Tag Archives: Dave Hakstol

March 12 – Day 152 – Roll low to Fly high

First and foremost, I want to sincerely thank @jdettro, @nlanciani53 and @vanekatthedisco for manning the “Game of the Day” post while I was – as Pete put it – on IR recovering from oral surgery. I strive to keep this series as lively and up to date as possible, and they performed those tasks marvelously. Hats off to them!

I must admit, I also earned the golden opportunity to return to the series on an action-packed day, as the NHL has scheduled a solid eight games for our viewing pleasure.

The festivities begin, like they do most weeknights, at 7 p.m. with four tilts (Carolina at the New York Rangers, Vegas at Philadelphia [SN], Winnipeg at Washington [TVAS] and Montréal at Columbus [RDS/TSN2]), followed half an hour later by Ottawa at Florida (RDS2). The next wave of games doesn’t start until 10 p.m. when St. Louis at Anaheim drops the puck, while tonight’s co-nightcaps – Vancouver at Los Angeles and Detroit at San Jose – wait 30 minutes before completing the night’s slate. All times Eastern.

Since F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare spent his first three NHL seasons in the City of Brotherly Love before being selected by Vegas in the Expansion Draft, we’ll head to Eastern Pennsylvania to take in a tilt between two teams expecting to play more than 82 games this season.






Hailing from Le Blanc-Mensil, France (a suburb northeast of Paris), Bellemare was not one of the highly touted European prospects in his draft class. Instead, his story is one of paying his dues and climbing the ladder all the way from Ligue Magnus – the top hockey league in France – all the way to the best team in the Pacific Division.

Bellemare’s professional career began with French side Dragons de Rouen way back during the 2002-’03 season when he was 17-years old, albeit he won the Jean-Pierre Graff Trophy (Ligue Magnus’ Calder Trophy) during the 2004-’05 season. His tenure with the Dragons was capped by a dominant 2005-’06 season that saw him score a then career-high 12 goals and 29 points to lead the club to first place in the regular season, as well as an undefeated run to the Magnus Cup. In three best-of-five playoff rounds (nine games total), Bellemare averaged a point-per-game with 2-7-9 marks.

That success earned Bellemare the opportunity to climb the professional ranks into the more competitive HockeyAllsvenskan, the second-best league in Sweden, with Leksands IF.

Similar to Bellemare’s tenure with Rouen, Leksand only showed improvement while he was on the roster. In three seasons with the club, it finished third, first and first in the regular season, but could never advance out of Kvalserien to earn promotion into Elitserien (the top league in the country, renamed the Swedish Hockey League in 2013).

During his 2008-’09 campaign with Leksand, Bellemare discovered the best scoring form of his career. He scored incredible 31-18-49 totals in 41 regular season games, and followed that up by posting 5-5-10 marks in the 10-game Kvalserien round robin.

Since it was obvious Bellemare was worthy of playing in a better league, he joined Skellefteå AIK in the SEL at the start of the 2009-’10 season, the club he would spend five seasons with. It took Bellemare a couple seasons to adjust to playing against the best competition he’d ever faced on a nightly basis, but he rediscovered his scoring touch by the 2011-’12 campaign to register 19-17-36 totals in 55 games played. Skellefteå advanced to the championship series that season before falling to W Jakob Silfverberg‘s Brynäs IF in six games.

After Bellemare’s first 20-goal season in 2013-’14 since his final year in HockeyAllsvenskan (Skellefteå won the regular season and lost only two games en route to its second of four-consecutive Le Mat Trophies, for those that are wondering), he finally earned the promotion many hockey players only dream of: at 29-years-old, he signed a one-year, $600 thousand NHL contract with the Flyers.

The Frenchman didn’t exactly light North America on fire when he showed up, posting only 6-6-12 marks in 81 games played during his “rookie” season, but Philadelphia was obviously impressed enough to sign him to two more seasons on a $1.425 million contract. Bellemare rewarded the Flyers’ loyalty in 2015-’16 by improving his performance to 7-7-14 totals in only 74 games played, but he regressed last season to lowly 4-4-8 marks even though he didn’t miss a game.

Even still, the Flyers extended his contract another two seasons, locking him up through the 2018-’19 season for $2.9 million on March 1, 2017.

Though Philadelphia had signed that extension, it was a no-brainer why the 32-year-old was left exposed for the Expansion Draft. Bellemare’s production on the offensive end was far from awe-inspiring, as his tenure in the NHL had become most known for his defensive play (he finished 48th in Selke voting in 2016-’17).

