Flyers

Flyers Weekly Observations: Snowball effect avoided Sunday

Flyers Weekly Observations: Snowball effect avoided Sunday

There wasn't any Flyers hockey to talk about during the bye week, but this past weekend’s back-to-back set still left us with plenty of material.

It was an up-and-down weekend for the Flyers. They fell at home, 4-1, to the Devils during an ugly showing on Saturday but rebounded with an exciting 3-2 OT victory over the Islanders Sunday in Brooklyn thanks to Claude Giroux’s game-winning tally that snapped a 12-game goalless skid.

Let’s take a look back at the weekend that was for the Flyers:

• That showing against Jersey on Saturday night? Let’s just say that’s not the way one hoped the Flyers would look coming off an extended break. The Flyers were outplayed again by the Devils, just like they were during a 4-0 loss to New Jersey in late December. I get the theory that they needed to knock the rust off after such a long break. But you also wanted to see some energy and it just wasn’t there. Give the Devils some credit, too, as they played well. Of course, there was that terrible call against Radko Gudas that really shifted the game in the Devils’ favor (more on that in a bit). But still, it wasn’t an inspiring performance overall and still had more of the same defensive breakdowns that have plagued the Flyers in recent weeks.

• That said, the Flyers had a great bounce-back effort Sunday night against an Isles team that has been revived after head coach Jack Capuano was fired and came into the contest on a three-game win streak. The Flyers fell down, 2-0, and were victims of another questionable call during a pile-up at the front of the Isles’ net when the puck crossed the line but no goal was rewarded, but they showed something they haven’t shown over the past few weeks: resiliency. Over the last few weeks, when something has gone wrong for the Flyers, it’s all gone wrong for the Flyers. It’s been a troubling snowball effect. But that trend came to a halt on Sunday and the Flyers earned two much-needed points. It was encouraging, to say the least. The goal now is to find that kind of consistency again. Easier said than done.

• What a spectacular play by Ivan Provorov on the Flyers’ tying goal Sunday night. He took a pass at the Isles’ blue line, weaved his way around a defender to create space and then sent a centering pass to the crease area. Sure, there was some puck luck involved as it hit a defender’s skate and went in the net, but sometimes a player gets rewarded like that when making a great play. It was the kind of play that a lot of veterans wouldn’t have the poise to make, let alone a rookie who just turned 20 a few weeks ago. The kid is so impressive and he’s just going to keep getting better.

• Alright, alright, alright ... let’s discuss the Gudas clipping penalty against the Devils on Saturday. First off, it shouldn’t have been a penalty. It was a classic, hard hip check and a good, physical hockey play. Is Gudas not given the benefit of the doubt sometimes because of his reputation and suspension history? Probably so. But there was no gray area to discuss on this hit. It was a clean hockey play. And then if we’re to believe Wayne Simmonds, his unsportsmanlike call to give the Devils a full 5-on-3 advantage was for protesting a lack of explanation for the call. If true, that’s pretty weak from the official. Like we discussed earlier, it was one of the things that didn’t go the Flyers’ way and sent everything else crumbling down afterward. The Devils scored on the ensuing power play to take a 2-1 lead and it was game, set, match.

• Notice Dave Hakstol finally using Travis Konecny during a 3-on-3 overtime on Sunday night? That’s a good thing to see. I get that a big part of the 3-on-3 OT is defensive responsibility and that Konency is still working to complete that part of his game. But sometimes when the game is on the line, you have to take the good with the bad. Konecny’s got the offensive arsenal to win a game in the blink of an eye. He should get more chances in OT as the season goes on. Nick Cousins saw the ice during Sunday’s OT, too. Good for him. Having more fresh legs and energy out there during those frantic overtimes never hurts.

• You guys peek at the Eastern Conference standings lately? If not, here’s a spoiler: The standings are a jumbled mess where parity is king. As of Monday morning, the Capitals, Blue Jackets, Penguins and Rangers are ahead of the field. But after those teams, it’s anyone’s ballgame. Heading into Monday night’s action, the Flyers hold the last wild-card spot with 52 points. The eight teams behind them are all within five points of them, with last-place Tampa Bay (!) bringing up the rear with 47 points. So that’s 12 teams fighting for four playoff spots. It’s further proof that there are no nights off or easy games in the NHL. Every point matters. It should be a hell of a playoff race over the next few months.

Coming up this week: Wednesday at N.Y. Rangers (8 p.m./NBCSN), Thursday vs. Toronto (7 p.m./CSN), Sunday’s NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles (3:30 p.m./NBC)

Flyers defenseman grades and lookahead part 1 — The young guns

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AP Images

Flyers defenseman grades and lookahead part 1 — The young guns

2017-18 was a season of growth for the Flyers' young defense with half of that six-man unit in their first or second years of NHL service. After three consecutive years of drafting defensemen in the first round, we finally received a glimpse of how the Flyers defense core will look like over the next few years. 

Shayne Gostisbehere
Regular season: A-
Playoffs: D     

Gostisbehere’s season took off when he was paired with Ivan Provorov in the second half of the season. His defensive stickwork and positioning improved significantly and he even developed a physical side at times. Had a terrible six-game playoff against the Pens forcing Dave Hakstol to break up his top pair. Interestingly, his goal production dipped as the powerplay struggled. Ghost scored five goals in December, or the same number from January through April.  

2018-19 outlook
Enters the second year of his 6-year, $27-million dollar extension he signed last summer. A deal that looks very team friendly comparative to the other contracts of players his age. I expect Ghost to start next season on the top pair with Provorov after showing great improvements in the defensive side of his game. 

