The Flyers were able to avenge their home opener disaster with a win over the lowly Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night. It was nice to see the team follow up that performance (if you can even call it that) with a win, but I want to rewind to that awful game on Tuesday night to ask a potentially complex question: why can’t this team seem to adjust on the fly when things go wrong in a hurry?
Something I feel like this team has done a really poor job of over the past few years, particularly during the Dave Hakstol era, is resetting after getting punched in the mouth. I’m not talking about going down by a goal or coughing up a lead. I’m talking about the instances in which things go south quickly. These types of games seemingly all start relatively the same way: Flyers come out bursting with energy, have the opponent on their heels, create a bunch of scoring chances but just can’t seem to convert, then the opponent scores. After that, it feels like the team deflates and can’t seem to get themselves together. Passes become less crisp, assignments get missed defensively. It just unravels, and it unravels quickly.
At that point, Flyers twitter becomes an octagon. One side blames the players for their inability to reset on the fly. The other side blames the coaching staff for not being able to pick the team up in a time of crisis. I have a bit of time for the players argument. After all, the players are the ones actually playing the game. If they want to change things, it’s ultimately up to them to make that happen. However, I tend to lean toward the coach argument. Allow me to plead my case. I’ll begin with a rebuttal to the “players are playing the game” argument. They’re directly involved, and because of that, sometimes it can be hard to remove yourself from the situation to find the solution. Think back to when you were in school (maybe you still are) trying to solve a math problem. You stared at that equation or word problem for what seemed like hours and no matter what you did, the answer just wasn’t coming. After breaking a few pencils and ripping up your notebook, you call your friend or ask your sibling for help and just like that, problem solved. All you needed was a different perspective. I feel like that same principle can apply here. I don’t see it as the team just giving up or folding. I see it as the team getting frustrated and locked up in a sense, emotions impeding their ability to solve the problem. The coach may bring a different perspective from a different state of mind and have an idea on how to fix it.
This leads me to one of my (and many others’) gripes about Dave Hakstol: to put it nicely, he has a hard time knowing when to impart this potentially different perspective. Another aspect of these blowout games that has been fairly regular, in my opinion, is Hakstol’s unwillingness to use or poor timing of the use of the timeout. Take Tuesday night, for example. It’s the home opener, the team is buzzing, creating chances throughout the first three minutes, then boom! Sharks score. Eleven seconds later, Sharks put another one past Elliott. It’s not the deficit that’s concerning necessarily, but how quickly it developed. Yet, no timeout. Through the next nine minutes things seem to stabilize a bit, though still favoring the Sharks, and Pavelski scores his second of the period to make it 3-0. Now the game is starting to get out of hand on the scoreboard. Still, no timeout. A little over 4 minutes after that, Kane scores on the powerplay and the lead now seems insurmountable before the horn has sounded for the end of the first period. At no point in that mess of a 15 minute or so stretch did a timeout come from the Flyers bench boss. Why?
We could postulate about Hakstol wanting to save that timeout in case he needed it for a challenge later in the game, though that would require the team to turn the game around which, although it was early, seemed less than likely. Maybe he just has extreme trust and confidence in his team to get themselves out of it. I could see that being the case, or at least part of it all. My belief is that Hakstol is the type of coach that wants to exude a sense of calm, thinking if he remains calm and stoic it can even come across as confidence and the players would then respond in kind. I can understand the idea behind it and I’m not refuting the tactic entirely. But, well you see, Dave, it’s been over three years now and that doesn’t quite seem to work in those situations. So maybe try a different tactic?
Now, in no way, shape or form am I advocating for Hakstol to totally pull a 180 and start throwing fits on the bench and punching players in the head. I really could not care less about whether he is emotional or not. That’s not what a timeout needs to be. It doesn’t need to turn into a moment of chastising or skull bashing or stick breaking. Maybe you pull the team together and try to pump them up. Maybe you go over strategy or structure. Heck, maybe you just let the players take 30 seconds to catch their breath and process what just happened, so they can try to re-focus and get their bearings. Whatever the case may be, something should be done in that situation. Because at this point, three plus years in the making, you’re not exuding a sense of calm, you’re just letting the massacre unfold in front of you rather than attempting to stop the bleeding.
I’m not here to say that calling a timeout in those situations will always work, because it won’t. We saw it with Laviolette. Early on in his tenure it seemed like every timeout he called lead to a swing of the pendulum back in the Flyers’ favor. By the end of his time in Philadelphia it appeared the “magic” had run out. The point, though, is that he tried. He attempted to do something, in the moment, to change the course of the game. And for over three years now, it appears Hakstol either misses that boat entirely or ends up being a day late and a dollar short.
Situations like this aren’t all on the coach. It requires a combination of the players and coach to try to get things back in order. The players ultimately do have to respond, and again, it won’t always work out. Sometimes, as they say, it just isn’t in the cards that night. Regardless, I feel a new tactic in those situations is necessary, because, well, it can’t really get much worse.