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Flyers tie NHL record as McKenna becomes 7th starting goalie

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The Philadelphia Flyers tied an NHL record by starting their seventh different goalie in the same season, and the netminder and coach involved make it an even better story.

(Granted, McKenna would have preferred avoiding a 5-3 loss while allowing four goals on 24 shots, but oh well.)

Journeyman goalie Mike McKenna has been tabbed for the start. The 35-year-old is suiting up for his third NHL team so far in 2018-19; he didn’t play a game for the Vancouver Canucks, while he appeared in 10 for the Ottawa Senators and is about to play for Philly. McKenna also played six games in the AHL this season. McKenna’s played for seven NHL teams overall, according to NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti.

[This post is worth it just for the gallery of Flyers goalies alone.]

As Sam Carchidi reports for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the goalie is well-traveled (just look at his hockeydb page), and McKenna has a good sense of humor about it.

“There’s probably a lot of punch lines associated with what I’ve done,” McKenna said. “You have to be able to laugh at yourself. I take my profession really serious, but there is some inherent dark comedy in this, too.”

From dark comedy to irony (or at least Alanis Morissette irony?), consider the coach involved. NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman notes that interim Flyers coach Scott Gordon was the sixth of seven goalies used by the 1989-90 Quebec Nordiques, the team the Flyers will share this record with.

That’s an almost spooky coincidence, right? Here’s a shot of Gordon as a Nordiques goalie, via Getty:

via Getty

Of course, the Flyers would probably argue that this is less funny and more sad/employment-threatening. It shouldn’t be lost on you that the Flyers have already tied this league record with almost half of the season remaining, as this is just their 43rd of 82 games.

Here’s a breakdown of how the other six goalies have fared over the first 42 games of the Flyers’ season:

Brian Elliott: 6-7-0, 2.59 GAA, .911 save percentage (14 games, 13 starts)
Calvin Pickard: 4-2-2, 4.01 GAA, .863% (11 GP, 8 GS)
Anthony Stolarz: 2-3-2, 3.90 GAA, .880% (9 GP, 7 GS)
Michal Neuvirth: 1-4-1, 4.27 GAA, .859% (7 GP, 6 GS)
Carter Hart: 2-4-1, 2.68 GAA, .909% (7 GP, 7 GS), giving some hope.
Alex Lyon: 0-1-0, 5.08 GAA, .806% (2 GP, 1 GS)

Well, at least the bar is low for this being a quality start.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Please welcome Mike McKenna to the Flyers’ goalie carousel

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Six goalies have played for the Philadelphia Flyers this season and there may very well soon be a seventh.

The Flyers plucked Mike McKenna off waivers on Friday, two days after the netminder was traded from the Ottawa Senators to the Vancouver Canucks. Just another day in the crease for that organization.

“Mike provides our organization added depth as we continue to battle injuries at the goaltending position,” said Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher. “He is a veteran goaltender with a tremendous amount of professional experience.”

Here’s an overview of the Flyers’ current goaltending situation:

Brian Elliott remains out with a lower-body injury but is “progressing pretty well,” according to Fletcher. He could be practicing again within the next two weeks.

Michal Neuvirth is dealing with a lower-body injury, according to interim head coach Scott Gordon. He’s set to miss Saturday’s game against the Calgary Flames and is considered day-to-day. He suffered the injury during Thursday night’s loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Anthony Stolarz may get back on the ice this weekend as he’s on the mend with a lower-body injury.

Carter Hart, who is healthy, has made five starts since being called up and posted a .900 even strength save percentage.

• Alex Lyon stays in the AHL and has helped the Phantoms win three of his last four starts.

• McKenna is a 35-year-old journeyman who’s played only 34 NHL games in his career while suiting up for nearly two dozen teams in The Show and the American Hockey League since 2006-07.

• Former GM Ron Hextall is still under contract with the team.

(Calvin Pickard was claimed on waivers by the Arizona Coyotes on Nov. 29.)

The Flyers became the 14th team in NHL history to start six goalies in a season when Hart made his debut. Could McKenna help them make more history as lucky No. 7?

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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.

Flyers’ Carter Hart to make historic NHL debut vs. Red Wings

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The Philadelphia Flyers remain in a state of change, so why not make a little history while they’re at it?

When prized goalie prospect Carter Hart plays Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings, the Flyers will become the first team in NHL history to start six netminders in the opening 35 games of a season. They will also be the 14th team ever and first since the 2013-14 Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers to start six over the course of a season.

Considering the situation in the Flyers’ crease, who knows how long Hart, 20, will stay up with the NHL club, but this will be a peek into the future as he is expected to be the eventual solution in net. But with Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth, Anthony Stolarz, and Alex Lyon in the mix, the short-term answer might be more seasoning in the AHL once there are fewer goaltenders in the trainer’s room.

After a bumpy start to his professional career in AHL Lehigh Valley this season, Hart has settled down and helped the Phantoms win four of his last five starts with a 1.81 goals against average and .938 save percentage.

What helped to make things finally starting to click for him?

