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.”

Pleasant surprises in a first for Flyers

Pleasant surprises in a first for Flyers

BOX SCORE

When asked what he thought about the current Flyers team prior to his retirement ceremony, Eric Lindros admitted he really didn’t know all that much regarding this year’s team. 

After Thursday night’s 3-2 win over Lindros’ hometown Maple Leafs (see observations), "Big E" and a sold-out Wells Fargo Center crowd learned something about the Flyers that no one in Philadelphia had been privy to.

The Flyers capped off their first win this season when trailing by two or more goals entering the third period. Interestingly, the only other third-period comeback that led to a victory was when they trailed this same Toronto team, 2-1, on Dec. 12. Prior to this game, the Flyers were 1-12-2 this season when trailing after two periods.

Certainly, the Flyers needed goal scoring, but more importantly, they also received a handful of momentum saves from goaltender Michal Neuvirth.

“Huge," Neuvirth said regarding his 29-save performance. “When we tied it, it was like, 'OK, here we go. You gotta be at your best right now.' So I was just focusing on the next shot. Just happy the way the guys responded in the third.”

Neuvirth had little, if any, margin of error after the Leafs scored twice in a 28-second span to grab a 2-0 advantage, but the Flyers' backup netminder provided a handful of momentum saves that allowed the Flyers to win in overtime.

• A minute after Wayne Simmonds tied the game at 2-2 with a shorthanded goal, Neuvirth stopped Auston Matthews and Connor Brown on back-to-back shots, including an impressive blocker save on Brown from up close.

• With 2:48 remaining in regulation, Neuvirth made the save of the game with the Leafs coming down on a 2-on-1. Neuvirth expected Nazem Kadri to shoot. Instead, he passed it to his left, forcing Neuvirth to make a full extension on Patrick Marleau, turning aside the shot with the tip of his right pad (see highlights).

• Neuvirth denied Matthews from in tight with another pad save just 10 seconds into overtime. That save created a 2-on-1 scoring chance resulting in Sean Couturier’s game-winning score. 

“At least three 10-bell saves by Neuvy. He was tremendous,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “We generated a lot in the third period, but when you give up those chances against, Neuvy stole the show in my opinion and you need those saves sometimes to win games. For me, he was first star.”

Neuvirth and the rest of the Flyers needed an initial spark and 19-year-old rookie Nolan Patrick was surprisingly the one to provide it. After taking a shot that hit the side of the net and caromed behind it, Patrick chased down Mitch Marner, stole the puck and fired a quick shot on goaltender Frederik Andersen for his first goal in his last 25 games.

“I tried to forget how many games it was in a row without a goal and just keep playing,” Patrick said. “I thought I was playing some good hockey lately and I knew it would come.”

A minute and 52 seconds later, Simmonds tied the game at 2-2 with the Flyers' second shorthanded goal of the season, extending his point streak to six games.

Struggling to find the right overtime combinations, Hakstol elected to go with the trio of Couturier, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov to start the extra session. Couturier continued his magical run and now has 11 goals in his last 12 games, while also providing five game-winning goals in the Flyers' last 10 victories. 

“He’s hot. We keep calling him ‘Rocket,’" Simmonds said, referring to Hall of Famer Maurice “Rocket” Richard. “You just keep giving him the puck and he’s going to find the back of the net. When you’re hot, you want to keep giving it to a guy like that. Hopefully, he’s going to continue to score for us.”

More Couturier goals and more game-changing saves, and the Flyers will find themselves rocketing up the standings.

Golden Knights make statement in clash of conference leaders

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Golden Knights make statement in clash of conference leaders

TAMPA, Fla. -- Marc-Andre Fleury made 28 saves, David Perron had a goal and an assist, and the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1 Thursday night in a matchup of conference leaders.

James Neal, Nate Schmidt and William Karlsson also scored for the Golden Knights, who swept the two-game season series with the NHL-leading Lightning.

Tampa Bay, coming off its bye week, got a goal from Ondrej Palat, and Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 26 shots. Vasilevskiy, an All-Star this season, has allowed 19 goals over his last four games.

Fleury made a number of impressive stops, including a left-circle shot by Steven Stamkos and in-close chance from Nikita Kucherov during the second period. The goalie, who spent most of career with Pittsburgh, is 19-11-4 against the Lightning.

Neal opened the scoring with a nifty deflection 56 seconds into the first, and Schmidt made it 2-0 with 3:57 left in the period. Deryk Engelland got his 100th NHL assist on Neal's goal.

Vegas is 19-1-0 when scoring first, with the lone loss coming Oct. 30 to the New York Islanders (see full recap).

Devils beat Caps in OT on Hall’s goal
NEWARK, N.J. -- Taylor Hall scored on a breakaway 34 seconds into overtime and the New Jersey Devils beat the Washington Capitals 4-3 on Thursday night.

Sami Vatanen collected his third assist of the game on the winning goal, a shot over the shoulder of goaltender Braden Holtby.

Drew Stafford, Andy Greene and Miles Wood also scored for the Devils, who have won two straight after breaking a six-game winless streak (0-3-3). Keith Kinkaid had 16 saves and the Devils killed off all five Washington power plays.

Brett Connolly scored twice and Dmitry Orlov had a goal for the Capitals, who lost for only the second time in eight games. The Capitals, however, extended their streak of getting a point against New Jersey to 14 games (12-0-2).

Holtby made 28 saves, but gave up three breakaway goals (see full recap).

Panarin puts Stars over the top in shootout
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Artemi Panarin scored in the second round of a shootout, and the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Dallas Stars 2-1 on Thursday night.

Joonas Korpisalo had 35 saves for Columbus (26-18-3), which returned from its five-day break after losing both ends of a back-to-back last week. Jordan Schroeder scored his first goal of the season in the first period.

Korpisalo blocked a shootout try by Jason Spezza before Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin came up empty. Dallas goaltender Ben Bishop blocked Jussi Jokinen's shootout attempt before Panarin beat him.

Korpisalo got the start ahead of Vezina Trophy-winner Sergei Bobrovsky, who struggled in the recent losses. The 23-year-old Finn got his first win in nearly a month in his ninth game this season.

Dan Hamhuis scored for Dallas with 2:15 left in regulation. Bishop had 25 stops, including a terrific glove save on Alexander Wennberg with 30 seconds left in the third.

Dallas (26-17-4) had won two in a row (see full recap).