Flyers’ Hayes is blazing a career-best trail

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Flyers' Kevin Hayes
Flyers’ Kevin Hayes (Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre)

John Tortorella has his team playing hard.

With the number of players on the Philadelphia Flyers’ injury report, it is too tough to get an honest assessment of what they could be when healthy. Sean Couturier, Bobby Brink, Ryan Ellis, and Cam Atkinson still are on the shelf. James van Riemsdyk, Scott Laughton, Travis Konecny, and Wade Allison caught the injury bug after the season began. Everything about the lineup is inconsistent, except for one player:

Kevin Hayes is off to the best start of his NHL career. He experienced a range of emotions under Tortorella this season. Benched versus the San Jose Sharks, Tortorella wanted more from Hayes. He got it. Currently, Hayes is riding a season-high six-game point streak.

He tied Travis Konecny for the team lead in points scoring last night against the Calgary Flames. His turn-and-shoot method deflected off Tanner Laczynski, extending his team lead in assists. Hayes is scoring at a point-per-game pace through 19 games.

Yet, there is more to the standard set by Tortorella. His point production is neat, but the defensive responsibilities are lax.

For most of the season, Hayes was the 1C without Couturier in the lineup. He centered the top line when Tortorella shortened the bench at his expense versus the Sharks. For 18 games, Hayes continued to make plays and find a crucial goal between the 1C and 3C roles.

Last night, Hayes swapped to LW versus the Flames. Per Tortorella, the plan was to keep developing Noah Cates at C, freeing Hayes to the wing. Not ignoring the point production, Tortorella addressed the strengths of the personnel he deploys. Hayes was the catalyst behind a vital scoring play.

“Kevin jumped back in the middle and made some plays, had some chances, and was in some of the offense that we did have. We didn’t have a whole bunch. Again, I don’t think Calgary did either. Hayesy will be fine there if I put him there.”

John Tortorella; 11/21/2022

His performance was a successful transplant from his typical role. Hayes makes plays as the team around him continues to develop while the roster heals.

Over the last five games, Hayes shot selections were quality. He should likely have more than two goals over the timespan. More important are the games he wins battles to initiate an offensive transition through the neutral zone. Hayes balanced those aspects against the Dallas Stars and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Combining a goal and an assist in these games, he balanced the hits taken and any giveaways with takeaways.

Finding that balance is critical for Hayes to unleash his talents, akin to the 2019-2020 magic he possessed in shorthanded scenarios.

Following the injury update, Hayes could swap to LW for the next two weeks. Konecny, Laughton, and van Riemsdyk could all return around the same time, slotting Hayes back to C. Hayes’ utilization will all depend on his defensive effort.

One place Hayes will remain is soundly on the powerplay. He and Konecny are tied for the team lead in powerplay point scoring.

“The work ethic’s there; results aren’t. Usually, on a streak like this, it’s the opposite, where guys are trying too many things, and the work ethic is optional; guys are cheating the offense. We’ve been working hard, trying to learn from our mistakes.”

Kevin Hayes; 11/21/2022

The evidence supports the effort is there. Last night, the 5-2 score didn’t tell the story. The Flyers clawed back out of the hole they dug for themselves via costly turnovers and almost tied the game late in the third period on the powerplay. Hayes just missed wide.

Philadelphia is battling closer than the final score shows, and Hayes is at the heart of it.

(Photo Credit/Alex McIntyre)