The 2018-2019 Philadelphia Flyers season was one of the more ... interesting ones in recent memory. We saw the General Manager and Head Coach fired before Christmas, the trading of fan-favorite Wayne Simmonds, and the debut of the potential savior of goaltending in Philadelphia in Carter Hart. The team saw some players have breakout campaigns, and some players fail to live up to their expectations. Today we’ll relive some of the best and worst moments from the season that was. We’ll save the best for last, and start with the worst moments from the season.
The Home Opener: San Jose kills Flyers 8-2
This was something of a sign of things to come for the season, and yet none of us knew it at the time. After splitting the first two road games of the season with Vegas and Colorado, the Flyers returned home for what was, at the time, a season of much promise. It took less than four minutes to completely dispel that mood in the Wells Fargo Center. Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski scored nine seconds apart and the Sharks went on to post a four goal first period and completely drain the life from the arena. This would only continue as the Flyers allowed one more goal in the second period, and then three more in the third period. At the time it looked like hopefully a blemish on what would be an overall fun and successful season. That ah ... well it didn’t work out that way.
The Bruins and Islanders losses: The Beginning of the End
Unlike the home opener, these two losses really seemed to signal to the fan base that we could be in for a very long season. In late October the Flyers lost 3-0 to the Boston Bruins, and then 6-1 to the New York Islanders in consecutive games. The Boston game was arguably one of the worst efforts of the season, where late in the game there was little to no effort to even mount a comeback or even to simply make the game a tad bit interesting with some physical play. We joke a lot on this website about how irrelevant it is that Robert Hagg is a league leader in hits, but this was one of the rare occasions where some hits would have been nice, just to spice things up a little bit.
The Islanders game was truly one of the worst games of the entire season. The lone Flyers goal of the game was scored by none other than Jori “Jorald” Lehtera, which tells you all you need to know about how horrific this game was. New York absolutely dominated the Flyers and Michal Neuvirth made one of just seven starts on the season and gave up five even strength goals and one power play marker. At this point, directly after the Bruins game, this was when the seeds of doubt were growing within the minds of Flyers fans about the success this team could amass. Also, out of a defense core that included Christian Folin (remember that guy?) Travis Sanheim had the least minutes. Thanks, Dave Hakstol.
The final stretch of Dave Hakstol: 12/9-12/15
Dave Hakstol’s tenure finally came to a close this season, and while that was one of the better moments from this season, the stretch before he was canned was not. From December 9 to December 15, the Flyers lost to the Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks by a collective score of 22-8. Not only did the Flyers absolutely get their asses handed to them, Dave Hakstol destroyed another goalie in this time frame. Anthony Stolarz started every single one of these games and nine straight overall that ended with his injury suffered in the Vancouver game.
Stolarz was coming off of a major knee injury and a lot of us never really thought he’d start another game for this team, but there he was, starting nine consecutive games and re-injuring himself. He would just play three more games in a Flyers jersey before being dealt to the Edmonton Oilers for Cam Talbot.
However, this was a fixture of Dave Hakstol’s time as head coach. He overworked Steve Mason in the stretch drive in his first season to make the playoffs, he overworked both Mason and Neuvirth at times in the next season, and then he started the 32 year old goalie 16 consecutive games when he had been fairly strictly a tandem goalie. What I’m trying to say, Dave Hakstol had zero idea how to manage goalies, and I’m so glad Carter Hart never had to deal with this guy as a head coach.
The Wayne Simmonds trade
Before anyone starts, yes I fully supported the decision to trade Wayne Simmonds. There was no sensible reason to keep him on this roster past the trade deadline, and Chuck Fletcher did the right thing by dealing him to the Nashville Predators. But that doesn’t change the fact it was easily one of the worst moments of the season. Simmonds was a fan favorite in Philadelphia, and it sucked from a purely fan aspect to see him go.
The Debut of Carter Hart
In the first game that Dave Hakstol was not the head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, Carter Hart made his NHL debut vs. the Detroit Red Wings. It was the debut of Hart and Scott Gordon as head coach in what would be a solid beginning before failing down the stretch. But this game was about the debut of Hart, and did he ever deliver. Hart stopped 20 of 22 shots en route to his first NHL victory, in what would be a very successful rookie season for the young netminder. Hart appears to be the savior that he was anticipated to be, and while that is a lot of pressure to put on a 20 year old goalie, it’s simply what he has been hyped to be.
There were very few positives about this season, but Carter Hart was a major one and it all began with his debut coming as an early Christmas present.
Stadium Series: Flyers comeback and stun Penguins
The Winter Classic in 2010 and 2012, and the Stadium Series game in 2017 all resulted in losses for the Flyers in outdoor games. So when we reached that balmy February 23 night with the Flyers just about to trade Wayne Simmonds and already having fired their coach and GM, it looked like another loss in the book especially when the Penguins lead 3-1 with less than five minutes remaining. Then, something remarkable happened. James van Riemsdyk scored with just over three minutes to go, then Jakub Voracek tied the game with 20 seconds left, to somehow send the game to overtime. The captain would have the last laugh.
Sean Couturier dunks on Sidney Crosby
In my time as a Flyers fan there are few goals that left me more satisfied than this one. JVR had already tied the game with just 18 seconds to go in the third period, and OT would see some more last second dramatics. With time winding down, Sean “should be a Selke finalist” Couturier banked the puck off the boards to himself around Sidney Crosby, and then sniped one by Matt Murray to seal the win for the Flyers, and their first season series win over Pittsburgh since 2014-15. Words don’t even do it justice, just watch it again.
The firings of Dave Hakstol and Ron Hextall
This may seem a bit strange to categorize these as two of the best moments, but at the end of the day, they were for the best. The organization was in a rut under Ron Hextall and one that seemed too large to get out of. Prospects continued to pile up but the NHL product was not getting better and the feeling was not that Ron Hextall was not going to do something immediately to fix the issues, but that he would never do anything to fix the issues.
It had become painstakingly clear that Hextall was never going to fire Dave Hakstol unless forced to, and that was really the first step in fixing this team. I truly appreciate what Hextall was trying to do for this team, but at the end of the day he wasn’t willing to take enough chances to improve the NHL roster.
As for Dave Hakstol... it was a long-time coming. It’s not his fault that he should have been let go earlier, but it is his fault he never seemed to adapt and fix what he was doing wrong. He had his favorites in the likes of Andrew MacDonald, Jori Lehtera, and Robert Hagg, and he was not going to go away from them. One of the better aspects of this season was the emergence of Travis Sanheim and I can only assume we would not be saying that if Hakstol kept his job all season. After he was let go, Sanheim flourished in an increased role with Ivan Provorov on the top pair, and he never looked back.
While I have my reservations about the choice to hire Alain Vigneault, I will absolutely take this over the scenario of keeping Hakstol. These two moves needed to happen to change the optics surrounding this team, and I can appreciate that.
So there you have it, some of the best and worst moments from the season that was. I don’t know about the rest of you, but this season was a drag like no other; the final two weeks of it truly drained any will to watch hockey - especially the Flyers. But, looking back, there were some exceptional moments from this season that kept us coming back, as we’ll do every single season.