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Flyers haunted by slow starts under Hakstol

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If it feels like you’ve been saying, “Man, it seems like the Flyers get off to slow starts every year”, that’s because it’s true. And I’m not just talking about the standings here.

NHL: New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Hyperbole is common among fans. “He’s awful!” says a fan after watching 3 games of an 82-game season. “He never shoots the puck!” says a fan about a player who has lead his team in shots over the past 3 seasons. “This team NEVER plays well to start the year!” Well, while this statement may be exaggerated to an extent, it’s not totally off-base when it comes to the Philadelphia Flyers, particularly under Dave Hakstol.

The Flyers are off to a 4-5-0 start to their season. Since Dave Hakstol took over as coach at the start of the 2015-16 season, this has been pretty typical of this group. Here are the records for the months of October and November of the Flyers under the direction of Hakstol:

You’re looking at a team that has had 2 months across 2 separate seasons above .500 in terms of percentage points in 3+ years under Hakstol, zero if you count OTL and SO losses as simply losses.

But let’s go a little deeper, shall we? How about we take a look at how often they score the first goal. This tweet from Bill Meltzer paints an interesting picture:

Doing some math here, in 57.6% of games they’ve played in Hakstol’s tenure, the Flyers have given up the first goal. They’ve won a smidge over 39% of those games. Not great, Bob! But why stop there? The data above includes games where the first goal was scored later in the game, even including shootouts. Let’s get a bit more specific and see how the Flyers have fared in the first period under Hakstol:

Hey, the Kings are in there! They’re a good team! True, but they’ve also shown the ability to overcome their starts to finish strong and even win a few Cups in their prime years. And any list that includes the Red Wings and Canucks of the past 3+ seasons isn’t a list of which I’d be proud to be included. Well, Jake, how do we know this wasn’t an issue prior to Hakstol? Glad you asked!

No, really, you read that correctly. The Flyers went from one of the top 5 teams in the league in terms of 1st period goals for to one of the bottom 5 teams in the league.

Granted, the Flyers haven’t exactly been a juggernaut with respect to talent level on their roster for a while. A lot of young players have come in, you can argue a coaching change at start of 2015-16 is a valid excuse for a slow start. I here you. Valid points. But what’s the excuse this year? Sure, they’ve had injuries, but I wouldn’t call them decimated. JVR was a big blow, but Patrick only missed a week and Raffl only recently sustained his injury. Even if you were to take that into account, it’s not as if the Flyers are the only team to sustain injuries early in the year. In addition, how does that explain the difficulty in scoring the first goal of the game or even winning the first period? Could it be bad luck? Sure, that can be a factor, but the puck bounces all kinds of ways. Are we supposed to assume the Flyers are just one of the unluckiest teams in hockey over the past 3+ seasons? Getting off to good starts in games isn’t the be all end all, but it certainly doesn’t help to feel like you are constantly trying to play catch up in games, particularly when it affects you to the point that you have to play catch up in the standings.

We’ve seen quite a bit of turnover on the roster over the past 3+ seasons which, for the most part, has led to a better roster on paper. Yes, roster turnover can lead to rough starts as new players get used to playing together. And as previously mentioned, the team hasn’t exactly been a juggernaut over this span. But this year was supposed to be different. This was the year the team was supposed to turn the proverbial corner, and I don’t think it’s unfair to say this has been their worst start to a season under Hakstol when taking everything into account. So why is this a problem? Why is seemingly ¾ of the roster off to a bad start, including some key players? Why does this team continue to have the same issues year after year? Worse yet, why are areas that had been solid the past 3 years now areas of great concern?

All of this leads to the biggest question of all: how long will Ron Hextall allow this to continue?