Robert Hagg
Regular season: B-
Playoffs: Incomplete

Surprisingly solid while playing in the Flyers' first 70 games of the season. A strong physical presence that still needed work positionally as he hit a wall midseason. Didn’t deserve to be a healthy scratch over the final month of the regular season, but the Flyers liked what they saw out of Travis Sanheim throughout March and refused to break up the Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas pairing. Only played the final two games of the playoffs.  

2018-19 outlook
A restricted free agent, Hagg should get a two- to three-year deal for next season and should start the season out of camp. Playing three seasons in the AHL was a significant part of Hagg’s development and he should comprise one of the Flyers' three defense pairings next season. 

Ivan Provorov
Regular season: A
Playoffs: C+  

When asked to assess his season, Provorov said there were three to five games during the regular season. where he didn’t play like himself. He experienced some puck-handling struggles during the second half, but nothing that impaired the team defensively. He suffers the occasional bad read or breakdown in his own end, but the Flyers are blessed that Provorov hasn’t been forced to miss any time over his first two seasons. A shoulder separation was a tough way to end the season (see story).

2018-19 outlook
Provorov is the workhorse on the blue line after displaying an immunity to the sophomore slump. Can he expand on his offensive numbers and potentially reach the 20-goal mark? If so, Provorov’s third NHL season could be the year he enters the Norris Trophy discussion.   

Travis Sanheim
Regular season: C
Playoffs: B-

Sanheim looked like a different player once he returned to the team from Lehigh Valley on March 10, with four points and a plus-7 rating in his first eight games back. He started seeing the ice much better and making the smart, low-risk plays that the coaching staff was looking for out of a young player. Did not look out place throughout the first four games of the Flyers' first-round series. Unfortunately, his best game was part of a 5-1 loss in Game 4.    

2018-19 outlook 
With one more season remaining on his entry-level contract, Sanheim will be expected to make the season-opening roster straight out of training camp. He should be paired with a steady veteran while also seeing time on the second power-play unit.

In Friday's Part 2, we will look at Radko Gudas, Andrew MacDonald and Brandon Manning.

Wayne Simmonds played with more injuries than he can remember

Wayne Simmonds played with more injuries than he can remember

VOORHEES, N.J. — There were so many, Wayne Simmonds even lost track.

"I actually forgot about that one," he said with a laugh.

The Flyers' power forward was referring to the torn ligament in his thumb, the lone injury to declare victory with Simmonds this season.

And don't think he didn't have his battles.

As Simmonds sat down at his end-of-the-season press conference Wednesday, the list of injuries could have unrolled from his chair and out the door.

With some picking and prodding, one by one he ran them off.

In total?

A tear in his pelvic area, fractured ankle, pulled groin, busted mouth (twice) and the torn ligament in his thumb.

Simmonds missed only seven games in 2017-18, with the thumb finally dragging the unbreakable man off the ice.

Call him crazy, call him naïve, but don't question his dedication or toughness.

"I think for me, I don't know if it's the right thing, but I can't not play," Simmonds said. "It's just geared in my head to where if I'm not dead or I'm not deathly sick, I'm going to try and get out there and do whatever I can. Whether the coach is going to play me, or whatever minutes he wanted to play me, that was up to him. I'm definitely going to sacrifice my body for the team, that's for sure."

The trigger to the mess came well before his season-opening hat trick. Simmonds' pelvic tear was diagnosed in training camp, an injury he believes was suffered prior to report day.

"But I had no idea," Simmonds said. "You start doing all the skate testing and everything like that, and you find out pretty quickly."

The 29-year-old, coming off back-to-back 30-plus-goal seasons, was then faced with a dilemma. Surgery to repair the tear was an option, but that meant missing a month to a month and a half of action.

"It wasn't something I wanted to do," Simmonds said. "I thought I'd be able to play through it and do a decently good job. I didn't play up to my expectations this year. It was a very frustrating year. Things didn't go the way I wanted but if I can play, I'm going to play."

The decision boiled down to something pretty simple.

"They showed me the MRI and I was like, 'Can I play?'" Simmonds said. "Yeah, I can play."

The problem was the injury brought side effects.

"Having that, that leaves other things," Simmonds said. "Your body is overcompensating and other stuff starts breaking down. It wasn't good."

Because of it, Simmonds said he then pulled his groin in October before fracturing his ankle not long after following a power-play shot to the foot.

"It kind of just broke," Simmonds said. "It wasn't a weight-bearing bone, so you're still able to play with that."

However, he wasn't able to play from Feb. 20 to March 4. He also underwent serious dental work in February.

In all, it sounded like hell.

"When everything's piling on top of one another, it sucks," he said.

Simmonds finished the regular season with 24 goals, 22 assists and a minus-16 rating in 75 games. During the first-round playoff exit to the Penguins, he had two assists in six games.

He seldom looked like himself.

"That was the biggest thing. It didn't allow me to have the power I usually have," Simmonds said. "It was extremely frustrating. Obviously you want to be able to do something and you're able to do it usually, and then your brain is telling your body to do it and your body's not doing it."

Simmonds, who said surgery on his pelvis is likely, now faces an offseason in which he's eligible for an extension starting July 1 ahead of his 2018-19 contract year.

"I know this year wasn't ideal for me and they probably didn't see from me what was required for an extension," Simmonds said. "This is definitely where I want to be.

"This is where I want to be for the rest of my career."

Banged up or not.