At one of their first conversations before the season started, Kevin Hayes told head coach Alain Vigneault he wanted to be more like Sean Couturier.
That’s not a bad person to aspire to. Last season was Hayes’ first as a teammate of Couturier, a player deemed so dependable at both ends of the ice that he became the first Flyer in 33 years to win the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward.
Obviously, Hayes was impressed.
Hayes has been one of the team’s top playmakers here at the start of this 56-game sprint. But it’s the other end of the ice that Vigneault is more concerned.
“Kevin’s very knowledgeable about this game,” said Vigneault, who has coached Hayes for six of Hayes’ seven NHL seasons dating back to their time with the Rangers, “[but] I do feel that sometimes in some situations he’s leaning toward the offensive side.”
Hayes was tied for the team lead in points (seven) and assists (five) heading into Saturday’s game at Boston. If he is getting caught occasionally with his glove in the cookie jar, it’s probably because Couturier’s rib injury has left the Flyers with a significant void. According to the initial prognosis, Couturier could miss at least the next five games.
The Flyers are off to a deceptively good start. They’re winning games, but their goaltenders and banged-up defense corps is being overrun. The Flyers minus-62 shots on goal differential entering Saturday was the worst in the league by a wide margin.
This isn’t all on Hayes. The Flyers’ forecheck has been lacking. They’ve struggled to get out of their zone. They’ve had to change defense pairings because of in-game injuries to Phil Myers and Mark Friedman twice in the first five games.
So Vigneault needs help from the forwards, including Hayes.
“My [experience] with Kevin is that he was very dependable defensively, and then his offense grew,” the coach said. “Because his offense grew — and everybody likes to be on the offensive side — he’s looking for it a little bit more and sometimes that affects his defensive positioning.
“He just needs to be a little bit tighter in that area and then he’ll be a real effective player at both ends of the rink, because he’s definitely creating offensively for us now.”
Carter Hart will start in goal for the fifth time in six games. He’ll be opposed by Jaroslav Halak.
The Flyers lineup will remain the same as Thursday, though Vigneault said he may make “a subtle” change to his forward lines.
Boston will be without defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, who appeared to injure his leg during an awkward fall on Thursday. Connor Clifton will replace him.
The Flyers will have the day off Sunday before resuming practice Monday ahead of Tuesday’s game against the Devils in Newark, N.J.
Claude Giroux’s power-play snipe to open the scoring on Thursday actually deflected off Travis Konecny, who was in front screening Boston goalie Tuukka Rask. As a result, Konecny entered Saturday tied for the league lead with five goals.
A little taproom trivia: Reggie Leach (1975-76) is the only Flyer ever to lead the league in goals.
And finally … A little humor
Someone superimposed the famous Bernie Sanders/mittens picture onto an old Bernie Parent hockey card, which caught the eye of the Flyers’ Hall of Fame goaltender. Parent retweeted the photo, asking incredulously: