Flyers

Flyers-Sabres observations: Second line continues surge

Flyers-Sabres observations: Second line continues surge

BOX SCORE

The roller-coaster ride that is the Flyers’ season saw the team extend its winning streak to five games after defeating the Buffalo Sabres, 2-1, Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim scored the Flyers’ first goal and his first NHL goal after taking a pass from Dale Weise and firing a perfectly-placed shot past Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner. 

After scoring three goals in the preseason, Sanheim finally scored No. 1 in his 28th regular-season game.

Valtteri Filppula scored the game-winner with 2:33 remaining in the second period.

Brian Elliott stopped 19 of 20 shots and has earned the win in every game during the current streak.

Michael Raffl played in his 300th career game.

• The Sabres scored the first goal 1:29 into the game when Elliott attempted to rim the puck around the boards from behind the net, but Zemgus Girgensons blocked it with his body that left Elliott in no-man’s-land. For whatever reason, Elliott elected to stay behind the net instead of retreating back to his crease, which left Ryan O’Reilly in front with a slam dunk empty-net goal.

• Roughly a minute later, Elliott was caught behind the net where he nearly did the same thing as he threw the puck straight into a Sabres player. This time, rookie Nolan Patrick was on the back side to protect the post, stop Sam Reinhart and save the goal.

• The Flyers scored first as the Patrick line had a good cycle game. Eventually, Weise fed a pinching Sanheim, who moved in from his left defense position. Instead of winding up for a big slap shot, Sanheim wisely directed the puck, which allowed him to pick his spot on the net. For Sanheim, it was his first NHL goal after he displayed what he could do offensively during the preseason.

“It feels great,” Sanheim said at the first intermission. “Obviously, it was a big goal in the game. I’m just excited to finally get the first one. Weiser was coming behind the net, and I saw my winger kind of cheat to the wall and I had a seam down the middle. He made a great pass, and I was pretty excited that it went into the back of the net.”

• There was a lazy penalty by Buffalo’s Kyle Okposo as he tripped Filppula behind the Flyers’ goal line. The Flyers’ second unit actually performed better than the first unit and had better success with its setup, including a quality chance down low as a result of quick puck movement.  

• Sanheim may have scored his first goal, but defensively his struggles continued throughout the night. He turned the puck over and then lost track of his man as Reinhart fed Evander Kane for a one-timer in the area where Sanheim was supposed to be stationed.

• Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere appeared to be in quite some pain as he left the ice with 1:57 remaining in the first period holding his left arm.

• Early in the second period, the Flyers’ No. 1 PP unit looked much better with a pair of prime opportunities. “Ghost” ripped off a slapper that sat on the crease for a split second. Wayne Simmonds was in front and tried to bang it home with no luck.

• It was a rough shift for Ivan Provorov as he was whacked in the face by his teammate’s stick. Seconds later, Provorov snapped his stick on an attempted slap shot and was caught up in the Sabres’ 2-on-1 the other way with Kane getting off a weak attempt that Elliott turned away with his right pad.

• As much as I like Jakub Voracek’s power-skating game with the puck, he’s definitely turnover-prone. He had a couple of turnovers in the first period and another at the 9:00 mark. On that same shift, Voracek broke in all alone on Lehner for perhaps then Flyers’ best chance of the second period. With Voracek, you have to take the bad with the good. 

• I’ve really liked the play of the Patrick line with Jordan Weal and Weise. Together they were buzzing in the offensive zone for most of the first two periods. They were in on Sanheim’s first goal and Weal had that extra gear in this game and looked determined to score. 

• The Flyers grabbed a 2-1 lead when the trio of Raffl, Filppula and Voracek all got involved. It initially started with Raffl’s strong forecheck when he eventually grabbed the puck as it came off the wall. Raffl then fed Voracek, who was stationed at the goal line, and finally to Filppula, who wristed a shot top left corner — a perfectly executed tic-tac-toe play.

“It was definitely an important goal,” Filppula said at the second intermission. “There’s not a lot of room out there. It’s a close game both ways, so it was good to get ahead before the third.” 

• After he was leveled to the ice in the Sabres’ zone, Travis Konecny took out his frustrations on Okposo and drove him hard to the ice.

Lineups, pairings and scratches

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Valtteri Filppula-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Dale Weise
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Travis Konecny

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Robert Hagg-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Alex Lyon

Scratches: Forward Jori Lehtera (healthy) and defenseman Mark Alt (healthy).

Ex-Flyer Nick Cousins takes down Islanders

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USA Today Images

Ex-Flyer Nick Cousins takes down Islanders

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet praised center Nick Cousins after, not just for his game-winning goal against the New York Islanders but also for his improved overall play.

Cousins scored his second goal of the game 2:21 into overtime to lift the Coyotes to a 3-2 win over the Islanders on Monday night.

"I've got to give him a lot of credit," Tocchet said. "He's done really well. I've sat him out this year. He's worked on his game. He's always got a smile on his face coming to work to practice. He's worked on his game and he's starting to reap the benefits."

Cousins added an assist and the Coyotes ran their points streak to five games, a season high. Arizona has points from seven of eight games, with six of those going to overtime. Brendan Perlini scored for the third time in three games and Antti Raanta stopped 32 shots (see full recap).

Wings blank Devils before welcoming Flyers
NEWARK, N.J. -- Petr Mrazek wants more playing time and Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill is probably going to give it to him.

Mrazek had 37 saves in posting his second straight shutout and third of the season as the Red Wings played one of their best games of the season in beating the slumping New Jersey Devils 3-0 on Monday night.

Mrazek has stopped 64 shots in shutting out the Blackhawks and Devils in his last two starts. He now has three shutouts in 14 games with a 5-5-1 record.

