Flyers

After AHL season, Travis Sanheim knows how his offense will come with Flyers

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After AHL season, Travis Sanheim knows how his offense will come with Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — Travis Sanheim has solidified his place in the Flyers’ lineup. Now the rookie defenseman is looking for his first NHL goal — and he’s getting warmer.

Sanheim had multiple opportunities to light the lamp during the Flyers’ 3-1 victory over the Blackhawks on Thursday (see observations). The puck just wouldn’t go in the net for the 21-year-old, who was credited with three shots in the contest.

Yet, while Sanheim’s efforts didn’t result in a point on the scoreboard, they did not go unnoticed.

“In the first 20, 25 minutes of the game, he created three opportunities with his skating ability and his thought process coming up ice from behind,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said Friday following an abbreviated practice. “He’s effective when he’s doing that.”

Sanheim is now 13 games into his NHL career, and Thursday marked his 10th in a row. He’s become a fixture on the ice for the Flyers after being forced to spectate from the press box on several occasions in the early stages of the season.

Despite a reputation as a two-way defender, Sanehim’s increased presence has not resulted in a great deal of scoring — only a pair of assists so far.

“The first one will come,” Hakstol said. “I don’t think that’s a concern for anybody.

“He’s working on his game. He’s working to improve the details and the defensive aspect of his game, and as importantly, he’s staying confident getting up ice and in his play with the puck.”

Sanheim found the back of the net 10 times with 27 helpers for the Phantoms in 2016-17, and posted back-to-back 15-goal/50-assist seasons at the junior level prior to his stint in the AHL. Scoring has always been a part of his game.

That’s also not necessarily what the Flyers need from Sanheim right now. First and foremost, they want him to be sound in his own end.

“We’ve got a ton of skilled guys here and guys that can produce offensively,” Sanheim said. “I want to prove to them that I can play that two-way game, and one thing they’ve tried to get on me is, ‘Good defense leads to offense.’ That’s something I’m trying to focus on right now.”

Cliché though it might sound, Sanheim is a believer in the philosophy.

“Last year, where I shot it the most was early on,” Sanheim said. “I was trying to push offense, and we really tried to focus on the defense.

“The funny thing is when I started to focus more on the defense is when my offense actually started to take off. I believe the saying and that’s something I try to take into this season.”

To his credit, Sanheim has been solid defensively. Along the way in his development, there were concerns the young blueliner was maybe too offensive-minded, to his own detriment and that of the team.

That hasn’t been the case as Sanheim has found his footing in the NHL. Since becoming a mainstay in the lineup, he’s been an acceptable minus-2 at even strength.

Hakstol praised the way Sanheim has approached the game on offense.

“For the most part, the offensive opportunities that he creates, they’re opportunities by supporting the play, by using his skating ability to join a rush and come in from behind,” Hakstol said. “I haven’t seen a whole lot of risk offensively to his game, and certainly haven’t seen him trying to force any of the offensive opportunities.”

Sanheim has a long way to go, but there have been flashes of brilliance in his play at both ends of the ice.

“There’s still going to be learning experiences,” Sanheim said. “I’m still going to make mistakes and have to learn from them, but I’m just trying to get better every day and try to make those mistakes as few as possible.

“Last year, it took me quite awhile. I think there were quite a few bad habits from playing junior. This year, with playing that year of pro, it’s moved the process along a little faster.”

As for that first goal, Sanheim doesn’t sound too worried about it, either.

“If I wasn’t getting the chances, I’d be a little more frustrated,” Sanheim said. “I’m getting the looks, and hopefully it starts to go in for me.”

Ding dong, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is gone

Ding dong, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is gone

Michal Neuvirth stood by his locker Wednesday night dejected, like the rest of his teammates, after the Flyers’ latest blunder, an embarrassing 5-0 loss on home ice to the Penguins in Game 4.

The Flyers are on the brink of elimination to the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, and Wednesday's defeat was the latest reminder of their current state of affairs.

"Definitely good to get in the mix," said Neuvirth, who replaced Brian Elliott in the second period for his first game action since March 28. "But tough outcome tonight. We lost it to a better team tonight."

With that, Neuvirth perfectly encapsulated exactly where the Flyers stand in this first-round playoff series with Pittsburgh. It's definitely good to be in the mix, and they lost to the better team.

We've heard that before and we'll hear it again, but it doesn't make it any easier to swallow. This Flyers team isn't quite there yet, to compete with the Penguins or in the playoffs.