“Trusting my game, not trying to overthink plays,” he said on Monday. “Earlier in the year, making the transition from junior to the pro level I was over-analyzing everything. I had talks with the coaches down there and my goalie coaches back home, and I just have to trust my game, got to play to my strengths. When it’s game time it’s just time to play. You can’t think, you’ve got to play.”

Hart, who found out about his call up during the Lehigh Valley Christmas party on Sunday night, will be helped by the familiarity of having his AHL coach, Scott Gordon, a former goalie, acting as the Flyers’ interim bench boss. It’s not the easiest situation to be thrown into, but the franchise has faith in the young goaltender.

“Probably not the ideal time to give Carter a game but Carter’s playing really well,” said Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher. “He’s a professional hockey player, strong kid mentally. He’ll go in and give his best. I have no worries about Carter Hart long term. He’s going to be a really good goalie for this franchise.”

MORE: Stumbling Flyers fire head coach Dave Hakstol

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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.

Will Flyers’ disastrous road trip spell end for Hakstol?

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(UPDATE: It has. The Flyers announced Hakstol’s firing on Monday.)

To put things mildly, there are a lot of reports and rumors revolving around the Philadelphia Flyers possibly firing Dave Hakstol to make Joel Quenneville their new head coach.

With a lot of conflicting information in the air (things do seem dire for Hakstol in most scenarios), let’s consider how the Flyers got to this point.

Terrible road trip

Look, the Flyers weren’t exactly setting the world on fire before the disastrous five-game road trip, which concluded on Saturday with a 5-1 thumping by the Vancouver Canucks.

Optics obviously matter, though, and things really devolved as this went along.

After beating the Sabres 6-2 on Dec. 8, the Flyers suffered a four-game losing streak, only managing a single standings point in a 6-5 OT loss to Calgary on Dec. 12.

Three of those four losses were absolute blowouts; Philly fell 7-1 to the Jets on Dec. 9, then really stunk up the joint during the last two losses, falling 4-1 to the Oilers on Friday and 5-1 to the Canucks on Saturday. There was little denying the negative feelings about that team, and Hakstol drew a lot of the blame for seemingly tepid efforts.

After scrapping their way to a somewhat surprising berth in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Flyers currently sit last in the Eastern Conference with 28 points in 31 games (12-15-4).

Good and the bad

If there’s one obvious tweak Hakstol made that produced huge dividends for the Flyers, it was moving Claude Giroux from center to the wing.

Heading into 2017-18, there were serious concerns about Giroux. It seemed like his offense was slowing down, possibly pointing to him hitting the dreaded low end of the aging curve. Instead, Giroux appeared to be liberated by the freedom of playing the wing, often ceding the center duties to Sean Couturier this season. Giroux enjoyed an MVP-like season, powering his way to career-highs of 34 goals and 102 points.

One can debate how Hakstol used younger players versus veterans. You could do that with many teams, not to mention other Flyers staffers, whether you’re pondering Carter Hart or, say, Travis Sanheim.

There have been some structural issues. Much like Todd McLellan in Edmonton, much of Hakstol’s tenure has been marked by a questionable strategy to lean heavily on shots from the point.

Sure, it’s nice to get the puck on the sticks of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere when it makes sense, yet you’re far more likely to hit paydirt if you generate high-danger chances from the slot. Easier said than done? Yes, but some teams emphasize shots from defensemen to the detriment of creativity, making things too easy for the opposition.

The fall of a great power-play unit and a generally terrible PK might explain some of Hakstol’s struggles.

Since Hakstol came into the league in 2015-16, the Flyers’ PK unit has killed 77.1-percent of penalties, the worst mark in the NHL. If Quenneville or another coach could find answers where Hakstol and his crew failed, that could be a nice area of growth.

On the bright side, the Flyers have often had a deadly power play, although their overall mark (19 percent) under Hakstol is actually just tied at 17th.

Some of that might be tied up in Philly’s steps toward adding more talent over the years, but either way, that unit hit a big wall in 2018-19. They’ve connected on just 12.9-percent of their PP opportunities, the third-worst percentage in the NHL.

Hakstol didn’t sign the Flyers’ goalies, and it wasn’t his final call to opt against getting someone more established to compliment Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth. A new coach’s system could absolutely make life easier for whoever ends up in Philly’s net going forward, but that could still be an area of serious concern.

A new coach – if the Flyers were to make such a rumored change – might be able to install systemic changes that could help optimize this team. Some might come from finding more innovative special teams strategies, or maybe tweaking personnel decisions. Leaning on different players in different situations may also move the needle.

It’s not necessarily a matter of Hakstol being a terrible head coach, but rather that there could be areas of improvement.

Granted, the Flyers have dug themselves a big hole, so if they’re making changes, they might want to keep their expectations in check.

Big decision coming Monday, and more later this week?

