Flyers

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. 

Sanheim 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 blue line, 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 it's 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 four-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,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “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 Sanheim 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've 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 Sanheim 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. 

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Reversing home fortunes

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USA Today Images

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Reversing home fortunes

VOORHEES, N.J. — Home is where the _____.

For the Flyers, filling in this blank hasn’t solicited positive responses this season.

Of course, the Flyers haven’t provided positive results.

After trouncing the Capitals and Panthers in their first two home games of the season, the Flyers have dropped 10 of their last 12 in South Philly. They gifted the Arizona Coyotes their first win of the season back in late October and have turned in lethargic efforts against the Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks and Boston Bruins in recent weeks.

More alarmingly, the Flyers have just a 1-2-5 record in one-goal games, a situation in which home ice should come into play as one of the deciding factors. The losing and frustration culminated with a barrage of boos and a “Fire Hakstol” chant during that 3-1 loss to the Sharks on Nov. 28.

“It doesn’t help, but we’re not doing anything to help ourselves,” goaltender Brian Elliott said Monday. “You’re trying not to listen to any crowd. You’re just trying to block it all out and stay in that moment, just playing with your team out there, and that’s probably how I approach it. It’s taking that road style hockey game and bringing it here.” 

“I think the atmosphere will be better,” Sean Couturier said. “When you’re losing, it’s tough. We were trying so hard to get a win. It didn’t seem to come, and then finally to get one, two and then three. We’re kind of on a roll, but at the same time, it’s only three games. We’re pretty excited to be back home and keep winning.”  

Tuesday, the team will be looking to change its Wells Fargo Center fortunes when it opens up another five-game homestand, its longest of the season, beginning with a visit from the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Flyers are hopeful they can carry over their success from a three-game sweep in Western Canada when the Leafs hit town. 

“We keep it simple on the road. We went on the road and made a pact to keep it simple and play the right way,” Wayne Simmonds said. “We’ve had one of the best home records over the past three years. I think we do alright at home. Obviously, we’ve had a slow start at home, but we’ll pick it up.”

Not that the previous 14 home games have been irrelevant, but the final 27 games on home ice will have a much greater emphasis as 23 of their final 28 games come against Eastern Conference opponents, with 12 of those directly within the Metropolitan Division.

“From now on, games are going to get more and more important,” Couturier said. “Every point is pretty much necessary for us, especially when you lose 10 games in a row. You get behind in the standings and you’re chasing. We've got to stick together and get some more wins.”

'Ghost' feels for Wentz
Shayne Gostisbehere knows what it's like to wake up the way Carson Wentz did on Monday morning.

Wentz tore the ACL in his left knee during Sunday’s 43-35 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. 

In November 2014, Gostisbehere tore the same ACL in his knee during his rookie season with the Phantoms just five games in and never returned to action. Faced with months of rehab, there were moments when "Ghost" didn’t feel as if the injury was improving.   

“I saw the game yesterday,” Gostisbehere said. “I hope for the best for him. The rehab is really grueling. It's ups and downs. Some days you’re going to feel great, feel like you’re getting ahead of the game, and other days you feel you’re never going to get better. I think overall he’s going to have the best care in the world. I think obviously you hope for the best and hope it’s not that bad.”

Elliott named third star
Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott was named the NHL’s third star of the week after posting three road wins with a 1.67 goals-against average and .954 save percentage.

“It’s great when you get recognized,” Elliott said. “Whenever you get those recognitions as a goalie, it really shows how the group has been playing, especially this last week here. It’s probably my name up there, but definitely the whole team deserves that.”

Nolan Patrick's start reminder of rookie life adjusting to NHL

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AP Images

Nolan Patrick's start reminder of rookie life adjusting to NHL

VOORHEES, N.J. — If Nolan Patrick is to have a long and storied career in the National Hockey League, then perhaps we shouldn’t get caught up in the prologue - that section of a book you likely skim over before you begin chapter one.

