Flyers

Flyers shuffle defensive pairings with Andrew MacDonald out

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Flyers shuffle defensive pairings with Andrew MacDonald out

VOORHEES, N.J. — When Andrew MacDonald took the direct brunt of Mark Letestu’s blistering slap shot to the left knee in the third period of Saturday’s win over Edmonton, the Flyers' experience within their defensive corps also took a hit.

The Flyers announced Sunday MacDonald will miss the next four to six weeks with a lower-body injury.

Now in his ninth NHL season, MacDonald has logged 481 games, and while Flyers fans may quickly write off his contributions and longevity in the league, he has averaged over 20 minutes of ice time in each of his previous eight seasons. MacDonald has earned the respect of his teammates, who voted before the season to name him as one of two new alternate captains.

“[MacDonald] is a pro,” said general manager Ron Hextall. “I hear there’s criticism. It’s unfair. I think everyone knows what his teammates think of him and what we think of him. He’s just persevered through whatever.”

“He’s a very good player,” Ivan Provorov, MacDonald's typical defensive partner, said. “We had a really good chemistry. We played a lot together last year and a little this year and it sucks that he’s out.”

Take MacDonald out of the equation and now the Flyers will be forced to lean on a very talented, but still inexperienced defense. According to hockey-reference.com, 57 active defensemen have more games played than the Flyers entire current six-man unit combined.

“He’s been the biggest part of our defense. He’s the most experienced guy that we have,” Radko Gudas said of MacDonald. “Losing him, it’s obviously tough for us, but it’s opportunity for some of the other guys to step up and show they’re capable of playing a big amount of minutes.”

Complicating MacDonald’s injury for head coach Dave Hakstol is losing a right-side defenseman. As a result, Hakstol elected to rearrange all three of his defense pairings during Monday’s practice, likely signaling what we'll see Tuesday against the visiting Anaheim Ducks:

• Provorov/Robert Hagg (98 combined games) — There may not be another top shutdown pair in the NHL with less experience than Provorov and Hagg, which is not to say they can’t handle the responsibilities. Provorov and Hagg were paired together for a couple of preseason games and a few shifts so far in the regular season. They’ll have a monumental task of containing the Ryan Getzlaf/Corey Perry duo.

“We’ll try and communicate as much as we can and talk before the game, probably talk today about some plays and I think we should be fine,” Provorov said.

• Shayne Gostisbehere/Gudas (427 combined games) — Interestingly, this pair has the most experience, yet according to Gostisbehere, the two guys have never played together. Gudas is expected to fill MacDonald’s role on the team’s top penalty-killing unit alongside with Provorov, and together, "Ghost" and Gudas compliment each other well. Gudas is a stay-at-home defenseman while Gostisbehere is active offensively.

“Obviously things are a little different now,” Gostisbehere said, “We just got to feel each other out right now. I’m sure there will be some growing pains. Hopefully our mistakes won’t be magnified too much. It’s a good fit. Obviously, Gudy’s a bit more defensive and is going to kill people. I’m the guy who’s a puck mover.”

• Brandon Manning/Travis Sanheim (150 combined games) — For two players who have been interchangeable over the first eight games, Tuesday will mark the first time Manning and Sanheim will have played together. Manning will stay on the left side as Sanheim transitions to the right. Actually, I’m intrigued to see Sanheim on the right once a spot opens up for Samuel Morin.

“I think it’s just personnel you have to be aware,” Manning said, “You got to be aware of guys who can skate and obviously other guys who can finish their checks and play you hard.”   

“There’s different roles that each unit has,” said head coach Dave Hakstol, “There’s a different rhythm back on the back end, than there certainly is up front.”

Now with a roster that has no reserves on defense, there’s a curiosity of which Phantom could have been promoted from Lehigh Valley. However, Hextall doesn’t anticipate recalling Morin or another defenseman to serve in a backup role at this time.

“We’re going to go with six right now,” Hextall said, “We’re at home and there’s no reason to call someone up to sit.”

On whether the Flyers will call up a seventh defenseman up before the next road trip begins Thursday in Ottawa, “I don’t know that," Hextall said. "We’ll approach it on a day-to-day basis. We’ll see how tomorrow goes and if we get banged up and whatnot. The one great thing about having your minor league team an hour away is you don’t have to cover yourself all the time.”  

Projected lines, pairings and goalies
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Jori Lehtera-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl/Dale Weise

Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Shayne Gostisbehere-Radko Gudas
Brandon Manning-Travis Sanheim

Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Flyers’ goaltending grades and outlook for next season

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USA Today Images

Flyers’ goaltending grades and outlook for next season

Over the next three days, we’ll evaluate the Flyers at each position, give a regular season and postseason grade and provide an outlook for their roster status for the 2018-19 season. First up, goaltending: 

Brian Elliott

Regular Season:
(23-11-7, 2.66 GAA, .909 save percentage)

Playoffs: C- 
(1-3, 4.74 GAA, .856 save percentage)

Elliott seized the starting job at the beginning of the season and helped pull the team out of the depths of a 10-game winless streak. His quality start percentage of .476 was below league average, but he was solid in games when given a lead until he suffered a core muscle injury that required surgery in February. Dave Hakstol pulled “Moose” in two of the four playoff games he started in the playoffs.

Elliott admitted he needed to tear up the scar tissue once he resumed hockey activities to gain a full range of motion. A month ago, the pain was so unbearable it prevented him from putting on shoes and socks. He certainly wasn’t healthy in the six games he played in April, which contributed to his poor play and he’s still dealing with issues. He will spend the majority of his offseason in Philadelphia and expects to be 100 percent by training camp.