Working past the understanding that people have been wondering about Hakstol for a long time, and beckoning for Coach Q to take over in Philly basically the second he was fired, things seemed to escalate on Sunday. Business picked up as the Courier-Post’s Dave Isaac reported that the Flyers would make that decision. Things got blurry from there, with TSN’s Darren Dreger describing the situation as “status quo” and that “no decision has been made.” Crossing Broad’s Anthony SanFilippo reports that Hakstol’s firing could be announced “within 24 hours,” but an interim coach may be named, possibly because there might be some wrinkles to iron out with Quenneville. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi backs that up, noting no change officially happening Sunday night, yet to expect a “busy” Monday.

Maybe some of this comes down to semantics (official versus looming?), it all seems a touch odd, and a bit confusing.

A lot to take in, right? PHT will keep you updated, whether Monday ends up being busy or just … awkward for Hakstol and the team, if nothing is actually happening. Buckle up.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Hextall’s patience failed to move Flyers forward

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The Philadelphia Flyers did things a little differently.

After the Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers, and St. Louis Blues all fired their head coaches over the past month as a result of their disappointing starts, the Flyers decided to go in a different direction on Monday by keeping their coach (for now) and instead parting ways with Ron Hextall, the general manager who assembled the roster.

Team president Paul Holmgren said in a statement that it had become clear they “no longer share the same philosophical approach concerning the direction of the team.”

What exactly that means still remains to be seen. Was there a disagreement on the fate of head coach Dave Hakstol, with Hextall maybe not wanting to fire with the guy he hired? Or was Holmgren and Flyers ownership simply fed up with a lack of progress and what has become a stale, consistently mediocre team?

The results do not lie. In the Flyers’ four full seasons under Hextall they made the playoffs twice, missed the playoffs twice, never recorded more than 98 points in a single season, never recorded fewer than 84 points in a season, never finished higher than third place in the division, and never got out of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

At times they would lose 10 games in a row, and at times they would win 10 games in a row.

There was never any consistency, except for the final mediocre result in the standings every year.

A quarter of the way through season five the team looks to be headed for a similar finish, and management had apparently seen enough.

[Related: Flyers fire GM Ron Hextall]

What stands out about Hextall’s tenure with the Flyers is that he didn’t really do anything to hurt the team long-term. They are not in a worse position today compared to when he took over. If anything, he did quite a few good things early on to help improve their situation. He ditched a lot of troublesome contracts in Vincent Lecavalier, Nicklas Grossmann, Luke Schenn, Braydon Coburn, and the end of the Chris Pronger contract, while also getting some decent value back in return.

In exchange for those five contracts he acquired Jordan Weal, Radko Gudas, and the first-round draft pick that would eventually become Travis Konecny, all of whom are still members of the team today. That is probably more than could have been reasonably expected based on what he was giving up at the time.

In the first round of the 2015 NHL draft they selected Ivan Provorov and Konecny with the seventh and 24th overall picks, both of whom are now core parts of the team.

They selected Carter Hart, their (hopeful) goalie of the future, in the second-round of the 2016 draft.

And while trading Brayden Schenn for Jori Lehtera may have downgraded the team in the short-term, the trade did net them first-round picks in 2017 and 2018, giving them multiple selections in each of those rounds.

His outlook was clearly more long-term, not only with the way he made draft picks the key part of the (Brayden) Schenn trade, but with the way he refused to part with any of the team’s young prospects in an effort to make the team better right now.

Just take a look at all of the players and assets Hextall traded since the start of the 2016-17 offseason.

Filppula, Tokarski, and Mrazek were all basically acquired out of desperation due to injury situations at center and in goal in those years, but the main focus is clear — draft picks and the future.

That patient approach was also evident when it came to free agency where the Flyers were mostly quiet under Hextall. It wasn’t until this past summer when they brought back James van Riemsdyk on a five-year contract that the really tried to make a big splash on the open market.

Before JvR, the two biggest free agent signings under Hextall were Dale Weise and Brian Elliott.

The common theme you keep coming back to here is simply, this move isn’t great, but it’s also not really terrible. Do you know what that gets you on the ice if you keep making moves like that? A team that isn’t really great, but also not really terrible. In the end that will probably be Hextall’s lasting legacy the Flyers’ general manager.

His patience and methodical approach to building the team might work out in the long-run, but it was clearly not working for an ownership that seemingly grew tired of not seeing any real progress at the NHL level.

It’s okay to have faith that Hart might one day, finally, solve the Flyers’ cursed goalie position. It’s okay to believe in Shayne Gostisbehere and Provorov as the foundation of the defense for the next eight years. It’s okay count on Nolan Patrick and Konecny to be your future at forward.

But you can still do all of that while also making some improvements in the short-term to try and take advantage of a roster that still has top-line veteran players in Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, and Wayne Simmonds on it.

You don’t have to keep turning to a revolving door of mediocre goalies as stop-gap options until Hart is ready.

You can try to find some better defenders to complement Gostisbehere and Provorov, even if it means trading one of your many first-round picks or a couple of prospects.

Hextall was seemingly unwilling — or unable — to do that.  It resulted in a team that was stuck in neutral for too many years, and leads us to where we are today.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.