Of the 10 Flyers who have yet to miss a game this season, only Robert Hagg has failed to score. For a rookie who once scored 24 points in a 28-game season as a 17-year-old, this might prove irksome, but Hagg's words and wry smile when it was brought up reaffirms what he has said from Day One of camp this season:
He couldn't care less.
"I'm not trying to build my game through stats," Hagg said after practice Tuesday. "I'm just trying to help the team win. If my stats say I'm horse[bleep] out there, I don't care, honestly."
They don't. What they say is he is already, in his rookie season, among the NHL's most consistent hitters and reliable defenders. Hagg was credited with six hits in Monday's 4-1 loss to Los Angeles, maintaining his status among the top five defenders in that category.
Impressive as those numbers are, the impressive aspect is what they accomplish. Armed with an active stick that can flick pucks clear of danger with a single hand attached, Hagg designs his hits to separate pucks rather than shoulders. He's amassed just 12 penalty minutes. Radko Gudas, despite playing in 20 because of injuries and a 10-game suspension, has 57 penalty minutes.
"Hagger's playing hard," said Flyers coach Dave Hakstol. "You look at [Monday] night. We were off our game. We didn't play a complete game. Individually, I thought he played hard. He did all of the things that we would like to see out of him. Throughout he was a consistent player, a heavy player throughout that entire game."
The Flyers have been many things this season. Consistent is not one, although Hakstol again contended Tuesday, as he has throughout a 10-game winless streak and their recently snapped six-game winning streak, "There's been very little fluctuation in our game really over a long period of time."
Some numbers bear that out. Even after Monday, the 50 even-strength goals allowed by the Flyers are among the league's best. But they've outscored that number by a paltry four goals, and the timing of their more egregious mistakes were toxic during that winless streak, flipping sure-thing wins into overtime losses.
On the ice for both of Los Angeles' first-period goals Monday, Hagg's plus-minus dropped from plus-15 to plus-13. Yet in both cases, he was blameless. A clean faceoff win and ensuing blast put L.A. up early, and later he was left hung out to dry as the Flyers stumbled through another of their Keystone Cop line changes.
So it's understandable if he dismisses the numbers, or the lack of them. Hagg made a commitment shortly after he came to the organization as a 19-year-old to, as he put it, "work on my D and let it dictate my offense." Three years later, that approach has not just delivered his dream as an NHL player, but put him in the company of the league's more elite defenseman.
As for that elusive first goal?
"I work on it every single day, but my shot is not great when you compare it to other guys in this league," he said. "I'm trying to shoot it on the net. … Sometimes you have that feeling, 'OK, this one's going in.' and then you look and no, it's not even close. I mean, the only thing I can do is keep shooting and the puck will bounce in sooner or later."
There was a scary moment in practice Tuesday when Radko Gudas lost his balance as he and Taylor Leier contested a puck in the corner. Gudas hit his head hard against the boards, got up slowly, but continued on in practice. "That's just hockey," he said. … Michal Neuvirth, who has been out since suffering an undisclosed injury while practicing before a Dec.4 game in Calgary, put in his first full practice Tuesday. There is no timetable for when he will be activated. " That's a first step," Hakstol said of Neuvirth's full participation. "For any player … you've got to find your timing, find your rhythm. And there's only one way to do that. You have to put the work in." Speaking of which, Monday's game marked the eighth game in a row the Flyers have surrendered two power plays or fewer. "We went through a stretch where we were in the box a lot, and a lot of those were stick penalties that were created from chasing a play, chasing a game," said Hakstol. "I felt like we had the puck a little, but more over this stretch. When you have to defend less when you have the puck more the penalty differential is going to go your way. So it's not just about discipline. It's about how much you have the puck vs. how much you're trying to get it back."