SUNRISE, Fla. – It’s only a small sample size, but the Flyers seem to have bonded with new interim coach Scott Gordon.
They also look more focused and more comfortable in their first five games since Gordon replaced Dave Hakstol.
Gordon, a Massachusetts native, has a down-to-earth, approachable demeanor and is honest with his players. He praises them when it’s deserved, but he also gets in their faces when they do something wrong.
“I think Scott has come in here and brought us lots of energy,” defenseman Robert Hagg said after the Flyers overcame a 5-2 third-period deficit and salvaged a point in a 6-5 overtime loss Thursday against Tampa Bay, the NHL’s best team. “Ever since he’s been here, it hasn’t been quiet on the bench once. He fires up all the guys and the guys are firing up each other.”
Heading into the weekend, the Flyers were 3-1-1 under Gordon.
“He’s strong on details and making sure we all play the same way,” said captain Claude Giroux, who has had five head coaches in his 11 seasons with the Flyers. “We changed a few things and he’s making sure we’re all on the same page.”
Gordon is a lot more talkative on the bench than the stoic Hakstol.
“That’s definitely noticeable; he likes to give you some feedback – good and bad,” said left winger James van Riemsdyk, who played for Toronto when Gordon was an assistant coach with the Maple Leafs from 2011-12 to 2013-14.
“Scott’s more vocal. Hak’s a little more methodical and he thinks things through,” defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “Not that Scott doesn’t think things through.”
MacDonald said Gordon has a way of teaching players about their mistakes without “beating them down” and has “done a real good job communicating with us since he got here.”
Gordon, 55, is confident in himself and his ability, even though his record as an NHL coach (64-94-23) wasn’t exactly successful. That stint, with the Islanders from 2008-09 to early in the 2010-11 season, was sort of a no-win situation for the coach.
MacDonald was on the Islanders when Gordon was their coach.
“We didn’t have a great team. We were young and we had some older guys, too,” MacDonald said. “I think he was bringing in some new ideas and it took a bit for us to jell. With the older guys it was tough … because he was trying to preach speed and promote a fast game and at that time, it was kind of a possession game..”
Hakstol never played professionally and he became the third person to go directly from the college ranks to a head-coaching job in the NHL.
Gordon had a brief NHL stint as a goalie with the old Quebec Nordiques, and, before he coached in four seasons with the AHL’s Phantoms, he spent two-plus years with the Islanders as a head coach and three years as an assistant with Toronto.
“I’m sure that definitely helps; he’s been through it all before,” said van Riemsdyk, who called Hakstol and Gordon “great guys and good people” to be around. “He’s been around the game and been around the league for a while, and obviously he’s done a really good job in Lehigh [Valley] with that team, so it’s certainly not like he’s being thrown into something he can’t handle.”
Eleven Flyers, including those currently injured, played for Gordon with the Phantoms. That should help make the transition smoother.
“I feel comfortable with him,” said defenseman Travis Sanheim, who played under Gordon for parts of two seasons at Lehigh Valley. “I know what he expects and his systems. We’ve obviously changed a few things, and I’m sure throughout the next few weeks, he’s probably going to make some more adjustments. Little things, like on the breakout, trying to keep it on your forehand as much as possible as a defenseman, and in the neutral zone, he’s actually changed a little bit there as well. The forwards coming off the wall and more into the middle and opening up the outside lanes so you have a little more room for passing and more options.”
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When he was hired on Dec. 17, the guy known as “Gordo” knew he was, in effect, being given a 51-game tryout to see if he could straighten out a team that had grown stagnant, a team whose power play and penalty kill had dropped toward the bottom of the league, a team that needed a fresh approach.
Gordon goes into each game “trying to identify what the opposition does and what puts us in a favorable situation and the means with which we attack it -- whether it’s though practice, game video, I try to present it to the players.”
If he turns things around, gets the Flyers into the playoffs, and wins a round or two, Gordon figures to remain in his position without the “interim” tag.
If not, Joel Quenneville will be on speed dial.