Friday, December 9, 2016

I'm Ready To Ease Up On Dave Hakstol

I have some serious crow to eat this morning. Last night's Flyers-Oilers game was, obviously, a shit-ton of fun. But going into it, I was becoming critical of almost every lineup decision that was made by Coach Dave Hakstol.

He's scratched Michael Raffl and Shayne Gostisbehere. He's overused Andrew MacDonald, Chris Vandevelde, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. He's refused to allow any of his goalies to become the full-time guy.

Well, the goalie thing kind of sorted itself out when Michal Neuvirth got injured. Steve Mason (and Anthony Stolarz for that one game, don't forget about him) are on a 7-game winning streak. Despite the fact that it obviously wasn't Hakstol's decision to have one goalie with NHL experience in his lineup, I feel comfortable assuming that he's learned that he has to let Mason be the guy even when Neuvirth comes back.

About a month ago, I took a deep dive into the shallow end of why Hakstol never scratches Chris Vandevelde. It's really simple: the Flyers give up less powerplay goals against when Vandevelde is killing penalties.

The Raffl scratching seemed to kick the Austrian winger into high gear, and the decision to leave him off of Team Europe for the World Cup seems more and more foolish every day.

The Gostisbehere scratching, while it seemed to be for a moderately different reason, sent Flyers Twitter into a frenzy. But it wasn't unjustified, as the "sophomore slump" seems like it might actually be happening to Ghost right now during this win streak.

(Editor's note: Charlie O'Connor has some metrics to help put your mind at ease here, and I tend to agree that this "slump" is him falling back to earth after an unsustainably magical rookie campaign. He hasn't completely fallen off a cliff, but I think it's just a lack of heroic late-game goals that everyone saw a thousand times on Twitter the following day. But Ghost is on pace for about half his goal total from last year, about the same number of assists, and less power play points. That's got to be a little bit concerning for all of us, right?)

And if there was a defense of Bellemare's huge role in the lineup before last night's game, it would be the injuries to Sean Couturier and Matt Read. Losing Read takes away a winger who had helped elevate Bellemare's play, and losing Couturier means that Bellemare's now the second-best center on the team.

So, naturally, we should throw him into the deep end against the most talented young player in the world, the top college free agent from last season, and one of the most imposing power forwards in modern NHL history? Dave Hakstol, WATER YOU DOING?
..or so I thought, going into the game. As you can see in Micah's chart, that 76-78-13-47-9 unit didn't exactly "win" the Corsi battle. You might even be able to get away with the phrase "caved in" during the 12 minutes those two units spent against each other.

But Corsi is stupid and bad, especially when you consider it in the context of a super-high-powered line like Edmonton's first and a super-not-high-powered line like Philadelphia's third (fourth?).  Essentially, the Bellemare-Vandevelde line's plan was to force play to the outside in their defensive zone and try like hell to keep the puck at the opposite end of the ice when they could.

And holy shit, they actually did it. The Lucic-McDavid-Caggiula line finished at 0.38 on-ice expected goals. The "shot attempts" might have been plentiful, but they were almost all weak attempts. That line even underperformed their expected goals figure, because all three were held off the scoresheet at 5-on-5 (McDavid's goal was on the power play and his assist was shorthanded).

Oh, by the way, Bellemare also scored, beating McDavid to his shooting lane.

Less severely than the Let's-Glue-Bellemare-To-McDavid decision, I was critical in the pre-game of Hakstol's decision to bench Michael Del Zotto instead of Mark Streit. So, of course:
This isn't a game recap, though. I just want to take some time out of our Friday morning to discuss the possibility that the guy who has been playing and coaching hockey his whole life, and was vigorously recruited by Ron Hextall - who hired him in spite of the fact that they have the same goddamn last name and it's super confusing - is a Good Hockey Coach?

His decisions, to this point, have all been defensible. Some of those defenses have been more "long-term" than others (like a week, for instance), but from this point forward I want to try my hardest to trust Hakstol the same way I trust Hextall.

The streak is at seven, and let's go out and make it eight against the 6th-place Stars tomorrow afternoon.

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