"I'm trying to get some confidence every game I play, every save I make," Mrazek said. "I haven't played a lot of minutes, so every game I am trying,” (see full recap).

Avalanche beat Leafs for 10th straight win
TORONTO -- Colorado goalie Jonathan Bernier heard the Bronx cheers from the Air Canada Centre crowd on Monday night.

He remembers listening to Toronto fans giving him the same sort of hard time when he was a member of the Maple Leafs as they struggled through the 2015-16 season.

"It's not as bad when you are the away team," he said.

Bernier made 29 saves in his first start at the ACC since Toronto traded him in July 2016, Blake Comeau scored the go-ahead goal with 7:43 left and the Avalanche extended their winning streak to 10 games with a 4-2 victory over the Maple Leafs (see full recap).

Vasilevskiy leads Lightning past Blackhawks
CHICAGO -- Andrei Vasilevskiy was terrific, Chris Kunitz made a clutch play and Tampa Bay's penalty killers had a big night.

The Lightning followed a familiar formula back to the top of the NHL.

Vasilevskiy made 40 saves in his league-best seventh shutout and Kunitz scored a short-handed goal in the second period, leading Tampa Bay to a 2-0 victory over the sliding Chicago Blackhawks on Monday.

Yanni Gourde also scored as Tampa Bay stopped a season-high three-game skid and leapfrogged idle Vegas for the best record in the NHL. The Lightning, who lost to Chicago in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, improved to 11-0-2 against the Blackhawks in their last 13 regular-season meetings (see full recap).

Flyers have a Travis Sanheim dilemma

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AP Images

Flyers have a Travis Sanheim dilemma

Defenseman and prized prospect Travis Sanheim will start playing some big minutes again.

It just won’t be with the Flyers right now.

On Monday, Sanheim was reassigned to AHL Lehigh Valley as the front office also recalled Mark Alt to take Sanheim’s spot on the active roster.

Why?

Trust and development.

With the Flyers playing some of their best hockey of the season with wins in eight of their last nine games and the increased importance of gaining necessary points in an air-tight division (as of Monday morning, the Flyers held the East's first wild-card spot with 54 points, one behind Columbus for third in the Metro, two behind New Jersey for second and just seven behind first-place Washington), Sanheim had been relegated as the seventh defenseman and had served as a healthy scratch in eight of those nine games.

“He comes out of the lineup and the team plays well,” general manager Ron Hextall said recently of the 21-year-old blueliner. “Like most teams when things are going well, you really don’t want to change too much. If you look at the whole year with Travis, I think he’s played well with us. He’s had his moments, but he’s a young player and that’s going to happen. I don’t like him sitting and coaches don’t like him sitting, and I’m sure he doesn’t like sitting.”

Prior to the Devils/Capitals weekend series the Flyers swept, head coach Dave Hakstol was asked about the possibility of utilizing an 11 forward-seven defensemen combination as Tyrell Goulbourne has been used sparingly since his call-up. But Hakstol made it clear he wasn’t going to make concessions to accommodate one player.

“We’re not going to do anything to get anybody in the lineup at this point in time,” Hakstol said. “It can’t solely be about that. If that’s a scenario that’s best for our team, then we’ll consider it. What’s the right combination for our team to win a game that day?”

Coming out of the Christmas break, Hakstol started shortening the length of Sanheim’s leash. The rookie played 14:42 of the Panthers game (a 3-2 loss) on Dec. 28. Brandon Manning was fully healed and ready to return from a hand injury the next night in Tampa, a 5-3 decision the Flyers took from the league-best Lightning.

After missing the next five games, Sanheim received another chance with the Flyers playing their first game against the Devils out of the bye week on Jan. 13. All it took was one play in which Sanheim stepped up to check his man along the boards. He subsequently lost his stick, and by the time he grabbed it, the Devils converted an easy goal to take a 1-0 lead.

That came during Sanheim’s second shift as he finished the game playing a season-low 6:02, including just one 18-second shift in the third period.

“They’ve got to earn the trust of their teammates and the coaches, and sometimes that’s a process,” Hextall said. “Some of what Travis is going through is good for Travis. There’s a lot you learn out there. Part of it is the life lesson of you have to earn things. Things aren’t going to be handed to you. Just because you’re a first-round pick or a highly paid guy, you have to learn things. You don’t come out of college and become a CEO. You have to pay your dues, and you have to earn what you’re going to get.”

Travis Konecny and Shayne Gostisbehere learned those life lessons the hard way last season as both young players were pulled out of the lineup after their performance lagged. Hextall believes Sanheim will eventually bounce back and reflect at his rookie season as a valuable learning experience.

“Sometimes the only way they learn is by missing a shift or having their ice cut back a bit or getting sat out at some point,” Hextall said. “Most players have gotten sat out in their career. If you ask most guys, not at the time, they say it was a good lesson. There are a lot of things our young guys are learning right now, not only at this level, but at Lehigh.”

Gostisbehere and Konecny are playing arguably some of the best hockey of their careers right now.

Even if Sanheim has more upside and potential than Manning, the veteran has proven to be more reliable defensively and has even been more opportunistic in the offensive end. In a twist of fate, Sanheim's offensive upside is a big reason why Hextall selected him with a first-round pick in 2014. Sanheim has one goal and four assists in 35 games played this season.

“You've got to get stronger. You make a mistake and if you can’t rebound from it, you're probably not going to be at this level for very long,” Hextall said. “There’s learning curves all along the way. You can’t look at everything in a vacuum. There’s a small picture and there’s a big picture.”

Hextall is right. At this critical point of the NHL season, the bigger picture of winning outweighs the smaller picture of player development.