This season is Patrick’s prologue - a short blurb that will likely be passed over when the final chapter is eventually written.  

In fact, Flyers GM Ron Hextall reminded us recently that, as an 18-year-old, Joe Thornton scored three goals and seven points in 55 games during his rookie season with the Boston Bruins in 1997-98. Does anyone remember or discuss Year 1 of the Thornton Era?

“People forget this stuff,” said Hextall. “These guys are young kids. It’s why some players need time in the minors. It’s a process. It’s hard to go out 82 times against 25, 30-year-old men and play. It’s demanding as hell. People don’t realize that.”

Starting the season on the Flyers' second line with Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds, Patrick, the No. 2 overall pick in this past June's entry draft, was consistently logging 13 and a half minutes a game and contributing offensively despite inconsistencies while acclimating and adjusting to playing at a much higher pace. Then came the hit against the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 24 and the prolonged post-concussion period that lasted for nearly a month.

Recently, the mistakes have piled up with turnovers and poor positional play, and head coach Dave Hakstol has cut Patrick’s ice time. The rookie averaged a little below nine minutes during the recent three-game Western Canadian sweep.

“Patrick’s 19 years old. He’s a kid,” said Hextall. “I know people want more out of him. We want more out of him, but he’s a 19-year-old. People think because a kid’s got a big name, he’s drafted high, he’s going to come into the league and bang, he’s going to make an instant impact.

“He’s shown enough of signs that he can compete at this level and be a factor, and that’s what you want with a young kid. I don’t like putting young kids on a team that aren’t a factor. Why would he even be on your team? Nolan has shown at times he can be a factor and he needs to get better as the year goes on.”

Patrick’s season is more than anything a by-product of last year in juniors with the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings when he suffered a muscle tear in the midsection area that went misdiagnosed. Admittedly, he was never performing at 100 percent while fighting through pain and discomfort. 

While the majority of non-playoff NHLers begin their offseason regimen sometime in May, Patrick barely did anything. He worked out prior to combine testing in June leading up to the draft, and only after meeting with renowned core muscle surgeon Dr. William Meyers in Philadelphia did Patrick realize his injuries were career-threatening. 

Had Patrick gone through an injury-free season with the Wheat Kings and a full offseason to recover from normal nagging injuries all players go through, he would have been back in the gym before the first round of the NHL playoffs had commenced.  

“I think [Brandon] lost out in April, so obviously I would have liked to have that whole time to train and work on my game, but my body had other ideas for me,” said Patrick. “The big thing for me was I was hoping I was in good enough shape to do well with fitness testing and all of that. I only had a month to train. That was kind of the main thing I was worried about.”

A second surgery followed with a 4-to-6 week recovery and then came a bizarre abscess/boil that prevented him from skating in late July. By the time Patrick started working out in August, he was a good two months behind even the most experienced veterans. 

“He didn’t have a regular offseason, didn’t play a lot last year," Hextall said of Patrick. "It’s not an excuse, but those are things you got to look at. This is where he’s at right now, and Nolan has done some goods things for us. Does he need to do better? Yeah, he does.”

Just about every player would like to re-write their rookie season, especially those who came into the league as a teenager. Prior to Patrick, Sean Couturier was the last Flyer to play in the NHL the same year he was drafted. In Couturier’s case, he had the luxury of playing on a talented in 2011-12 team while focusing on his role as a fourth-line defensive center.

“It’s all about getting adapted to a new lifestyle,” Couturier said of transitioning to the NHL as a teenager. “Everything’s new. You’re going from juniors, being with a bunch of 17 and 18-year-olds, and all of a sudden, you’re with men. It’s definitely a big change in your life. Offseason training, nutrition -- a lot of little details matter.

“I think Nolan’s figuring it out, but you can see he’s got all the potential to succeed. I’m not too worried about him to be honest."

Eventually Patrick will turn the page on his career. It just might not come this season.