Leave it to Head Coach Gerard Gallant and General Manager George McPhee to have a plan for that defensive effort, and of course that plan came up spades for the Golden Knights.

Even at 33-years-old (he just celebrated his anniversaire on March 6), Bellemare is easily having his best season in the NHL with his new team. With only 59 games played, the Frenchman has posted 5-8-13 totals and a +6 rating, his first positive goal-differential since joining the NHL – due in large part to career-high 43 takeaways in the league. He’s also enjoying an impressive 51.3 face-off win percentage.

If I had to guess as to why Bellemare is finding so much success in Vegas, I’d argue Gallant’s system fits his style of play far better than Head Coach Dave Hakstol’s. Fitting the French stereotype to a T, Bellemare’s talent is found in his quality stick work and heady play – a style that is far different than the brash shot-blocking, hit-throwing strategy employed by the Broad Street Bullies. The more Bellemare got away from that style in Philadelphia, the more success he found. Now that his defensive responsibilities have completely changed, he’s showing why he was brought to the NHL in the first place.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to be playing on McPhee’s incredibly constructed brainchild known as the 44-19-5 Golden Knights. After a three-game losing skid, Vegas is back in the swing of things having posted a 3-1-0 record over its last four showings, all of which have been on the road.

Perhaps its just coincidence on a day where we’re featuring the defensively-minded Bellemare, but it’s been the Golden Knights’ effort in their own that has resulted in their turnaround. Whether it’s been the excellent play of C Cody Eakin (averaging one takeaway per game since March 4), D Deryk Engelland (1.5 blocks per game in his last four showings) or D Brayden McNabb (4.3 hits per game over this run), Vegas has limited 24-9-3 G Marc-Andre Fleury‘s workload to only 29 shots per game during this road trip, the ninth-best mark in the NHL since March 4.

Oh yeah: Fleury has been pretty incredible lately as well (in other news, grass is green). Taking advantage of his defense’s effort, Fleury has managed a solid .948 save percentage and 1.48 GAA over his last four starts, improving his season marks to unbelievable .929 and 2.16 heights.

Between Fleury and the Vegas defense, the Golden Knights have allowed only 1.75 goals per game since March 4, the (t)third-lowest  mark in the NHL in that time.

Meanwhile, the 35-23-11 Flyers are in a bit of a slump right now, as they’ve managed only a 1-4-1 record over their past six outings, though they might have turned a corner Saturday when they beat the visiting Jets 2-1.

The injuries to Philadelphia’s two primary goaltenders are absolutely driving it into the ground, because the Flyers are completely altering the style that has brought them so much success this season to sell out on the defensive end.

That’s not to say the Flyers aren’t playing defense well. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, as F Valtteri Filppula (seven takeaways in his last six games) and D Radko Gudas (3.7 hits and 2.2 blocks per game since March 1) have performed phenomenally to limit 12-10-4 G Petr Mrazek‘s workload to only 29.83 shots per game in the month of March, the (t)ninth-best mark in the league in that time.

However, that commitment to excellent defense has come at the cost of the Flyers’ usually imposing offense. For the entire regular season, Philly has averaged a solid 2.91 goals per game – the 13th-best mark in the league. However, that number has dropped to only 2.33 goals per game in March to be the sixth-worst mark in the NHL over the past 11 days.

To keep piling on the Flyers, it’s not like their defensive success has really slowed down opposing offenses all that much. With the exception of his 27-for-28 performance Saturday against Winnipeg, Mrazek has been rather uninspiring in his last five starts, posting a combined .874 save percentage and 3.75 GAA. With 21-11-7 G Brian Elliott and 8-7-3 G Michal Neuvirth no closer to returning to action, Mrazek needs to get his act in shape before he single-handedly destroys the Flyers’ playoff hopes.

With the Stanley Cup playoffs less than a month away, the Flyers’ future is still as cloudy as a smoggy Philadelphia day. In fact, though they’re currently in third place in the Metropolitan Division with a three-point edge on fourth-place New Jersey, only six points separate the Flyers from ninth-place Florida. As such, a win tonight could be very important – especially paired with a Capitals loss to Winnipeg, as it would pull Philly into a tie for second place that it would lose by only one more game played, keeping the pressure squarely on Washington to keep finding wins. Should the Flyers lose, they give the Devils a game in hand – a dangerous weapon should Mrazek continue playing the way he is.

