Flyers

Michael Raffl rejuvenated playing with Flyers' dynamic fourth line

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USA Today Images

Michael Raffl rejuvenated playing with Flyers' dynamic fourth line

VOORHEES, N.J. — Don't think for one minute Michael Raffl isn't having fun.

The fifth-year Flyers forward is without a single point through 15 games and sees the shortest ice time on the team at 10:14 a night, a career low.

For a guy that scored 21 goals in 2014-15 and was at times featured in a top-line role alongside Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, remaining his jovial self would seem like a challenge.

Raffl, though, has no reason to slouch. The good-humored Austrian is simply having a different type of fun. He's now on the highly praised, new-look fourth line with Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier. At 28 years old, Raffl is an elder statesman of sorts among Laughton and Leier, both 23 years old.

"My back gets sore from carrying those two guys," Raffl said Tuesday as Laughton laughed sitting right next to his locker at Flyers Skate Zone. "It's been good with those four days off now."

Raffl and Laughton are tight off the ice, which makes for good chemistry on it.

"For sure, he's still a rookie," Raffl said. "I put him in his place. He's been a good helper."

What does Laughton like about playing with Raffl?

"Nothing," he said, still laughing with his locker buddy.

Yeah, Raffl is doing just fine — the new job hasn't squelched his enjoyment.

"I'm just joking, this is all fun," Raffl said. "It's been good. Stats haven't been there, but the team has been going very well. This is pretty much the best I've felt ever since I've been here, team-wise. There are not too many games this year where we absolutely had no chance in a game. I felt like we were there every single time and could have won every single game, so that has been fun."

Furthermore, Raffl finally has consistency in his role, even if the major stats portray it as a lesser one. Throughout his time with the Flyers, Raffl has bounced around from line to line and position to position.

This season, he's appeared in every game thus far and hasn't moved.

"I take pride in it," Raffl said. "I don't think I've ever played more than 50 games on a line, so it's been a good run so far."

Raffl, Laughton and Leier have become a fixture on the beloved fourth unit.

"I haven't played with anyone else yet, so I'm happy with it," Leier said. "The two linemates I have right now, they're both great players. Raf's got [284] games, and he's been with G and Voracek at times, so he's been through it, he knows what he's doing obviously. He's been a 20-goal scorer, and then Scotty, too, he's got over 100 games, and it's good to have a guy like that on your line."

And while Raffl doesn't get to boast goals and assists, he's done a lot in the smaller areas. The winger has been a plus player, his 21 hits are second among all Flyers forwards, and he's committed just two giveaways and one penalty.

"That's what your job is on the fourth line," Raffl said. "It's still nice to score goals and get points, don't get me wrong, but yeah, it is what it is.

"You've got to adjust your game if you play a role like that.

"Leiersy and Laughts, they're extremely simple to play with, there's no magic to it. You go out there and work hard, be hard on pucks. If you turn it over or lose it, those guys are so fast, they can backcheck and get the puck back. All three of us have been doing that, so it gives you confidence in the offensive zone to try different stuff. Honestly, it's been a lot of fun so far."

Much to the delight of head coach Dave Hakstol.

"He just fits the mold of that line," Hakstol said of Raffl. "All of those guys have worked well together. The other two guys kill penalties together, so that kind of inherently builds a little bit more chemistry. Right from Day 1 of camp, Raf and Laughts have shown that they've had pretty good chemistry together. They've spent a lot of time together and very little time apart since Day 1 of camp."

Meanwhile, Raffl will eventually score a goal again.

It'll just add to his new fun.

"I actually forgot how to celebrate," Raffl said.

Travis Sanheim's defense quickly progressing on the fly

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AP Images

Travis Sanheim's defense quickly progressing on the fly

The Flyers had a complete off day Friday and you couldn’t blame Travis Sanheim if he wanted to lounge around all day and just scroll through the TV channels.

For the first time since Philadelphia became his permanent residence, Sanheim now has a connection to the outside world. His television is finally hooked up to hundreds of channels. When asked if there’s one show or program he’s looking forward to watching Sanheim replied, “Just hockey games. I just love to watch hockey, even if we’re not playing.”

Until now, that’s been Sanheim’s only option.

With the help of video coach Adam Patterson, the Flyers have wired each player’s home so they can review each game, and more importantly, shuttle through shift-by-shift so players like Sanheim can perform some self-assessment when they’re not at the rink. 

