MARK STREIT has played for eight coaches in 10 NHL seasons. He knows when the head man is close to blowing his top. There have been plenty of times when Streit expected an eruption from first-year Flyers coach Dave Hakstol.
"There are times when, as a player, you think, 'Geez, we played like (bleep).' At times like those, you expect the coach to go crazy and lose patience," Streit said. "He came in and had a calmness, a clear way to communicate."
This season already could have been a disaster for the Flyers. Smaller, serious issues might have been exacerbated had Hakstol made a misstep. After all, Hakstol, 47, is the first coach to jump directly from college to the NHL since 1982, leaving North Dakota after 11 seasons.
Could he handle this eclectic group of players, under second-year general manager Ron Hextall, in a high-pressure hockey town?
Hakstol's deft and steady management has helped to keep them relevant. His patience with developing a flawed roster allowed the team to weather rough patches and become a solid team, 7-2-1 in their last 10 games after last night's 2-0 win over the Canucks.
"He's been very patient," said captain Claude Giroux. "In the past we've had guys who hit the panic button pretty quick. And I'm one of those guys."
Now, he's more a reflection of his coach.
"There's a time and a place for everything. My approach has been an honest one. I've tried, through the ups and downs, to deal with everything on a day-by-day basis," Hakstol said. "Has there been a ton of emotion? No. has there been a little bit? Yeah. I've picked my spots."
"It's impossible for everything to be in sync after three weeks of training camp. You're going to screw up once in a while," said Streit, 38. "Sometimes he'll get loud and scream, but if you do that every day you won't get anywhere."
Hakstol could have been a maniac early this season.
The Flyers soured a solid start with a six-game winless streak that began a 13-game run with only two wins. Throughout, Hakstol kept his cool.
Dynamic wing Jake Voracek, whose breakout 2014-15 season earned him an eight-year, $66 million contract, has two goals in 32 games and now is playing on his third line.
"He made the move at practice, and then we talked about it," Voracek said. "It was no big deal. More like: 'Let's try this.' "
Matt Read was demoted to the fourth line Tuesday to make way for Voracek, marginalized to special-teams use.
Starting goalie Steve Mason is the starter in name only; backup Michal Neuvirth leads the league in save percentage. Mason started Thursday night against the Canucks, but Neuvirth started the three previous games.
Mason stayed invested enough to post his second shutout of the season.
Streit, the team's best defenseman, has been sidelined by injury for a month, but the defense has played fine.
Center Sam Gagner is stewing on the bench; he's been ready to play for a week after being cleared of a concussion, but his slow start this season has mired him near the bottom of the roster.
No one is mired lower than veteran Vinny Lecavalier, a four-time All-Star who has played in only seven games this season.
Any one of these issues could be toxic. None is. Hakstol has not used a set formula to deal with them.
"How you communicate with each player is probably a little different," Hakstol said.
If you communicate at all.
"We don't need to talk," Lecavalier said. "I know where I stand, by the actions. I'm fine with that. Basically, if you're in the lineup, you're in the lineup; if you're not, you're not. You don't always need to have a tap on the back. We're professionals."
After not playing in the first eight games, Lecavalier finally got into seven of eight games, then returned to the bench, without any discussion.
"It's not like we need a hug every time something bad happens, or every time you get benched," Lecavalier said.
Maybe not a hug, but how about a reason?
"We didn't really talk," said Read, who admitted his line played poorly at Dallas last week, which he surmised led to the shake-up. Still, "It'd be nice to just hear something, but you can't worry about it."
If Read wants feedback, it's not as if Hakstol refuses to talk.
"He made it clear right away that players can always go talk to him; that the door is always open," Streit said. "There's 23 guys. You can't talk to every player every day and see if he's OK."
Besides, you might not be pleased with the conversation.
"I don't want to get into that too much," said Gagner, clearly frustrated. "We've had conversations. That sort of stuff needs to stay between the coach and you. There's been talks."
The goalies seldom hear from Hakstol, said Mason; rather, Hakstol uses goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh as a conduit. At least, he uses Dillabaugh to speak with Mason.
"He's been really good," Neuvirth said. "Every time I was going to play, I knew."
However the message is delivered, the theme with Hakstol is clarity and consistency.
"He's very direct in what he wants about the system and the plays. He has a presence in the room and guys really like it," Streit said. "For him, it's new territory, too: Coaching in the NHL."
Hakstol is aware of that.
"I said from the start we've got work to do," Hakstol said, then added: "I've got work to do."
Hakstol is getting it done, said Streit:
"He's found the right tone."
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