Ya know, there’s an alternative way of looking at the Flyers’ 3-1 loss to the Sharks on Tuesday night:
Their three-game point streak was snapped.
OK, OK, calm down. And stop booing. Or calling for me to be fired.
A man’s got a right to be optimistic, doesn’t he?
That was pretty much the management theme late Tuesday, after the players closed the doors and hashed out what is, to most of us, even more than a nine-game stretch of lost opportunities and losses, of repeated mistakes and terrifying trends that hint at one of two things – or maybe both:
Either the coach is not doing enough with the talent provided, or …
There is a gross overestimation of the talent provided.
The polls opened Tuesday night, and the early returns seemed to favor the former. “Fire Hakstol’’ became a Wells Fargo chant wedged between Eagles chants and general booing, but the players and the general manager who hired the coach and is just a pronunciation tweak away from a reapplication of the chant didn’t think this was such a good idea.
“They can chant whatever they want. We’re in this together; we’re all in the same boat here,’’ Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “It’s not on him. It’s on everybody.”
“If you look at the way we’ve played from the start of the year, I’m pretty good with the way our team has played the last nine games,’’ general manager Ron Hextall insisted in the Flyers locker room after the loss. “I think tonight we ran out of energy. Obviously, results lately are not very good. We deserve better, but we haven’t gotten better. Obviously, we got to find a way.’’
This is not going to pacify restless fans who are not pretty good with the way the Flyers played in the last nine games – or, really, the stretch before that, when they lost five of seven, including an ugly home loss to the then-winless Arizona Coyotes.
They are not pretty good with how the Flyers have frittered away third-period leads and flipped obvious wins into telling losses. Long scrambles in their own zones (team), veterans losing track of opponents inside the scoring zones at critical junctures (Jake Voracek), unnecessary risk-taking while holding a lead (Shayne Gostisbehere), a lack of physicality (team), veterans taking foolish penalties to negate advantages or accentuate disadvantages (Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Andrew MacDonald, Radko Gudas). Fans do not see what the GM sees, a team that deserves to be “.500, 5-4, somewhere in there’’, a team he said is “doing a lot of good things.’’
To be fair, the GM is likely using the media here to send a message of calm to the team, and perhaps even the coach he hired three Mays ago. To be fair, there have been some hopeful moments. But the contention by both coach and GM that there is no common thread to the mistakes made is a bit of a stretch. The Flyers consistently turn the puck over in the critical areas of the ice, take penalties borne from not moving their feet, and make risk-reward decisions that boggle the mind.
Yes, some of this is because of key losses – the monthlong injury to MacDonald and Gudas’s 10-game suspension have shown up on the score sheet, particularly on the penalty kill. Some of this, no doubt, can be traced to the growing pains of young players. Combined, Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny, and Jordan Weal have scored seven goals. Travis Sanheim has yet to score and is a minus-6 after sagging too deep instead of challenging Chris Tierney on his first-period goal Tuesday.
Despite having a physical game that seems desperately needed, 6-7 Samuel Morin somehow cannot crack this unintimidating defense corps — mostly because of his age, it seems. Said Hextall: “When I looked the other night, we had a 20-, a 21-, two 22-, and a 24-year-old defenseman. That’s five of our six; that might be the youngest defense I’ve ever seen. And to say right now we need to get younger on defense — not sure that’s a solution. … So just to patch six kids in there and say, ‘Go get ’em, guys,’ you’re looking for a disaster. You’re not helping those kids.’’
Ah, yes, the elephant in the room. Hextall again expressed his belief Tuesday that the Flyers were playoff-caliber, but that’s based on those failing veterans in the room, not his flailing kids. No one’s talking of dealing Konecny, Weal, or Patrick. But the veteran deadline-trade drumbeat is off to an early start.
So, too, are the calls for the head of the latest head coach. To his credit, Hakstol acknowledged Tuesday’s disenchantment.
“If you don’t want to be in this spot, that’s a choice,’’ said the coach in his first pro coaching job. “That’s how I react to it. There’s high expectations in this market and we have maybe the best fans in the National Hockey League and they’re full of value for having expectations. Nobody said that’s going to be easy. You better be able to stand up and handle that.”