Travis will probably go back and evaluate the second-period play during Thursday night’s game against the Jets when he lost control of the puck at the blueline, couldn’t recover and was caught up ice, which led to Winnipeg scoring a 2-on-1 goal, cutting the Flyers lead to 2-1.   

“I think I have a good ability to turn the page when I do make mistakes, whether its big or small and not letting it affect and creep into my game,” Sanheim said. “Right now, I’m just focusing on the little areas of my game defensively and trying to make smart reads and not try to give up too much defensively.”

There has been a significant progression in Sanheim’s game just over the past few weeks coming off some early season growing pains starting in his NHL debut in Los Angeles. There have been some coverage and positional breakdowns, but like any rookie, he’s beginning to clean up those areas of his game. 

After the 4-game road trip to begin the season, Sanheim was pulled for a few games in favor of Brandon Manning, but he was reinserted in the game against the Predators and hasn’t been a healthy scratch since. 

“Sanny just keeps becoming more and more consistent and more and more comfortable,” said head coach Dave Hakstol. “Travis is a player that really had to earn his way onto this team. Everybody does, but coming into camp he just put one day after another of good performances and he’s continued that as we’ve gone on into the regular season here. He’s an exciting young player.”

“I’m starting to settle in a little more, Sanheim said. “I’m happy with how my play has been growing as a player over the last couple of weeks. I think just my confidence. Being able to make plays with the puck, seeing the ice.” 

The numbers also suggest the defensive aspect of his game is coming together. After a rocky month of October that saw him finish with a minus-6 rating, Sanheim has bounced back in November and is currently a plus-2. While positionally he’s still learning the game at the NHL level, he has shown tremendous control with the puck on his stick. 

At 5-on-5 play, Sanheim has been credited with just four giveaways in nearly 226 minutes of ice time, or a ratio of one giveaway every 56:29 of ice time, which is by far, the best on the team. Comparatively, Shayne Gostisbehere has struggled in this area recently and has 14 giveaways this season in almost 262 minutes, an average of one giveaway every 18:47. 

While we’re still waiting to see the dynamic element of Sanheim’s offensive game that he displayed during the preseason, he’s picking his spots and finding those seams when he can take advantage of the defense. As Travis found out, the recent home-and-home series against the Wild was not one of those opportunities when he was held without a shot in both games. 

“You learn how little space you have out there,” Sanheim said. “Just the other night against Minnesota, how good they are defensively. You don’t get a lot of space. When you get your chances, you got to try and make the most of them.

“Obviously, I’m not allowed to do the offensive stuff that I could in junior and skating the puck up. I think it’s something I learned last year was making a good first pass and having an ability to read the play and jump up and find seams in areas that create space and offense as well.”

Thursday, more than 50 family and friends made the three-hour drive from Elkhorn, Manitoba, to Winnipeg to watch Travis play for the first time.

They may not notice it right away, but the kid from the tiny town on the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border is already making great strides in a short amount of time in his first full NHL season. 

Radko Gudas facing suspension, offered in-person hearing for slash

Radko Gudas facing suspension, offered in-person hearing for slash

Here we go again.

Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas has been offered an in-person hearing by the NHL for his dangerous slash to the back of the head on Winnipeg's Mathieu Perreault in Thursday's loss. That date and time of the hearing is TBD.

Gudas was handed a game misconducted — the sixth of his career — and was tossed for his unnecessary slash. Was it dirty? Judge for yourself in the video above.

The NHL certainly seems to think it was intentional, however. An in-person hearing means Gudas is staring down a suspension — and a lengthy one, too — should the NHL discipline him. In-person hearings warrant a suspension of at least six games, as opposed to a suspension of five games or fewer that would be discussed in a phone call.

While the slash was certainly grounds for a suspension, Gudas' reputation is also working against him. The D-man is a repeat offender and was last for six games in Oct. 2016 for a late hit. 

In his absence, the Flyers figure to get Andrew MacDonald back from a lower-body injury within the next week or so. MacDonald injured his leg while blocking a shot Oct. 21 vs. Edmonton. The Flyers are 3-5-3 in his absence. Mark Alt, who is currently serving as the team's seventh defenseman, also figures to step in should MacDonald not be ready for Saturday's game vs. Calgary.