Ron Hextall

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Hextall’s patience, Elliott’s goaltending playing big roles in Flyers’ turnaround

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PHILADELPHIA — Step inside the Philadelphia Flyers dressing room, look to your right and you’ll notice above a clock on the wall is a sign that reads, “The Star Of The Team Is The Team Itself.” That message has been the thread through an interesting month for the team as they experienced the dregs of a 10-game losing streak before flipping the script and winning six straight.

That sixth win came Saturday night during a 2-1 overtime victory against the Dallas Stars making the Flyers the third team in NHL history (1967 Toronto Maple Leafs, 2005 San Jose Sharks) to reel off six victories in a row after a 10-game winless streak.

It wasn’t that long ago that fans were chanting for general manager Ron Hextall to fire the head coach and there was talk of shipping bodies out of town to shake things up. Those requests, however, were not in Hextall’s plans. The GM defended his team, defended his coach and was not going to make moves for the sake of change. That show of belief was well-received by his players.

“It means a lot. Obviously, Hexy has faith in us. He’s a very patient man, the coaching staff as well,” said forward Wayne Simmonds.

The front office wasn’t going to tear things apart and the players weren’t going to come unglued, even with the pressure of the losing streak growing with each defeat. They can look back now and see that as a takeaway from that experience.

“The most positive thing [was] we didn’t separate, we stuck together as a team and that’s why we’re winning games right now,” defenseman Ivan Provorov said.

The play of the five skaters on the ice has meshed well with the play of goaltender Brian Elliott, who’s been spectacular during this stretch. During this winning streak, he’s been named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week and has posted a .952 even strength save percentage.

“Our team has confidence in him. That’s a real position of strength for our bench, for the guys that are out on the ice,” Hakstol said. “It’s not just the things that you see on a nightly basis on game nights. He does such a real good job on a daily basis of approaching his day of work and that’s something that guys can feed off. They know he does the work. He’s prepared and I think that gives everyone a level of confidence coming into the game.”

It’s been a two-way effort for the Flyers during the streak. They haven’t allowed more than two goals a game and just grinded out a pair of 2-1 victories.. After averaging only two goals scored per game during that 10-game slide, which included being shutout three times, the offense has pumped in 3.5 goals per night. The power play is also cooking at 27.3 percent and their team shooting percentage is moving in the right direction going from 6.45 percent during their November slide to 9.23.

Adding to Provorov’s positive note about what came from the losing streak was also their standing in the Metropolitan Division. You’d think a team that did as poor as they did in November would see themselves with a major hole to dig out of by Christmas, but picking up five loser points helped keep the Flyers a bit above water. And now after picking up 12 out of a possible 12 points, they currently reside four points out of a wild card spot and six points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for third in the division.

Hakstol doesn’t care if you want to call it confidence or swagger, but the Flyers are carrying themselves in that manor. Winning cures all, right? A 10-game streak could have really done damage to the team’s psyche and affected them going forward, but as Hextall said last month, they believed — despite the losses piling up — they weren’t playing bad hockey. It was just a matter of time before they started digging up again.

“You can be playing really well, but when you’re going good you just have that mentality that you’re not going to take less than finding a way to win a game. I can tell you, when you’re on the other end of close losses, tight losses, it starts to wear at you,” said Hakstol.

“But you have a couple of good things happen, along with working hard, paying attention to detail and really sticking together, you get that little injection of adrenaline that helps push you in the right direction.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Ron Hextall: Flyers ‘not playing poorly’ during 9-game losing streak

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A nine-game losing streak.

A players-only closed-door meeting.

Fans calling for your head coach’s firing.

So how are things, Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall?

“Actually, from the start of the year I’m pretty good with the way our team’s played, pretty good with the way our team’s played the last nine games,” he said after Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to San Jose. “I think tonight we ran out of a little bit of energy. Obviously, results lately are not very good. We deserved better but we haven’t gotten better. Obviously, we’ve got to find a way.”

[Flyers drop ninth in a row with heat on Hakstol]

Maybe Hextall is looking at the fact that his team has lost five of these nine games in overtime or the shootout, where a single bounce could have earned them the extra point. Or maybe he’s looking at those back-to-back shutouts at the hands of the Minnesota Wild, where nothing was going to get by Devan Dubnyk, who stopped all 62 shots he faced in the two games. Or hey, those possession numbers are OK (51 percent), per Corsica, and some of the top guys like Jakub Voracek (9 points), Claude Giroux (8), Sean Couturier (7) and Ivan Provorov (5) are contributing offensively as Wayne Simmonds (3) struggles.

What Hextall might not be looking at are the blown leads. During this nine-game skid, the Flyers have scored to take or extend leads 15 times. There’s also a penalty kill stumbling along at 70.3 percent and a team that’s been shorthanded 37 times, which is the most in the NHL since Nov. 11. You also have had a very young defense that’s allowed the fourth-most even strength shots (227, via Corsica) over that span. That’s why he was very happy to see the recent returns of Radko Gudas and Andrew MacDonald to the lineup.