As for Vegas, the top seed in the Western Conference has all but slipped out of its fingers considering the Predators have a five-point lead in 68 games played – one fewer than Vegas after tonight’s action. However, the Knights still have yet to lock up the Pacific Division, as the Sharks and Ducks are lurking with 81 and 80 points, respectively. As long as Vegas wins at least seven more games before the end of the regular season, it should clinch its first division title.

The way things have gone for the Golden Knights this season, I don’t think 14 points will be hard to come by.

We’ve heard stories of celebrities and bachelor parties trashing hotel rooms while in Vegas, and that’s kind of what the Flyers did when they visited T-Mobile Arena on February 11. Led in large part by C Sean Couturier‘s three-point night that included a game-winning assist in the second period, Philadelphia came away from the Silver State with a 4-1 victory.

Based on recent trends, this game is screaming to be two points for the Golden Knights. If Mrazek can build off Saturday’s victory and the Flyers can return to playing some solid offense, Philadelphia certainly has a shot at winning. However, I have my doubts about that happening considering the Golden Knights have F Jon Marchessault (22-43-65 totals), C William Karlsson (35-26-61) and W David Perron (16-45-61) at their disposal. Vegas should come away with the victory.

The New York Islanders showed no mercy in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the Calgary Flames 5-2 at Scotiabank Saddledome.

By scoring three goals in the third period, the Isles registered their game-winning goal before departing for their dressing room for the first intermission. D Nick Leddy (C Casey Cizikas) opened the scoring with a wrist shot at the 2:14 mark, and Second Star of the Game D Johnny Boychuk (Cizikas and LW Ross Johnston) followed that up only 18 seconds later to give New York a 2-0 advantage.

Though LW Johnny Gaudreau (C Sean Monahan) was able to bury a wrister at the 7:29 mark to pull Calgary back within a score, RW Jordan Eberle (Boychuk and C John Tavares) apparently remembered his days with the Oilers and wanted to ensure he nipped any Flames comeback in the bud.

Only 3:02 after the horn stopped blaring for Gaudreau, Boychuk centered a pass from the left point to Eberle, who was camping in the slot in front of G Mike Smith‘s crease. Though the goaltender was able to make the initial save on Eberle’s initial redirection, he wasn’t able to catch up with the right wing’s recollect-turned-backhanded shot as he continued driving through the slot.

Though Eberle takes credit for the game-winning blow, F Anders Lee‘s (Boychuk and Leddy) clapper 50 seconds into the second period might have been the final blow to knockout the Flames. He set the score at 4-1, making any Calgary comeback a tall order.

Third Star D Mark Giordano (D Dougie Hamilton and Gaudreau) tried to get that comeback started at the 7:24 mark of the third period, but First Star G Christopher Gibson stopped the remaining 18 shots he faced in the third period to keep the Flames’ goal total at two. Lee (Tavares) capped the Isles’ scoring with with 11 seconds remaining in the game, burying a wrister into an empty net.

Gibson earned the victory after saving 50-of-52 shots faced (.962 save percentage), leaving the loss to Smith, who saved 22-of-26 (.846).

It’s been a bit of a resurgence of the road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day during my absence, as the past two featured tilts have gone the way of the squads wearing white. Because of that, the 83-49-19 hosts now have only a 31-point advantage in the series.

Michal Neuvirth Finally Gets the Chance to Shine, Earns A Huge Win to Avoid the Series Sweep.

Philadelphia Flyers LogoThe Philadelphia Flyers earned a vital win by the score of 2-1 Wednesday night over the Washington Capitals in a rocking Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers were led by Czech-born goaltender Michal Neuvirth who made a stellar 31 saves.

Finally, Flyers head Coach Dave Hakstol looked to his “number 2” goaltender Michal Neuvirth to provide momentum for his club. In my opinion, this coaching move came a game short, because clearly Neuvirth should have started Game 3! On the other hand, Capitals goalie Braden Holtby looked to continue his hot start to the series. Coming into Game 4, Holtby has stopped 93 out of 95 shots thrown his way in three games for an amazing .978% SV and a mindblowing .67 GAA with one shutout under his belt.

