Game Four still is salvageable if the Flyers:
1) Stay out of the box
“We took six (penalties) on night one and that’s too many,” said Dave Hakstol. “Then [Monday] night obviously, it got away from us at the end of the game.
“[Washington’s] power play is going at a high level right now. The first option would be to give them a few less opportunities.”
2) Change the box
“You don’t keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result unless you have a good reason for that,” said Hakstol.
The good reason would be if the guys you put in simply aren’t as good as the guys you are pulling out, especially since the Flyers depth is compromised by the absence of Sean Couturier and the suspended Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Those probably are the two best penalty killers the Flyers have.
But whoever Hakstol puts out there, the basic box that is resulting in either a goal or a blocked shot – and Nick Schultz’s barking shins — is not getting the puck out of the zone. “We are going to look closely at things,” said Hakstol. That’s all I will say.”
Shadow Alexander Ovechkin? It’s been tried, with Ovechkin being smart enough to take himself to the boards, the way Wayne Gretzky used to do it, and letting his teammates work four-on-three. Still, whatever the poison Hakstol picks, he has little to lose by trying something different. Despite the late season improvement, this was the 20th best penalty-killing unit in the league this season.
3) Chill Out
This is hardly the first time a No. 1 line on the team of less scoring depth has been shut down and it won’t be the last. To make things worse, Barry Trotz has used multiple matchup options on the Flyer big line, the sign of a Washington team that can go a long ways, just in case that President’s Trophy hasn’t gotten your attention.
Discipline does not merely manifest itself in penalties but by making the right decisions. Steve Mason beat himself up for Ovechkin’s tie-breaking goal from above the circle, but the most devastating one-on-one threat in the NHL was free to unleash a wicked dipper low and just inside the post because Claude Giroux tried to make a play at the blueline and turned the puck over.
Good players have to be given license for creativity. But now is the time to keep things simple as possible. There has been nothing wrong with the Flyer forecheck in this series. You have a strength, go to it.
“We’re playing very frustrated right now,” said Giroux. “Trying to do too much is the reason we get in trouble. Stick with the game plan, win some puck battles, and grind it out a little bit.”
4) Stay With Steve Mason
The Flyers have scored three goals in three games. Mason’s gaffe on a dribbler in Game Two notwithstanding, are you going to blame him for being down 3-0, especially considering the grand chances Washington has been given on the power play?
Because there is virtually no drop-off in ability from Mason to Neuvirth, you can argue again that Hakstol would have nothing to lose. But would there really be a gain?
Mid-series goalie changes have worked – Martin Gerber to Cam Ward for Carolina’s Cup in 2006, even Brian Boucher for Michael Leighton in the middle of Game Six against Buffalo during the 2011 first round. But success is rare. In this case, the Flyers do have something to lose by making a switch: Game Four by throwing in a goalie who has played one game in three weeks.
5) Look at the big picture
Yeah, down 3-0 it has remained one shift at a time since time in memoriam, but the Flyers still would be well served by reminding themselves they won five of their first 18 games and were nine points out of a playoff spot in early January. They have exceeded expectations for this season.
The best statement they can make towards that regard would be to win Game Four. If not, the Flyers don’t want another Game Three to be a closing statement on a season where they came a long way.