Dave Hakstol is now 25 games into his first NHL season and has seen his team ride the ebbs and flows that every NHL team goes through every single year.
Over that time, one thing has been apparent – he walks as close to right down the middle as he possibly can. When times have been bad, he’s found positives in his team’s play and calmly identified where they can be better. When times are good, like now, he’s lauded the things that have been done well, while at the same time pointing out things that can be better. He also makes it clear that laurels are not a thing upon which the Flyers should be resting at any point. He’s consistently challenged his team to get better, even in stretches like now when the Flyers are on their first three-game winning streak of the season and have won four of their last five.
“That’s all part of the game,” Hakstol said following an optional practice Wednesday. “There’s ups and downs. I think that’s an area where as a team we want to continue to grow in. You’re on the road and you’re going to go through a bit of adversity, no question. I thought our response was pretty good last night. I look at our third period and I think there are things our group can do better and handle the push that Ottawa put on maybe a little bit better, but overall you look at some of the details and the guys in this room did a pretty good job in those areas.”
There have been occasions this year that have revealed Hakstol’s focus on the big picture. One such moment came after the Flyers suffered back-to-back shutouts to San Jose and Ottawa that put them in the league’s basement in goals scored. While many people around the team were solely focused on that, Hakstol had a different view – while the lack of goal scoring was a concern, he was more unhappy with the way the Flyers took care of the puck in that game at Ottawa on Nov. 21, saying that if they didn’t do a better job in that department, they wouldn’t be successful regardless of what their number was in the goals-for column.
Hakstol and his staff set to work fixing those things, and the result has been some numbers that back up the Flyers’ better record as of late. In the first 20 games of the year the Flyers averaged 1.7 goals per game; in their last five, they’ve averaged 2.8. They allowed 2.85 goals per game in that first stretch, but in the recent one, they’ve allowed just 1.8 per night. They went from being outshot by nearly three shots per game in the first 20 games to outshooting opponents by 0.8 per game on average in the last five. And the special teams have taken a 180-degree turn – whereas the power play was 13.3 percent in the first 20 and the penalty kill 77.8 percent, the PP has improved to 23.5 percent in the last five games and the kill has been perfect in that stretch.
So as the 2015-16 Flyers enter December, they are a team that had some early success, endured a pretty tough first part of November and have rebounded to end the month well. Hakstol has been pleased with how his team has navigated those waters, and is hoping his players continue to do so effectively.
“Morale has always been pretty good,” Hakstol said. “It’s always nice when you’re a little looser and it’s a little easier to smile. We’d be lying if we didn’t say it gets tough around here when you don’t have a lot of success, but that comes with the territory. I think this group has handled that overall pretty well. Now we’ve got to keep our feet on the ground here and use today for what it is, and make sure we get ourselves ready to go for Friday.”
UMBERGER, WHITE NEARING RETURN
R.J. Umberger and Ryan White were part of the lightly-attended optional practice on Wednesday, designated as such by Hakstol because of the team’s late return from Ottawa coupled with the upcoming back-to-back set on Friday and Saturday. Both are nearing clean bills of health; to the observer, they look healthy already after engaging in spirited one-on-one drills coordinated by assistant coach Gord Murphy.
“It’s nice to get a couple extra days in and do some extra work out there with Umby and Murph, just get back into game shape,” White said. “I’m just testing out and making sure it’s getting better.”
WATCH: White, Umberger and head coach Dave Hakstol talk about the injuries below…