The beginning of the game started very fast. With each team going back and forth, trading shots off the post. The games first penalty went Capitals defender Taylor Chorney as he interfered with Flyers center Nick Cousins just 5:03 into the game. This sent the Flyers to their awful power play, who prior to game 3 were a dreadful 0/13 on the man advantage. So the Flyers were looking to grab a quick and early goal and that’s exactly what they did thanks to rookie sensation Shayne Gostisbehere. Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds dished the puck to the slot intended for Brayden Schenn, his stick got lifted and the puck went right to “Ghost’s” stick. He passed the puck to superstar center Claude Giroux who passed it right back to Shayne, who then moved it back to Giroux, and then received a perfect pass right in his wheel house! Ghost unleashed a massive one-timer from the point and beat Holtby high blocker side just 48 seconds into the PP to send the crowd into a frenzy. The goal was Gostisbehere’s first career playoff goal.

The Capitals looked to jump right back and tie the game. Just 26 seconds later Caps youngster Evgeny Kuznetsov came down the right-hand side and let a powerful wrister go, but Michal Neuvirth stood tall and shut that opportunity down faster then you could say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

This next part was one of the scariest moments in Flyers winger, Scott Laughton’s career. Scott Laughton was skating for the puck in the corner and also involved in a hard battle with Caps D-man John Carlson. Laughton got over-powered by Carlson and taken down unintentionally HARD into the boards banging his head and neck in both an awkward way. Laughton attempted to get up but just laid motionlessly behind Holtby’s net. This was definitely a scary sight for any hockey fan or player to see. He was then stretchered off the ice  10-15 minutes later after being tended to by the trainers, then was taken to a nearby hospital for precautionary measures. Everyone here at Down The Frozen River wishes a speedy recovery!

The Flyers jumped right off the bat in the second period looking to extend their 1-0 lead. Just 31 seconds into the second-period Flyers captain Claude Giroux flew down the right-hand side throwing a wrister towards the net and finding the stick of Brayden Schenn. He then put a nasty redirection on target, but Braden Holtby denied that chance with ease.

Then with 16:09 remaining in the second the Flyers finally got their second goal they were pushing for. Brayden Schenn came down the right side, stopped on a dime at the point, and threw a weak wrister on net that was easily handled by Holtby, and waffleboarded into the corner. Flyers power forward Wayne Simmonds collected the rebound in the corner and dished it up to defenseman Andrew MacDonald at the point who then drilled a laser beating Holtby to his right for the 2-0 lead. This was MacDonald’s 2nd career playoff goal.

Washington Capitals LogoThe Flyers would then take their first penalty of the contest just six minutes later. This time, it was Philly right winger Sam Gagner getting a two minute trip to the box after interference agaisnt Washington’s vet Justin Williams. This would send the Caps to their sizzling power play. Coming into Game 4 they were a lethal 8/17 on the manpower advantage with 5 of their 6 goals scored in Game 3 coming on the PP. Well, the Flyers were up to the tall order and only gave up one shot during the two minutes and killed it off with poise.

The Capitals would then grab another infraction, this time, with Nicklas Backstrom going to the box for holding D-man Andy MacDonald. This sent the Flyers to their second power play of the game, but this one did not last long at all. Flyers stud Jakub Voracek got the call for holding Caps enforcer Jay Beagle just 28 seconds into their PP. So the two teams ended the second with 4 aside hockey.

The third period couldn’t have started off any better for the Capitals and any worse for the Flyers. Just 2:38 into the third-period Capitals defender Karl Alzner gave his D partner Matt Niskanen a perfect cross ice pass. Niskanen received the pass and threw a wrister towards Neuvirth in hope for a rebound. He got just want he wanted, as Neuvirth made the save but was unable to corral the rebound and it squirted free right to the stick of Caps hot offseason addition T.J. Oshie. Oshie grabbed the juicy rebound and lifted it right over the sprawling Neuvirth’s pad to get the Capitals on the board and make it 2-1.

Washington would get two more prime scoring chances to tie the game. The first one coming with 10:52 remaining in the game. John Carlson found his partner Nate Schmidt open up for a one-timer on the top of the right faceoff dot. Schmidt rifled a slap shot to the net, but right into Neuvirth’s chest. Then exactly three minutes later, Washington right winger Marcus Johansson fired the puck on net from the left dot, Neuvirth made the easy save but let the rebound sit right in the crease for the taking. Caps enforcer Tom Wilson noticed the sitting puck in the blue paint and took a wrister but was absolutely robbed by the glove of Neuvirth, I mean complete larceny!

