VOORHEES – At his Friday press conference to discuss his recent firing, ex-Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said the one regret he might have had was not securing a player last summer “with a little more sandpaper.’’
In other words, someone who could add a bit more grit to a lineup which can sometimes get a touch passive.
The fact that Hextall wasn’t successful probably means that players like the diminutive Travis Konecny has to carry that mail for now, with possible help from players like Wayne Simmonds and Dale Weise.
Heading into Saturday night’s game against Pittsburgh, it would seem the Flyers would have to get a bit more proactive in the physical play department.
That doesn’t mean dropping the gloves just to stir things up but rather taking the body, maybe hitting someone a little extra hard – even if it draws a penalty – just to add some energy to the bench.
“That’s a collective thing for the group,’’ coach Dave Hakstol said after Friday’s practice at the Skate Zone. “We’ve seen a little bit more of it over the past few games. You saw it with (Scott) Laughton in Buffalo, with TK (Travis Konecny) here.
“And it doesn’t come out and manifest in just dropping the gloves. That’s part of it. But there’s a team grit and a team sandpaper that can continue to grow on this team.’’
Taking the odd penalty for a physical hit would not be a big deal, except the Flyers have been hovering around 30th place on the penalty kill, so there’s that to consider when going after someone.
“It (aggressive play) makes you harder to play against,’’ Hakstol said. “Whether you’re at home or on the road.’’
Simmonds is in the walk year of his contract. He’s adept with his fists but has yet to drop the gloves this season.
Some say he’s following the path of the game of hockey itself, that initiating a fight can have too much of a downside to it.
Has the team been lacking the necessary grit?
“I think we have some gritty guys in here,’’ Simmonds said. “I think we can do more of it. But I think at the same time you have to be smart and do it during the play.
“We have to be battling for pucks, you can’t be beat off the puck. That mentality is a good mentality to have. There isn’t much fighting anymore but at the same time you want all your players to have that ‘you’re never going to lose a battle’ mentality.’’
Neuvirth to dress
It appears rookie Anthony Stolarz will get the start in goal against the Penguins and Michal Neuvirth sounds recovered enough from his groin injury to serve as backup.
“Neuvy wouldn’t be in the lineup if he wasn’t ready to play,’’ Hakstol said. “You can’t just say you’re ready to back up. You have to be ready to play. He’s ready to play. The more work we can get him before his first start, the more of a benefit it is for him.’’
Neuvirth has played in only one game this season.
JVR reacts to Hextall dismissal
Hextall was the one who signed James van Riemsdyk to a five-year, $35-million free-agent contract back on July 1 and so the Middletown, N.J. native might have been a little more affected than most by the GM’s firing on Monday.
“Again, it’s one of those things where we knew we were underachieving as a team,’’ JVR said. “It gets to the point where you expect something to happen.
“He (Hextall) decided to bring me in here this summer. Obviously I appreciated that. I certainly did appreciate him bringing me back here and I’ll be grateful for that always.’’