After a morning skate in Detroit the other day, Flyers coach Dave Hakstol was going deep about what goes into his decisions on shuffling his lines, about minutes played and how and why he decides to meet with players individually.
In the back, Flyers video editor Ryan McDonald was doing his usual bang-up job, keeping his hands steady, his back erect, lest the coach’s exacting words be accompanied by a blurred image. That task, on this day, was made exponentially more difficult because of what was going on behind him. As carefully as the coach chose his words, so too did Travis Konecny choose how he linked hangers from the back of McDonagh’s shirt to the floor.
He was on nine, when Hakstol concluded his comments with this: “I might have to meet with a player individually very soon.”
He smiled a little then. He didn’t smile after Thursday’s 4-3 victory over the Rangers when someone asked him why Konecny was missing from the game for a large chunk of the third period.
“He wasn’t taking care of the puck very well,” Hakstol said. “Defensively, some of the things in the D zone. Individuals have to be better this time of the year. In how we manage the puck and how we take care of it. And the mentality of what we’re going to do with it.”
This is the balance struck with such a dynamic player, particularly one who celebrated his 21st birthday just 12 days ago. After a dismal start of the season marked by indecision and bad decisions, Konecny has become a must-see star for the Flyers, providing at least one did-you-see-that play each game, getting under opponents’ skin and into those dirty scoring areas despite a 5-10, 175-pound frame.
He can skate. He shifts speeds as smoothly as a Mercedes and maneuvers like one, too. His creativity on the ice reminds you of a young Claude Giroux, but the speed, the acceleration — well sometimes you can actually hear the crowd gasp.
And the creativity doesn’t end when he leaves the ice. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the kid yawn. As much as you don’t want to take your eyes off him on the ice, you had better not lose sight of him in the dressing room, lest you meet the fate of McDonald, the video editor.
Hakstol’s decision to replace him with Matt Read over the last 7 minutes, 20 seconds Thursday was no small matter. Konecny was a big reason the Flyers were even playing defensively in the third period. He scored a goal in each of the first two periods, each underlining the unique set of skills and, um, intestinal fortitude he brings to this Hamlet-like team.
The first displayed his speed and shiftiness, swooping across the slot, freezing Rangers defenseman Neal Pionk by faking a shot before rifling it over the glove of New York’s rookie goaltender, Alexandar Georgiev to give the Flyers an early 1-0 lead.
“He’s pretty dynamic,” Giroux said. “He moves the puck well, he can move his feet well, too, and he beats guys one-on-one. He’s definitely a fun player to play with.”
The second goal came by diving into that dirty area in front of Georgiev, and redirecting Radko Gudas’ shot from the point. On Sunday, Konecny limped off the ice on successive shifts after standing in front of shots, then later brawled with a player, T.J. Oshie, who outweighed him by a good 30 pounds.
On Tuesday, he kamikazied himself against the crossbar of Detroit’s net to tie the game and gain the Flyers a point, swatting the puck by Jimmy Howard just before the crash.
“There’s never a lack of that,” his coach said. “I love that about T.K. And on most nights he’s working hard to do the right things on both sides of the puck. There have been very few nights where he hasn’t given us that injection of energy and that punch offensively. He’s been a real consistent player on that side of things. It’s just this time of the year…”
… Every little thing can become really big. Wiggle room for the Flyers, with seven games remaining, is as small as it has been for much of their uneven season. Seven points separate them from a hard-charging Florida Panthers team that has played three fewer games. Read’s promotion from the AHL was based largely on his defensive skills, something Konecny claimed he understood.
“It’s just about getting the two points,” he said. “And we’re going to make sure defensively we’re going to take care of pucks and things like that. It’s just part of buying in and doing things for the team. I have no problem with it. If that’s the way we’re going to win, we’ve got to do that every time.”
It won’t be.
But those individual meetings?
Well, there are bound to be a few more of those.