The Flyers would end up holding off the Caps final onslaught of shots to grab a critical 2-1 win. Washington controlled most of the third period, but the only reason why Philadelphia was able to hold on was because of their goalie Michal Neuvirth. It was the Flyers 1st playoff win in their last 5 playoff games.

Michal Neuvirth was phenomenal to say the lease, stopping 31 out of 32 shots, for a .969%. While Caps tendy Braden Holtby turned away 23 out of 25 shots for a .920%. This was Neuvirth’s 3rd start in the last month in half due to injury. So I would say he didn’t miss a beat!

Washington lead in shots (32-25) and faceoffs (29-27). The Flyers lead in hits (42-38), blocks (28-12) and giveaways (12-11). Philly converted once on the power play but finished 1/2 while Washington went 0/2.

Flyers earned a decisive win to avoid the sweep and grab their first win of the series (3-1). These teams will go to Washington on Friday night where the Capitals will look to put away the pesky Flyers on home ice and clinch the seires. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 pm and the game can be seen on NBCSN, CBC, CSN-DC, and CSN-PH.

Colby’s Corner: Flyers’ Goaltender Issues

So I am going to continue with another rant about another Pennsylvania team. This time I’m going to talkPhiladelphia Flyers Logo about the Philadelphia Flyers and the issues they face in the crease. Since the 2012-13 season, the Flyers have had eight different goalies. These goalies are: Steve Mason, Ray Emery, Brian Boucher, Michael Leighton, Calvin Heeter, Rob Zepp, and Michal Neuvirth. All of these goalies have played at least one game since the 2012-13 season.

The team currently has two goalies on their roster, Michal Neuvirth and Steve Mason. Steve Mason has a goals-against-average of 3.21 and a save percentage of .905 in 10 games started. Mason has a record of 3-5-3 with zero shutouts. Michal Neuvirth has a goals-against-average of 2.08 and a save percentage of .939 in 8 games started. Neuvirth also had two shutouts in his first two starts as a Flyer, with a total of three this season. Neuvirth’s record this season is 3-3-1, losing one of the decisions to Mason when he left the first period against the Bruins with an upper body injury.

Dave Hakstol is backing Steve Mason as the number one goalie even as his numbers continue to drop. On November 9th, Dave Hakstol said “Mase is our No.1” following a practice while Neuvirth was leading the league in shutouts. Since then, Jake Allen of the St. Louis Blues has tied Neuvirth for the league leader in shutouts. Many people believe there should be a goalie competition to see who is the better goalie, however Philly is standing behind their man Steve Mason.

My Opinion

Michal Neuvirth (Left) with Steve Mason (right) (USA Today Images)
Michal Neuvirth (Left) with Steve Mason (right) (USA Today Images)

Philly, oh Philly, always dealing with goalie issues. Philly hasn’t had a true number one goalie since the days of Roman Cechmanek, who last played for the team in 2002-03 season. Yes, they had Robert Esche who was number one for a few seasons, but then they had Antero Niittymaki show up and they split time too.

I appreciate what Dave Hakstol is trying to do with backing one goalie and trying to make a clear-cut, number one goalie, however, I think they are backing the wrong goalie in this case. Mason has struggled this year and isn’t an NHL number one goalie. The goal he let in against Tyler Ennis this season from behind the net was one of the worst goals I’ve seen a goalie give up this season, just behind Derek Stepan on Johnathan Bernier from center ice. Neuvirth is the better goalie right now and in general, and given a chance, I feel Neuvirth could win the number one goalie in Philly.

With Neuvirth’s time in Buffalo, I learned that he is a goalie who needs to be played consistently to get the best out of him. Neuvirth is a streaky goalie; when he is hot, he is a dominant goalie. This was evident this season when his first two starts were shutouts and wins for the Flyers. Obviously, when Neuvirth got hurt and was replaced by Mason, his hot streak stopped. Now he is struggling, only splitting games, and he hasn’t found his rhythm. Wednesday, November 18th, the Flyers announced that Neuvirth is day-to-day with another upper body injury. This complicates the Flyers’ situation even more and now we hope Neuvirth returns quickly to help his team.

Dave Hakstol needs to call it quits on Steve Mason and start backing the better goalie in Philly. The Flyers are hoping for the playoffs this season and in order to do this, they need a goalie to stand up and play like a number one, and the team/coach needs to back him up.