After he was fired as the Flyers’ head coach last month, Dave Hakstol exuded class as he phoned his successor, Scott Gordon, and congratulated him.
He also told Gordon he was inheriting a good team.
On paper, yes.
On the ice, no.
The Flyers, losers of nine of their last 10 games, aren’t only bad, but they are worse than any team in the NHL. They are last in the league with 38 points, and visions of Jack Hughes – the hotshot prospect expected to be drafted No. 1 overall in June – are dancing in their fans’ heads.
Rookie Carter Hart has solidified the Flyers’ goalie situation, but defensive miscues, and the inability to finish scoring chances – or put shots on net – have led to the team’s demise.
And then there is the Flyers’ hard-to-explain power play, which went into Sunday 30th in the 31-team league with a 12.8 percent success rate. It’s beyond puzzling because the power play includes players who, in the past, have been dynamic with the extra man – guys such as Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Shayne Gostisbehere, and James van Riemsdyk.
Before this season, Giroux led the NHL with 131 power-play points in the last four years, and Simmonds was second in power-play goals (54), behind only Alex Ovechkin. In that four-year span, Voracek was fifth in power-play points (114), Gostisbehere was 10th among defensemen (78 power-play points), and van Riemsdyk was 25th in PP goals (31).
But the power play has dried up this season, which is why Gordon, the interim coach, said Sunday he planned to make personnel and scheme changes in Monday’s game against visiting Minnesota (22-19-3).
A lot depends on the health of van Riemsdyk, whose availability is 50-50, Gordon said, after he took a teammate’s shot off the leg in the 3-2 loss Saturday in New Jersey.
The Flyers (16-23-6) will not allow their assistants to talk to the media, so second-year coach Kris “Chuck” Knoblauch, who runs the power play, is not permitted to explain what has gone wrong. The power play, which is predictable and doesn’t show much motion, is 0 for its last 14.
So it was left up to Gordon, who has been with the team just 14 games (4-8-2), to analyze the breakdowns.
“It’s been frustrating. We seem to get good opportunities, but we don’t score,” Gordon said after Sunday’s practice in Voorhees. “You watch other teams’ power plays and they’re getting [fewer scoring chances] than us, so you feel like you’re doing something right. But at the end of the day, it’s not going in, and so we’ve talked about a couple possibilities” for Monday. “Kind of different looks.”
Because he did not know van Riemsdyk’s status, Gordon wouldn’t reveal what changes were in the works. One possibility is moving struggling Nolan Patrick from the second to the first unit in an attempt to get him going. Patrick performed well as a net-front presence when on the top power-play unit late last season.
“It’s a big question mark right now,” Gostisbehere said of the power play. “We could move the puck around better and make better plays … but I feel like we get the chances and we don’t quite get the bounces. Every time we shoot, it just goes to their guy and they clear it. I think for us, it’s just a matter of sticking with it.”