There are encouraging signs. The postseason experience will pay off in the long run — it's better than not being there. Nolan Patrick, 19, has perhaps been the Flyers' most consistent forward in the series. He was the only player who competed Wednesday.

But goaltending remains an eyesore and rookie mistakes are consistently being made by veterans, and some appear immune to accountability. Game 4 was as ugly as it gets (see story), and that's counting a series that included a 7-0 loss in Game 1.

The Flyers were never really in Wednesday's game outside of about a two-minute stretch in the first period, when they were buzzing in the Pittsburgh zone until a Scott Laughton centering pass turned into a Penguins odd-man rush.

Bang, 2-0 Pittsburgh. Ballgame.

"From our standpoint," Dave Hakstol said, "we have to look from within. There's going to be momentum swings, there are going to be pushes, but we haven't been able to reestablish our game quick enough to give ourselves an opportunity."

Wednesday served as another grim reminder. This Flyers-Penguins rivalry, well, isn't much of a rivalry and hasn't been one in quite some time now.

Coming into this series, we heard the old storylines, about how much these two teams hate each other, how close games are, but the hate hasn't been there for a while and the games, they haven't been close, either.

The Penguins have dominated the Flyers, this season especially. With the 5-0 win Wednesday, the Pens have outscored the Flyers, 38-17, in eight total games and 20-4 in games played at the Wells Fargo Center.

The hype machine was on full blast and we all bought into it. It's the playoffs, different animal, but some things never change no matter the environment.

At some point, it's time to bury the hatchet.

It was fun while it lasted, but for now, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is no more.

Another home nightmare has Flyers walking the plank

Another home nightmare has Flyers walking the plank

BOX SCORE

After watching what transpired over the last two games, there’s a strong feeling the Flyers played their final game on South Broad Street this season.

And for those who forked over postseason prices for Stanley Cup Playoff hockey, those fans certainly didn’t receive face value for what they paid.

For the first time in nearly 30 years, the Flyers dropped Games 3 and 4 on home ice, and neither game was even remotely competitive. After the Flyers lost, 5-1, in Game 3, the Penguins dimmed the lights at the Wells Fargo Center and shut off any electricity the crowd was hoping to generate in Game 4 with a 5-0 shutout (see observations).

Simply put, the Flyers looked deflated and dejected knowing they would be forced to play without Sean Couturier, who was a game-time decision but officially ruled out 40 minutes before the opening faceoff.

“They came out hard,” Andrew MacDonald said. “We kind of looked a bit flustered and I don’t know if it was attributed to the lines or what, but it certainly wasn’t a great start for us.”

Whatever rivalry existed between the Flyers and Penguins coming into this season was hardly recognizable in the four games played in Philadelphia (two regular season, two playoff), where the home team was outscored 20-4 (see story).

Just the mere presence of the Penguins in this building is expected to bring out the best in the Flyers. Instead, we saw them at their worst, and nothing irks Flyers fans more than watching Sidney Crosby walk out of the City of Brotherly Love with six points and two victories in a pair of playoff games. 

“It’s disappointing,” Dave Hakstol said. “You take that upon yourself. Bluntly, we’re not happy about it. It wasn’t good enough.”

The Flyers may have fed off the home crowd for one period on Sunday afternoon, but even as they barraged the Penguins with constant pressure, they still found themselves down 1-0 after the opening 20 minutes. After a slew of penalties in the second period, the Flyers were never the same.

Disapproval poured down Wednesday when the Flyers flopped on their power play, which finished 0 for 10 in the two games on home ice, and the crowd of 19,644 booed unmercifully as the horn sounded after each period.

With the Wells Fargo Center half empty midway through the third period, the postseason frenzy felt more like a preseason yawner. 

“Fire Hakstol” chants could be heard from the upper deck — the first time that phrase echoed throughout the building since the 10-game winless streak in November.

Prior to this week, the lasting memory of a playoff series against Pittsburgh was Claude Giroux decking Crosby on the opening shift of Game 6 in 2012 and then proceeding to score the first goal as the Flyers eliminated their cross-state rival.

For whatever reason, the Flyers never evolved into a dominant team on home ice this season. The Flyers' 22 wins were the fewest of the 16 teams to reach the postseason and even three non-playoff teams finished with better records at home.  

At times, the Flyers played too cute or tried to execute too perfectly in their building, but in this series, it was just too ugly.

“Earn Tomorrow” was the Flyers' playoff slogan coming into this series.

After what the Wells Fargo Center witnessed this week, a chance at tomorrow may be too much to bear.