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Flyers Rookie Report: Travis Sanheim's teaching moments overshadow solid start

Flyers Rookie Report: Travis Sanheim's teaching moments overshadow solid start

Today, we’re introducing a new wrinkle to our Flyers coverage this season. Every so often, we’ll take a look at the Flyers rookies’ progress with a Rookie Report, similar in nature to our Future Flyers Report, which runs every Monday morning. The Rookie Report will have its similarities but will also have its own unique blend to it.

We’re four games into the Nolan Patrick-led youth movement. The Flyers began the season with five rookies, though just four played on their four-game road trip.

Samuel Morin on Wednesday was sent to Lehigh Valley, where he will continue to fine-tune his game. That leaves Robert Hagg, Taylor Leier, Patrick and Travis Sanheim.

As the future begins now, we’re going to track their development throughout their first seasons. We’ll utilize film reviews and other forms of evaluating players. Let’s get going.

Teaching moments
Sanheim, to little bewilderment, beat out Morin for the second open spot on the Flyers’ defense, even though Morin seemingly had a strong enough camp to make the team. There is a strong argument all three young blueliners showed enough in the preseason.

But it’s clear Flyers GM Ron Hextall, despite previously indicating he’d make room for a kid if they prove they’re ready, wasn’t comfortable carrying three rookie defensemen. It should be noted we don’t see what goes into the decision-making behind the scenes.

Either way, Sanheim is here to stay. The 21-year-old had a bumpy start to his NHL career last Thursday in Los Angeles and then Anaheim last Saturday night. Let's go to the film.

This play began as a result of a neutral-zone turnover by Scott Laughton. Above you can see Radko Gudas in front of Kyle Clifford and Sanheim turning around. Sanheim squares up, sees Trevor Lewis coming and begins to backpedal.

As Lewis enters the faceoff circle, Sanheim's eyes are still focused on the puck and a little too high, allowing Lewis to creep behind him. As two Flyers pressure Nick Shore, the forward sees Lewis, feeds him the puck before Sanheim can break it up.

It's an easy goal for Lewis on a play where Brian Elliott had no chance, and it ended up being the game-winner for the Kings.

“Yeah, I saw him,” Sanheim said of Lewis. “My gap was a little off. With the turnover, I wish I was a little farther up. I think then he doesn’t see that play. I wish I could have had a better gap. That’s a mistake and something I can learn from.”

Two nights later in Anaheim, Sanheim had another moment on the Ducks' first goal. Sanheim and Hagg were caught on the ice together, which isn't ideal, but the two were in Lehigh Valley together last season so it's not like they haven't communicated before.

The play began in the corner, with Hagg playing strong on Ondrej Kase. After a short puck battle, Jakub Voracek and Antoine Vermette join in. The puck eventually breaks free.

Sanheim, with Hagg still in the corner, aggressively goes for a poke check on Josh Manson while Vermette begins to break across ice to unmarked territory.

Below, you'll see Hagg getting back into his position but Sanheim remains stationary. Voracek and Claude Giroux are all focused on the puck, Kase and Manson.

Vermette is completely alone.

Kase finds Vermette for the easy tap-in goal as Hagg and Sanheim are literally right next to each other. It was a little too much aggressiveness in his own zone by Sanheim.

The poke check wasn't the best play there for Sanheim. As the puck popped out, it was a 2-on-1 situation. Sanheim went for the puck, got beat and Vermette was left all alone.

“We ended up getting beat — we got beat out on a 2-on-2 on the wall,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said afterward. “One of their players spun off of that battle and it ended up catching Sanny in between. Really there’s not a lot I’d probably ask him to do differently on that play. He got caught between in a little bit.”

Analysis
We’re highlighting these two plays because they were obvious mistakes made by a rookie in his first two games. They’re learning moments and that’s what they are.

Sanheim had a rough second period in Los Angeles but bounced back in the third. Hakstol stayed with him in the third, and even used him late in the period with the game on the line and the need for more blue-line activity.

With Sanheim, there are going to be growing pains. That’s expected, of course. Even Ivan Provorov had them last season. Sanheim’s puck-moving and shot are clearly NHL ready and he showed in preseason his defensive play has improved. He still has to improve his coverage, as evidenced above, but the only way he can do that is by playing.

It appears the leash on Sanheim isn’t short. The coaching staff appears ready to let Sanheim make the mistakes and learn from them. That’s a positive because, after the Kings’ game, some felt Morin may get one final look before the competition was over.

Hakstol didn’t go to Morin or insert Brandon Manning back into the lineup in Anaheim, and outside of the Vermette goal, Sanheim didn’t have any other major miscues. That will be important for him. How quickly can he move on and learn from a mistake?

“I thought he picked up where he left off in the third period in L.A., which was back to playing his game,” Hakstol said after the Ducks game. “He used his feet well, I thought he played a pretty confident game.”

