Hak is back: Kraken coach Dave Hakstol focused on game in return to Philly
Hakstol coached the Flyers from 2015-18 and is returning to Philly as a head coach for the first time.
The first time Seattle Kraken coach Dave Hakstol came through the visitor’s entrance of the Wells Fargo Center as an assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he got lost.
“A couple years ago I took a wrong turn,” Hakstol said after morning skate. “I took a turn towards the wrong door. But I’ve got it down.”
Hakstol, the franchise’s first coach, spent roughly 3½ seasons from 2015-18 in the same position with the Flyers. However, Monday night’s tilt between the Flyers and the Kraken won’t mark the first time Hakstol passes through his old stomping grounds — the Maple Leafs played the Flyers in Philadelphia twice early in the 2019-20 season.
» READ MORE: Dav Hakstol returns to Philadelphia wiser from his experience with the Flyers
Despite strolling down familiar hallways and stopping to say hello to friendly faces in the bowels of the arena — the first person he sought out was Joe Zito, a security guard in the Flyers’ locker room — Hakstol said his focus remains on preparing for the game.
“Got a lot of great memories here and a lot of good friends,” he said. “Obviously, as you get to this time of day, it kind of flips full circle right to the competition of the game tonight.”
Flyers coach Alain Vigneault can sympathize with Hakstol when it comes to facing a former team for the first time. Vigneault spent just over three seasons with the Montreal Canadiens (1997-2000), seven with the Vancouver Canucks (2006-13), and five with the New York Rangers (2013-18).
“That first time you play against your former team, that first time, anybody that tells you it’s not special, they’re full of it,” Vigneault said. “After the first time, it just becomes another game.”
Hakstol ran into a few of his former players the morning before the game, but he said the conversations were brief and that there wasn’t “a whole lot of luck wished” from either party. Travis Konecny, who played for Hakstol for 2½ seasons, expressed a similar sentiment going up against his former coach.
“Obviously, it’s different seeing him on different teams when you had him for so long,” Konecny said. “But it’s exciting for him. It’s pretty cool for him to have that job now and step in as a head coach again. So hopefully everything goes well for him, just not tonight.”
Rolling without Ristolainen
After missing Friday’s home opener against the Canucks, Flyers defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen did not make his debut in orange and black on Monday against the Kraken, either.
Ristolainen, who is rehabbing an upper-body injury, did not participate in the week of practices following the Flyers’ final preseason game on Oct. 8. He made his return during morning skate before the home opener and skated again on Sunday at practice. However, Vigneault still considers Ristolainen day to day.
Throughout six preseason games, Ristolainen played on the second pairing with Travis Sanheim. With Ristolainen out, Sanheim and Justin Braun constituted the second pairing against the Canucks and were slated to skate together again against the Kraken.
» READ MORE: Rasmus Ristolainen ready for fresh start after seasons of losing in Buffalo
“We played quite a bit over the last couple years and he’s a pretty easy player to play with,” Braun said. “He’s where he needs to be and he’s one of those guys you can just day in, day out, you just know where he’s going to be. He doesn’t throw any curveballs at you.”
Defenseman Nick Seeler was called up for the home opener as the sixth defenseman and was paired with Yandle as the third pairing. While Seeler was sent down to the Phantoms on Sunday for cap reasons, he was recalled Monday.
Meanwhile, the Flyers’ forward lines were expected to be the same as the groups they rolled out against the Canucks. Center Sean Couturier and wingers Claude Giroux and Konecny make up the first line, center Derick Brassard and wingers Joel Farabee and Cam Atkinson comprise the second, center Scott Laughton and wingers Oskar Lindblom and James van Riemsdyk make up the third, and center Nate Thompson and wingers Max Willman and Nic Aubé-Kubel skate on the fourth.
Carter Hart started in net.
Center Kevin Hayes participated in drills at morning skate, which is the first time he’s done so since his abdominal surgery. He is on long-term injured reserve and can return as early as Nov. 10 against the Maple Leafs. “This is his second time he’s gone through surgery here in the last little while,” Vigneault said, referring to his sports hernia surgery in May. “So we wanted to make sure that he was 110% because last time, he felt he was at 105% and he still got hurt.” ... Forwards Patrick Brown and Zack MacEwen, whom the Flyers claimed off waivers last week, remain unavailable. Brown has been in COVID-19 protocol since Oct. 14 and MacEwen has been granted nonroster status by the NHL as he awaits approval of his U.S. Visa application. “It is what it is,” Vigneault said. “It’s going to be some time, I’m hoping, this week.”