While the Flyers would love nothing more than for Shayne Gostisbehere to pull himself out of the worst slump of his career, there are games to be played and points to be decided. Time waits for no man, and neither do NHL teams in the middle of a vulture pack of playoff contenders.
Robert Hagg, who started the month as the spare tire in coach Alain Vigneault’s trunk, will be in the lineup for the third game in a row when the Flyers visit Columbus on Wednesday (7 p.m., NBCSP+).
Hagg’s steady play in this brief window has given Vigneault the luxury of letting Gostisbehere mentally collect himself as the Flyers play a stretch of four games in six days. Condensing it further, Wednesday’s game will be the first of three in four days.
“I didn’t play for almost three weeks. Playing a couple games in a row definitely helps,” said Hagg, who was paired with Phil Myers on Monday in the Flyers’ 2-1 win over Vancouver. “I think [Monday] was my best game so far. I think the whole team played great. Yeah, play a couple games in a row and get the legs underneath you and hopefully go from there.”
Hagg was credited with an assist Monday, though Sean Couturier’s goal came off a scrum. He was on the ice for J.T. Miller’s goal for the Canucks, but that was after Michael Raffl’s giveaway and the Flyers had little chance to defend.
Vigneault is calling it a “reset” for Gostisbehere, who is struggling for the second season in a row and third in his last four. The player said Monday that he just needs to “figure some things out mentally.”
Vigneault has said he wants to get Gostisbehere back in during this run of games, but Hagg and the other youngsters on defense aren’t making it easy for the coach to pick who would come out.
“I’m focusing on [Wednesday] night and I’m going with the same lineup,” Vigneault said. “After that, we’ll adjust if we need to adjust for Detroit [on Friday].”
Hagg (6-foot-2, 216 pounds) has been focusing on taking better care of the puck. He’s not the threat on offense that Gostisbehere can be, so when Hagg went a minus-5 in the last three games of October, he was pulled from the lineup.
The defense as a whole, veteran Matt Niskanen said, was a “work in progress.” The Flyers are in the top 10 in goals-against average, shots on goal allowed and penalty killing.
“That’s a positive trend based on what I heard last year,” said Niskanen, who is in his first season with the Flyers. “But we still have potential to grow. We have talented young guys who are working to improve. We’re getting better chemistry with how we want to play. It’s a new coach for everybody.”
As they learn the coach, the coach learns them. One thing’s for sure: The guys between the pipes love having Hagg out there.
“He’s a goalie’s best friend [because] he loves to block shots,” said Carter Hart, Monday night’s winner. “He had a huge block in the second period on Tyler Myers. He plays the game hard. He’s got an edge to his game.”
Two years ago, Hagg led all rookies in blocks. Last season, he was 13th among all players. Hagg had 10 more blocked shots than Ivan Provorov, who was a very respectable 20th league-wide. Provorov played nearly 700 minutes more than Hagg.
“I want to play every single game, but it’s up to the coaches,” Hagg said after Monday’s win. “This is my third year in the league, and this is probably the best team I’ve played for. It’s a battle, for sure, but it helps you to be on your toes and play your best game every single night.”
Brian Elliott will start Wednesday at Columbus, and that lines up Carter Hart to start Friday when Detroit visits the Wells Fargo Center. Hart’s splits in eight games at home (1.60 goals-against, .938 save percentage) are much better than for his eight games on the road (3.78, .849). … All 22 players on the current roster participated in Tuesday’s practice, meaning no one took a maintenance day. … The Flyers beat Columbus in the first meeting, 7-4, on Oct. 26 in Philadelphia, by scoring five goals in the final 10 minutes. The Blue Jackets have won four in a row at home.