2018-19 outlook: Elliott has one year remaining on the two-year deal he signed in the summer of 2017 and will enter 2018-19 as the Flyers’ starting goaltender as long as he’s healthy.  

Michal Neuvirth

Regular Season: B- 
(9-7-3, 2.60 GAA, .915 save percentage)

Playoffs:
(1-1, 4.40 GAA, .847 save percentage)

How unreliable was Neuvirth this season? At no point did Neuvirth start three consecutive games as he was plagued with a multitude of injuries. Had the Flyers won Sunday, Game 7 would have been the first time. Neuvirth was solid in the Flyers’ Game 5 victory in Pittsburgh, but he wouldn’t have overcome the Flyers' defensive breakdowns over the course of an entire series.   

Neuvirth will have arthroscopic surgery on both hips and his injury frequency has now led him to hire sports performance trainer Adam Francilia, Neuvirth's third different trainer over the past three years. Francilia has been instrumental in the offseason conditioning of goaltenders Connor Hellebuyck and Devan Dubnyk. “It’s going to be hard for my family,” Neuvirth said. He will spend the majority of his offseason in Kelowna, British Columbia. 

2018-19 outlook: Like Elliott, Neuvirth is signed through next season and will likely start the season as Elliott’s backup. However, if the Flyers feel Neuvirth’s injury risk is too high, they may be more inclined to trade Neuvirth and bring in someone more reliable.

Petr Mrazek

Regular Season: C-
(14-13-6, 3.03 GAA, .902 save percentage)

Playoffs: No grade
(1 GP, 3.87 GAA, .857 save percentage)

With three wins in his first three starts, Ron Hextall appeared to have engineered one of the great goaltending heists in Flyers history. However, reality set in and Mrazek’s game quickly tanked. In his final 13 regular starts, Mrazek allowed three or more goals in all but two of those games and was he pulled in the second period in one of those two. His only playoff action came in relief of Elliott in Game 1.

While Mrazek stated in his exit interview he was able to show teams what he could do once he got a chance to play, he ultimately cost himself millions of dollars by slumping in March.

2018-19 outlook: Mrazek is a restricted free agent and the Flyers can qualify him at 105 percent of his $4 million salary for next season. No way that happens, so the Flyers can attempt to trade Mrazek to a team that will qualify him or he will become an unrestricted free agent July 1. 

Alex Lyon

Regular Season: B-
(4-2-1, 2.75 GAA, .905 save percentage)

Playoffs: No grade

With injuries to Elliott and Neuvirth, Lyon provided stability during a stormy period when the Flyers’ season could have gone off the rails. He earned his first win in relief on Neuvirth at Madison Square Garden, and for whatever reason, Lyon had considerably better numbers coming off the bench. He had a tendency of lunging for pucks and he looked unsettling at times, but still found a way to get the job done.  

2018-19 outlook: Lyon is the Phantoms’ starter in the AHL playoffs, but with the addition of Carter Hart next season and the impending health of Anthony Stolarz, there’s a chance Lyon could be third on the depth chart as the Flyers could have a rare surplus in goaltending at the minor league level. Don’t be surprised if Lyon is traded this summer to a team that may view him as an NHL backup or an AHL starter. 

Ivan Provorov played Game 6 with a Grade 3 AC separation

Ivan Provorov played Game 6 with a Grade 3 AC separation

VOORHEES, N.J. — Ivan Provorov revealed Wednesday he played his final postseason game with a Grade 3 AC separation — an injury in which the collarbone separates from the shoulder blade.

Provorov will not require surgery but will need eight weeks to properly heal. The Flyers’ No. 1 defenseman was given medical clearance to play and was injected with a number of pain-numbing shots prior to Game 6, but ultimately the severity of the injury was too much to overcome.

“It was really frustrating going down in the third period, where I was starting to lose the feeling in my arm,” Provorov said. “I lost the puck a bunch of times and turned it over. As a competitor, it’s hard not to be out there and not try to do everything to help the team win.”

Provorov’s injury is the same Grade 3 separation that Redskins tight end Jordan Reed suffered in 2016. Reed sat out two weeks of the regular season before returning to action against the Eagles. Provorov was back on the ice two days after his injury.

As physically impaired as he was, Provorov was just as visibly emotional on the bench when it was inevitable the Flyers would be eliminated.

“Yeah, it definitely still hurts,” Provorov said. “I hate losing, what can I say.

“I think we can come back strong next year and keep growing as a team, and try and become a better team than we were this year and do better in the playoffs.”

Provorov increased his point total from 30 in his rookie season to 41 during his sophomore campaign, while nearly tripling his goal production from six goals to 17, as well as drastically improving his plus/minus rating from a minus-6 to a plus-17.

“I think I had a pretty good year," Provorov said. "Three, four or five games this year where I didn’t play like myself. It wasn’t because I wasn’t mentally prepared or did anything like that. Sometimes it happens. I think I’ve improved since last year and I’m a better player than I was a year ago and a better player now than I was at the start of the year.”

Provorov’s durability and resiliency have already set him apart. He has yet to miss a game in his two-year Flyers career and is the current franchise record holder with 164 consecutive games to start a career.

Provorov’s injury will not derail his rigorous offseason conditioning program that he’ll start in July. 

He’ll also be entering the final season of his three-year entry-level contract. The Flyers will have the option of extending Provorov’s contract starting this summer.