VOORHEES, N.J. — Did the Flyers run into a red hot Marc-Andre Fleury on Saturday, or was it worth reading between the lines — as in Dave Hakstol’s lines?
The significance of Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the Golden Knights was this: It marked the first time in 61 regular season games the Flyers had been shut out dating back to a 3-0 home loss to the Boston Bruins on Dec. 2, 2017.
It was after that game that Dave Hakstol resorted to breaking up the most productive line in hockey when Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek had accounted for a whopping 43 percent of the Flyers’ offensive production at even strength, including an NHL-leading 25 goals between them.
Hakstol at that time was desperate for change. He had heard the “Fire Hakstol” chants raining down from the Wells Fargo Center as his team had just dropped their tenth straight game and were shutout for the sixth time in their first 26 games. The Flyers' record stood at 8-11-7 while sitting in last place in the Metropolitan Division.
Despite the ten-game winless stretch, the message from the coach and general manager Ron Hextall was the Flyers weren’t playing that poorly, but they also weren’t receiving the necessary breaks needed to win a game.
Still, Saturday’s shutout to Vegas was a glimpse into what we saw a year ago, which raises a very important and vital question: Can the Flyers survive offensively when the big three of Giroux, Couturier and Voracek doesn’t crack the scoresheet playing on the same line?
Prior to last season’s split, the answer was a definitive "no." The Flyers managed to win just one game, a 2-1 home victory against Edmonton, when that top line failed to produce an even strength goal. However, it was Giroux who opened the scoring with a power play goal.
“I don’t think we feel more pressure, but we’re just kinda the guys that need to step up offensively and the team relies on us to produce,” Couturier said. “I think it’s just more confidence than anything and that we’ll create chances every night.”
I agree with Couturier’s assertion that those superstars don’t feel additional pressure, but I sense there’s pressure placed on the secondary players when that top line is having an off night.
Coming into this season with the addition of James van Riemsdyk and the emergence of players like Mikhail Vorobyev and Oskar Lindblom, the Flyers appeared stacked within their forward group.
But it’s not until a team is faced with injuries that they’re forced to find out exactly what that depth looks like. Right now, no lines changes are expected for Tuesday’s game against the Panthers. Jordan Weal is the Flyers’ second-line center until Nolan Patrick returns, with Vorobyev centering the third line. The 21-year-old rookie has hit a wall with no points and no shots on net over his last three games.
“It can help us grow under stress,” Hakstol said. “It can help guys get in the lineup and play a little different role, play a little larger role and prove they can help us win games. Those individuals have to get in and be part of a lineup, that wins hockey games.”
Hakstol believes the Flyers could have executed better and shot a little more, but overall, the team played a much more complete and structured game in a 1-0 loss to the Golden Knights than they did in a 5-2 victory in Vegas.
As Hakstol knows, eventually the process has to yield results, or the first two months of this season will start to look eerily similar to last year.