But Hextall didn’t meet with the media after a ninth-straight loss to back the fans’ calls to fire Dave Hakstol or rip his players and threaten major changes. He believes the Flyers have been playing better than what the standings show and in his mind that’s a realistic view of the situation at the moment.

“If we were playing poorly, I would be the first to say we were playing poorly. I would be,” Hextall said. “We are not playing poorly. To look at objectively at our team right now, and to say we’re playing poorly, no. Are we shooting ourselves in the foot at times? Yes, we are. Critical mistakes at critical times, yes. It’s kind of what happens when the snowball starts to go the wrong way and you start doing things that are a little bit unpredictable. But you look at our effort and at times our execution, if you took the score away the last nine games that I’ve seen and tell me we’re 0-9, I’d be like, ‘come on.’

“So the point is we have to find ways to win. Nobody is looking for excuses around here We are going to battle through this. We are going to get through it.”

There’s only so much time left to start digging yourself out of self-created holes. The Flyers are six points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference as of Wednesday. How much longer will Hextall allow his head coach and players to “battle through this” before a hammer needs to drop?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Under pressure: Jakub Voracek

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Jakub Voracek’s big contract extension won’t kick in until 2016-17, but expectations rose the minute the ink dried.

Fair or not, Philadelphia Flyers fans (and just about everyone else) may struggle to keep perspective regarding his huge contract extension if next season goes poorly. That’s the nature of the beast when you sign an enormous eight-year, $66 million extension.

The jump from a $4.25 million cap hit in 2015-16 to $8.2 million going forward means that the Czech winger will be placed under the microscope, yet it was easy to see the logic that GM Ron Hextall laid out after the big deal was announced.

“Once the season ended, you start looking at your priorities and clearly it was our No. 1 priority,” Hextall said in late July. “The Jake Voraceks of the world are few and far between. He certainly wasn’t a player we wanted to risk losing.”

If nothing else, it doesn’t sound like Voracek got a big head after scoring 22 goals and 81 points last season, the fourth-highest scoring total in the NHL. Really, it sounds like he needs to prove to himself that he is in select company.

“It’s hard,” Voracek said back in April, per CSNPhilly.com. “It’s been a long season. If I do it next year, maybe I can admit that I belong there [in that club]. Right now, I had one good season. It doesn’t end for me. Nothing changes. I will work hard this summer.”

Really, though, he’s been outstanding from more or less the moment he arrived in Philadelphia.

Since 2012-13, Voracek generated 189 points, the 10th best total in that span. (Claude Giroux is in third with 207.) You don’t do that well thanks to just “one good season.”

The most promising thing is that, even with more than 500 games of regular season experience, Voracek’s still quite young.

He turned 26 on Aug. 15, so he’ll be 27 when the extension begins. The Flyers still get some of his peak years, and his chances of living up to that contract increase greatly.

Maybe that’s why Jeremy Roenick believes he has plenty left in the tank?

No extension on the horizon for Flyers’ Brayden Schenn

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Flyers’ GM Ron Hextall has been busy handing out contract extensions this week inking both Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek; however, one player who won’t be getting an extension any time soon is Brayden Schenn.

The 23-year-old is heading into the final year of his two-year, $5 million contract and is set to become a restricted free agent next summer.

“I’ve spoken with Brayden’s agent a number of times over the summer about different things and the subject’s never come up,” Hextall said per CSNPhilly.com. “It’s not something we’re in a hurry to do and I’m assuming they feel the same way.”

Schenn, who scored a career-high 47 points to go along with 18 goals in 82 games last season, is headed into his fifth season with the Flyers.

A natural center, Schenn was used on the wing at times by former coach Craig Berube last season.

“From my perspective, he’s played a lot of games and he’s a young player that is growing and developing,” Flyers’ coach Dave Hakstol said. “I think I am going to allow that proof to be decided in his performance. I’m not making any decisions on anything that’s happened in the past. I think it’s about what you do from this point forward and that will be the case in this situation.”

In four seasons with the Flyers, Schenn has 58 goals and 132 points while appearing in 265 games.

Related: How do Voracek, Giroux compare to the most expensive duos?

Hextall to speak with Timonen about rejoining the Flyers

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With Kimmo Timonen’s playing days coming to an end in Monday night’s Stanley Cup victory, Philadelphia Flyers’ GM Ron Hextall intends speak with the 40-year-old about possibly rejoining the organization.

“I haven’t talked to him about it,” Hextall told CSN Philly on Tuesday. “That’s one of those things — I don’t believe you talk to players until they’re done. So once he gets back here, we’ll sit down and talk. And we’ll see which direction it goes.”

Timonen appeared in 573 regular season games over parts of seven seasons with the Flyers prior to being dealt to Chicago in February.

When talking about his retirement in March, Timonen hinted he may get into coaching.