Quick hits
• In the Flyers’ season opener Oct. 4 in San Jose, Hagg brilliantly stifled a 2-on-1 against the Sharks’ Joe Thornton and Kevin Labanc, forcing Thornton to turn back and regroup. Thornton did just that and Labanc eventually did score San Jose’s first goal.

Hagg sees the 2-on-1 developing before center ice and positions himself accordingly. Once Thornton gets to the blue line, Hagg has two choices here: Attack the puck carrier before the play gets deeper or stay in position while he waits for help, delaying his decision.

It’s one he had to make in real time. Attack the carrier and get beat, Brian Elliott is facing a 1-on-1 break. But Hagg makes a smart play in attacking Thornton. He bent down with his stick on the ice, taking away the pass option and forcing Thornton to circle back. The Sharks scored moments later, but Hagg played this 2-on-1 perfectly.

• One thing worth noting about Patrick is his passing from behind the net. Patrick scored his first Tuesday in Nashville but picked up his career first point in Anaheim last Saturday. Patrick, from behind the net, found his former Brandon teammate, Provorov, for a one-timer just as a power play expired. It’s a type of pass the Flyers will certainly benefit from this season.

• One of the bright spots thus far has been the Flyers’ fourth line featuring Leier, a rookie, Laughton, a former first-rounder who finally made the show full-time, and Michael Raffl. Leier and Laughton have uncanny chemistry from their time together with the Phantoms. They were the Flyers’ most consistent line throughout preseason.

The line creates energy, works hard and always seems to be in the offensive zone. In fact, after four games, the Flyers’ fourth line is dominating the Corsi department. Let’s highlight a play made by Leier against San Jose that was absolutely bonkers.

Before the pass, the line had forechecked and spent 12 seconds in the Sharks' zone and when San Jose finally escaped its own zone, 38 seconds had passed. But this play started with a Provorov pinch, freeing up the puck for Leier to skate behind the Sharks’ net, then he anticipates where Laughton will be, spins around and sets Laughton up for a prime chance. Martin Jones made the save, but Leier's pass was ridiculous.

Stats
Leier: 4 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, minus-2, 11:30 TOI
Hagg: 4 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, even, 18:12 TOI
Patrick: 4 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, plus-3, 13:53 TOI
Sanheim: 3 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, minus-2, 11:55 TOI

Best of NHL: Johnny Gaudreau extends point streak to 10 games

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Best of NHL: Johnny Gaudreau extends point streak to 10 games

WASHINGTON -- Johnny Gaudreau had a goal and an assist to extend his career-best point streak to 10 games and the Calgary Flames beat the Washington Capitals 4-1 on Monday night.

Gaudreau scored and assisted on Sean Monahan's goal, one of two on the power play for Calgary, which has won four of its past five. Mikael Backlund and captain Mark Giordano also scored for the Flames, who got 29 saves from Mike Smith.

Gaudreau, nicknamed "Johnny Hockey," has eight goals and 11 assists during his point streak. Led by the Carneys Point, New Jersey, native, the Flames are 7-3-0 in that time.

Lars Eller scored the only goal for the Capitals, who took five minor penalties and lost for the third time in four games. Braden Holtby allowed four goals on 39 shots.

The Flames came in feeling good after a comeback victory in Philadelphia and a 1950s-themed train ride to Washington. But the Capitals took a 1-0 lead just 62 seconds in when Jakub Vrana found Eller for his fourth goal of the season.

Calgary controlled much of the play from that point on, tying it on Gaudreau's goal 4:49 in and taking a lead on Monahan's power-play goal 5:22 into the second. Monahan had a goal and an assist after a power-play hat trick Saturday against the Flyers.

Washington's parade to the penalty box gave the Flames momentum and then their third goal at 4:38 of the second when Backlund buried a loose puck. Giordano's goal to make it 4-1 was effectively a third power-play goal as it came 1 second after ex-Flames forward Alex Chiasson's penalty expired (see full recap).

Blue Jackets edge Sabres for 4th straight win
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Sergei Bobrovsky made three of his 30 saves on a power play in the final two minutes, and the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 on Monday night for their fourth straight victory.

Rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois, Artemi Panarin and Boone Jenner scored for the Blue Jackets. Markus Nutivaara had two assists.

Buffalo dropped its sixth straight game. Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart scored for the Sabres, and Robin Lehner stopped 25 shots.

Bobrovsky made his biggest save when he slid across the crease to kick away a Ryan O'Reilly one-timer with 1:49 remaining. Bobrovsky got a piece of Kyle Okposo's shot off the rebound and the puck trickled across the goal line while Okposo fell into the net. Officials determined on replay that the goal did not count.

The Blue Jackets scored first for the fifth straight game when Dubois collected a loose puck in the slot and lifted a wrist shot over Lehner four minutes into the second period. Oliver Bjorkstrand set up Dubois' third goal of the season with a pass from behind the net.

Panarin scored his fifth on a high wrist shot from the right circle 5:47 into the third. Jenner added his third goal of the year on a play in front of the net midway through the period (see full recap).

