Flyers
AP Images

Flyers Weekly Observations: Lumps, bruises aplenty for rookie D-men

Well, that was a busy week for the Flyers, now wasn’t it?

Seven days filled to the brim with four games, each with unique elements that turned into a 1-1-2 week with four points. The Flyers could have ended the week with more than four points. But they also had every reason to finish the week with less than four points.

It started with a mostly ugly 4-3 loss to the visiting Arizona Coyotes on Monday, continued with a 3-0 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Wednesday and a scrappy 2-0 win over the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center on Thursday, and it ended back home with a 5-4 shootout loss to Colorado Avalanche on Saturday evening.

Four games left us with plenty to get down to, so let’s hop right into this week’s Flyers observations.

And let’s begin on the blue line with the young defensemen.

• It was a week of bumps and bruises, both figuratively and literally for the Flyers’ defensemen. Much of the week was played without the injured Shayne Gostisbehere and Radko Gudas, the latter of whom left the game in Chicago early and hasn’t seen the ice since. But for the younger D-men, there were booby traps all over the learning curve this week.

Let’s start with Travis Sanheim, who made a costly mistake Monday against Arizona. And by costly I mean lethal, as it led to the goal that lost the game for the Flyers. During a rush late on the 3-on-3 OT, Sanheim turned his back to the Coyotes' net instead of getting the puck toward the net. His pocket was easily picked and the Coyotes converted on the ensuing 3-on-1 rush. Game. Set. Match. It was an odd decision for a smooth, offensively gifted defenseman, especially at that stage of OT. But you get the sense it was an example of a rookie just a month or so into his career trying to do too much. Those bumps are anticipated, but, man, that was just the wrong time for that move.

Robert Hagg had two similar experiences this week that left a pit in his stomach. First in Chicago on Wednesday, a puck bounced right over his stick after a faceoff win and Jonathan Toews was off to leave Brian Elliott out to dry on a Windy City clothesline. Then Saturday night while on the PK, a Mikko Rantanen pass attempt went right off Hagg’s stick, which was in good position on the ice, and into the net for an Avalanche goal. And to boot, he took a slapper to the kidney area later in the game. Ouch.

Again, these are all lumps that come with being a rookie in the NHL, especially in a high-pressure position such as defenseman. Remember that awful game Ivan Provorov endured early last year in Chicago? Yes, he’s a special talent, but he bounced back almost immediately. The key is not letting one or a couple plays stick in your mind and change the way you play. One good play, no matter how big or small, reinforces all the confidence in the world.

• Speaking of Provorov, that guy is just a machine. Let’s take a look at his ice time this week: 28:07 vs. Arizona, 29:51 vs. Chicago, 27:08 vs. St. Louis, 28:00 vs. Colorado. That’s an average of 28:17 over the last week. What more can he do? A lot. He added three assists vs. the Coyotes and then 10 blocked shots against the Blues. He was a monster in that game in St. Louis, helping keep Russian countryman and sniper Vladamir Tarasenko at bay. It’s hard to remember sometimes that Provorov is just the ripe, old age of 20. At 20, he’s the unquestioned leader of the Flyers’ defense, and rightfully so.  

• The first 50 minutes of the loss to the previously winless Coyotes on Monday was some of the ugliest hockey we’ve seen the Flyers play in a long, long time. No one on the same page. Absolutely nothing in sync. Passes all over the place. Breakdowns aplenty. The list could go on and on and on. To say the effort was lifeless would be quite the understatement. Of course, it’s harder to get up and get motivated for a winless, less-than-sexy team like Arizona. But still, that was inexcusable.

• We all watched Brayden Schenn play for five seasons here in Philadelphia. We know he’s not a dirty player. A physical player always looking to drop a hit whenever he can? Absolutely. But not dirty. But that hit in St. Louis on Sean Couturier was unacceptable.

Fortunately, Couturier only had the wind knocked out of him and came back later in the game, but that hit was late, high and incredibly dangerous. Schenn was given a two-minute minor for interference on the play, which speaks to a more general issue around the league.

That’s exactly the type of hit the NHL wants to eradicate from the game, yet only a two-minute penalty is given? What message does that send? You can knock another player out, but it’s OK, you didn’t do that much wrong? Stiffer penalties, both during and following games, are steps to getting rid of those hits.

• Captain Claude Giroux said it best following the shootout loss the Avs (see video) — The Flyers could really use the upcoming four days off after playing a stretch of seven games in 11 days that included a visit to Canada and a journey to Chicago and St. Louis on back-to-back nights. The stretch of four games in six days this past week was especially grueling. And to top it all off, it seemed like a Flyer was getting nicked up at every turn Saturday night against the Avs. These four days off will be refreshing for a team that’s already been ravaged by injuries at different points this season. We may not like having four days without Flyers hockey to watch, but the Flyers will certainly take it.

Coming up this week: Thursday vs. Chicago (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday vs. Minnesota (7 p.m. on NBCSP+)