the season series shouldn’t lack for zest whatsoever.
 
Before the commencement of the NHL’s holiday break, the Flyers were decked by New Jersey, 4-0. Neither team was quite in the Christmas spirit just yet.
 
How could you tell? The first period happened.
 
Brawls and scrums took the place of shots and goals.
 
Dale Weise traded blows with Seth Helgeson.
 
Cousins, 23, fought 34-year-old veteran Michael Cammalleri.
 
Roughing penalties were handed out like free samples.
 
A few unsportsmanlike calls were thrown in.
 
All in all, 46 total penalty minutes accrued — and most of it took just the final six minutes in the opening stanza (see video).
 
“Hey, that’s hockey,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “All kinds of stuff happens on the ice. That’s hockey. I’ve got no issues with whatever goes on during the game. We deal with that in the game.”
 
Devils general manager Ray Shero riled up his bunch, which had lost seven straight entering the day.
 
“They played hard,” Wayne Simmonds said. “I guess they answered their GM’s call.”
 
They used Brandon Manning’s hit as their sparkplug.
 
The Flyers’ defenseman checked Sergey Kalinin while trying to reverse direction as the puck did. In some ways, the hit looked inadvertent and more like a collision of sorts.
 
“There wasn’t even a penalty called on it,” Simmonds said, “so it couldn’t have been that bad.”
 
How did Manning see it?
 
“He kind of ran into me,” Manning said. “I was looking to jump on the rush and the puck was turned over and I went to turn back and he must have had his head down. I haven’t seen it again, but I didn’t even know. He kind of just ran into me.”
 
Kalinin was slow to his feet and that’s all New Jersey needed.
 
It was on.
 
“I think everyone kind of reacted to the hit there and it kind of snowballed,” Manning said. “We’ve got a group of guys that are willing to stick up for each other and that’s good to see, but I think we lost our focus a little bit there and got off our game plan.”
 
Simmonds said he wasn’t surprised by the fieriness because “every divisional game is pretty emotional.”
 
Playing in only his third game of the season, Devils forward Luke Gazdic was called for roughing and made certain his presence was felt.
 
“I think Gazdic was looking for a fight all night,” Cousins said. “He was sort of running around out there trying to fight Manning.”
 
Manning wasn’t bothered by New Jersey’s reaction.
 
“You see your own guy laying on the ice, you’ve got guys like Gazdic out there, that’s their role,” he said. “It would be the same thing if it was one of our guys. I understand where they’re coming from.”
 
The physicality and combativeness never subsided. The game finished with 23 penalties for 82 minutes.
 
Both teams next meet on Jan. 21 at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
Who knows what’s in store?
 
“Guys are going to stick up for each other, that’s what our team’s about,” Cousins said. “They came out hard in their own building and took it to us. … We had no push back.”
 
They’ll have four more games to do it.

Flyers trusting Nick Cousins to 'give a little more' with Sean Couturier out

Flyers trusting Nick Cousins to 'give a little more' with Sean Couturier out

Ron Hextall may be rather stubborn about some things — like announcing specific injuries when the replays show exactly what happened.

Or admitting a player needs surgery even when his shoulder is dragging on the ice.

Yet you have to give the Flyers' general manager credit in one area. When Hextall says his philosophy is rooted in player development and giving young men every chance to succeed,  there’s no refuting him.

The Flyers' best two-way centerman, Sean Couturier, will miss four weeks or more rehabbing a partial tear of his MCL in his left knee.

Hextall could pick up the phone and make a deal for a replacement. Or he could move versatile forward, Brayden Schenn, into the No. 2 center role.

Neither of those moves, however, speak to the essence of what Hextall stands for: player development and giving young men a chance.

Which is why the decision by Hextall and head coach Dave Hakstol to entrust the job on a short-term basis to 23-year-old Nick Cousins has to be applauded.  

There are moments that define a player. Terry Murray took a chance years ago, asking a young Chris Therien to take on Jaromir Jagr head-to-head in games against the Penguins.

It became one the great stories of the 1990s and early 2000s, as Therien was arguably the best shutdown D-man on Jagr in the NHL.

It defined Therien.

Now while Cousins is far from being an experienced two-way centerman of Couturier’s ilk, this move could very well define him. This is Cousins’ chance to grow as a player in his first full NHL season.

“Nick is first and foremost a really smart player,” Hextall said. “He can make plays. He is competitive. He’s got a little bit of an edge to him. He’s proved at every level that he can play in an offensive role and two-way role. 

“Now it’s his opportunity to prove it at this level. We can’t just sit and say Cuz is gonna replace Coots. It’s not fair. Coots is a big part of our team. Cuz has got to do his job, no question. Scotty [Laughton]  has to do his job. Everybody does. Just give a little more.”

Cousins centered Couturier’s reshuffled line with Travis Konecny and Wayne Simmonds for the first time Wednesday in Tampa. The Flyers blew a 2-1 lead and at least a point they richly deserved mostly because of undisciplined play — seven penalties.

They spent so much time killing penalties that there wasn’t much flow for most of their bench. Too many of their players were gassed by the end of the third period when Tampa rallied for a 4-2 victory (see story).

While Couturier is a vital part of the PK, Cousins is not. He had just 23 seconds on the penalty kill, because it’s not in his repertoire just yet.

And that’s why he logged just 11:59 overall ice time. He sat on the bench too long.

“For the guys who don’t play on the penalty kill, they just sit there for a while,” Cousins said. “I think in the first period, we had four or three penalties, so that obviously disrupts the flow early in the game. 

“You are just sitting there on the bench trying to get into the game. It definitely sucks, but at the same time, we have to be more disciplined.”

Cousins relishes the chance he’s going to get over the next 15 or more games.

“It’s a good opportunity for me to show what I can do and get more playing time,” he said. “And as a young guy, that’s all you can ask for. 

“I think I can play better than I did [against Tampa Bay]. I got cleaned on faceoffs. Obviously, it wasn’t my best.”

Cousins won just 20 percent of his draws (2 of 10). Couturier wins 49 percent of his draws. Cousins swears he’ll get better on draws. Again, this is a learning process for Cousins.

“I saw his skill at the minor league level,” Hextall said. “He’s come a long way. My first year back here [2013] and he was in Glens Falls, he had a lot of work to do. Give him credit. He learned how to work. 

“It’s not that he didn’t want to work. He didn’t know the expectation at the pro level. That first year was a bit of an awakening for him. He worked his tail off to get to this level. We’re asking a lot of him, make no mistake.”

Cousins accepts the responsibility, too. He spent a lot of time in Murray’s office in 2013-14, his first full season in the AHL at Adirondack. What Murray taught Cousins on being a pro has now carried over to the NHL level.

“A lot of meetings after games on stuff I needed to work on,” Cousins said. “Ever since, I took it to heart to be where I am today. I want to be a 200-foot player. I’ve come a long way and still have a ways to go.”

The Flyers are hoping this experience will define Cousins as a player.

“This is the opportunity he would like,” Hextall said. “Offensive/two-way role. He is going to play with really good players and has an opportunity to do what he does, which is to make plays.”

A little over a month from now, we’ll know how it turned out for Nick Cousins.