Raanta, Coyotes end Maple Leafs' win streak
TORONTO -- Antti Raanta made 26 saves and the Arizona Coyotes ended the Toronto Maple Leafs' winning streak at six games with a 4-1 victory Monday night.

Brendan Perlini, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Max Domi and Tobias Rieder scored for the Coyotes (5-15-3), who have won three in a row for the first time this season.

Arizona rookie Clayton Keller had two assists to give him 20 points in 23 games.

James van Riemsdyk scored for the Maple Leafs (14-8-0).

Frederik Andersen had his shutout streak snapped at 1:41:28 when the Coyotes scored in the first period. Andersen, who made 28 saves, had blanked the opponent in back-to-back games.

Toronto star Auston Matthews, playing in his 100th career game, appeared to tie it 2-all with 3:50 to play but the goal was overturned after a replay review because of goalie interference by Zach Hyman (see full recap).

Wayne Simmonds issues timely reminder about Flyers

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Wayne Simmonds issues timely reminder about Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — Wayne Simmonds would make a pretty good salesman.

He speaks with conviction and knows how to convey a point.

On Monday, he was selling the 2017-18 Flyers.

None of it was fluff. In fact, the sales pitch was completely valid.

Many clamored for the Flyers to become younger, and they did. Nolan Patrick, 19, is just getting healthy again after missing nine straight games. The fourth line features two 23-year-olds (Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier) that developed last season in the AHL. And half of the current defense is made up of rookies.

That's not to mention Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov are only 20 years old, while Jordan Weal is in his first full NHL season.

After losing four straight games, the Flyers are 8-8-4 and still only five points out of first place despite sitting in last in the Metropolitan Division.

Things could be worse. Really, they're not all that bad.

"The season's not even close to being over," Simmonds said after practice at Flyers Skate Zone. "That's the way I'm thinking about it, guys. There's no need to be worried, we're a .500 hockey team right now, we've played 20 games, we have 62 games left, we've got a really young team and we're growing every single day. Yeah, we're going to have our struggles, but we're also going to have points in the season where we make huge strides. We've got to stick with it and we've got to keep going and going."

The Flyers were 9-8-3 after 20 games last season. Two games later, they were starting a 10-game winning streak. The run didn't accomplish much by season's end, but it's an example of how quickly trends can turn in the NHL.

Simmonds is experiencing his own negative trend of 12 straight games without a goal after scoring six in eight games to start the season.

"Sometimes you score 10 goals, then you don't score again for 20 games or something like that," Simmonds said. "Like I said, it's a long year, you keep going, you keep grinding, you guys want to jump to conclusions, that's your job. You guys have got to make decisions on a game-to-game basis, but for us, we just have to make sure we're coming to the rink and doing our job every single day and continuing to try and get better."

Throughout much of his drought, Simmonds has not looked himself, likely banged up from the style in which he plays and excels.

With time and patience, Simmonds is building himself up again physically.

"You think you can do some things and sometimes your body just tells you no," Simmonds said.

"I've been feeling better the last little bit. I feel like I've started to play better, things aren't coming offensively for me. I think as an individual, I've just got to keep working hard. The only way to break yourself out of a bad streak is to continue to work hard and hopefully things eventually go your way."

When does he know his game is coming to him?

"When I'm aggressive," Simmonds said. "When I'm battling in the corners, I'm hitting — I think earlier this year, I wasn't fully engaging in battles and stuff like that, and that's not me, that's not my game. I think the last little bit here, I've felt a lot better, I've been doing a lot more battling, a lot more hitting, a lot more physical things. It's nice and we've got to continue that. As a team, we've got to continue to do the same thing, to get to the front of the net and continue to put pucks in."

Aside from the first line of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek, scoring struggles have permeated the middle six and secondary options. Konecny and Weal, two players the Flyers expected jumps from in production, have combined for four goals and nine assists. Konecny is without a goal over his previous 10 games, while Weal has scored one in his last 12.

"It's been a lot of hard work and not much to show for it," Weal said. "No matter what line we've been on, it seems like we've been getting three or four chances every game to put something in and nothing right now seems to be going in. It's one of those things that happens during a season.

"When it breaks open, hopefully it'll break wide open.

"When we have all four lines scoring, we're a really dangerous team."

Both Konecny and Weal are frequently the last two players off the practice ice.

Monday was no different.

"I just need to make sure I'm battling and creating more offense," Konecny said. "I feel like the opportunities are there, I'm not worried about that."

Nor is Simmonds worried about the Flyers with 62 games to go, the next coming Tuesday night at home against the Canucks.

Similar to building up strength and good health, patience is important to a season, especially with the makeup of this Flyers team.

Simmonds believes you'll buy in … just give it some time.

"You can look at the standings, you can do whatever you want, but we've played 20 games," Simmonds said. "There's still a long time to go in the season. We've got work to do.

"I'm definitely feeling better. It's up to me to get going."

When he does, the Flyers hope the rest follow.