Flyers

Forcing the Flyers' hand? Travis Sanheim's chances at roster spot grow in preseason loss

Forcing the Flyers' hand? Travis Sanheim's chances at roster spot grow in preseason loss

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Is starting the season with three rookie defensemen asking too much?

Travis Sanheim might be making it possible.

“We got another good night of information," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said Monday after a 3-2 overtime preseason loss to the Rangers (see observations). "Those two young guys (Sanheim and Robert Hagg) played pretty well — Sanheim had a real impact on the hockey game tonight. We’re going to let these guys make those decisions.”

If the brain trust of Hakstol and Ron Hextall was expecting two of their three rookie defensemen to separate themselves during the preseason test run, well that hasn’t quite happened, as the 21-year-old Sanheim has displayed an offensive element that would give the Flyers a much-needed weapon from the blue line. Sanheim’s NHL-caliber slap shot, coupled with his mobility and ability to read plays in the offensive zone have set him apart from fellow rookies Hagg and Sam Morin.

“I’m slowly starting to build my game, get a lot more confidence and get comfortable playing with the guys around me,” Sanheim said. "I’m getting more comfortable with the team, systems, and players around me. It’s been good so far. Obviously, we wanted a different outcome tonight, but I like where my game’s at.” 

If it wasn’t for Sanheim, the Flyers would have been shut out in each of their last two games, as he’s provided their only offense in overtime losses to the Bruins and Rangers. A week ago, it appeared all signs were pointing to Lehigh Valley and another year of AHL seasoning, but that’s when Hakstol noticed a change in Sanheim.

“I learned more about him five to six days ago,” Hakstol said. “He didn’t have a great night (preseason opener against Islanders). Sometimes you learn as much about a player and where he’s at coming off a night like that. It didn’t shake him. He came back and had a great practice the next day and he carried that into the next game. To me, that showed maturity on his part.”

Sanheim has continued to rise up the charts coming off a strong performance against the Islanders in Allentown, Pennsylvania, last Wednesday, and he’s rolled that over into the past two games, playing mostly with NHL regulars. What’s even more impressive is that Sanheim is having a tremendous offensive outburst despite seeing very little time on the team’s power play, as he logged just 36 seconds with the man advantage, a unit that came up empty once again and is now 0 for 14 over its last two games.

Still, captain Claude Giroux can’t see any reason why three rookie defensemen can’t make this team out of camp.

“You’ve seen them play. They can play,” Giroux said. “We have a lot of young D that are ready to play in the NHL, and they’re competing right now for a spot. For us, it’s fun to see because every day they’re doing stuff and it’s pretty amazing. It’s a long season — whoever’s hot, whoever’s playing good will have the opportunity to play.”

With Morin receiving his first night off from preseason action, Hakstol had Sanheim paired with Radko Gudas, while Hagg was working with Flyers top defenseman Ivan Provorov. Outside of a slow start and an unfortunate bounce on the Rangers' second goal, Hagg continued his steady play.

“I thought he didn’t have the cleanest start to a hockey game, but to his credit, he worked his way into the game,” Hakstol said. “The goal against — there’s a couple of things that happened before that that led to that play, but he had a hard-working night.”

You can be my wingman
Giroux’s much-anticipated left wing audition could be described as a good first night and worthy of a callback, whether that comes Tuesday night against the Rangers or Thursday against the Bruins.

Unofficially, the top line of Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek saw 15 shifts together at even strength, and then chemistry appeared to grow as the game progressed.

“It was good," Giroux said. "As the game went on, I started to feel more comfortable. We had a lot of chances, just some mistakes that you don’t see during the season, like a 2-on-0 with Jake, usually our chemistry is better than that. As the game went on, our chemistry got better and we were able to find each other a little bit more."

Giroux and Voracek had a prime scoring opportunity in the opening period, but Giroux’s shot from the right side went just wide of the net. Combined, the Flyers' top line finished the night with a minus-2 rating and six shots while winning 67 percent of its faceoffs.

“Maybe there was a tendency to make one more pass instead of putting it on net and stopping at the net and looking for one of those greasy goals,” Hakstol said. “But overall, there’s some good things there. There were enough positives to see if it can grow.”

Nolan's night
The No. 2 pick continues to settle into his role as the Flyers' No. 2 center. Once again, Nolan Patrick centered a line that included Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds. Patrick’s defense has been a steady component of his game since camp began, and now the rookie is sprinkling in some offense. Patrick contributed the primary assist on Sanheim’s first goal, which came during 4-on-4 play in the first period.

“Those are the kind of things he can do,” Hakstol said. “That’s hockey sense. That’s knowing what’s around him and being a step ahead. He’s building. As the speed of the games go up, there’s always more to learn. I think over the last week, he’s done a little more offensively. Each and every night he’s impacted the game offensively in our last three games, and that’s been a real positive.”

Best of NHL: Brian Boyle's emotional goal helps Devils beat Canucks

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Best of NHL: Brian Boyle's emotional goal helps Devils beat Canucks

NEWARK, N.J. -- Brian Boyle scored one of the most meaningful goals of his career to help the New Jersey Devils beat the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 on Friday night.

The Devils were marking "Hockey Fights Cancer Night," a battle especially meaningful to Boyle, who was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia during training camp and missed the first 10 games of the season while undergoing treatment.

The Prudential Center erupted with cheers when Boyle, set up by a beautiful drop pass from Will Butcher, scored at 10:17 of the second period to snap a 1-1 tie.

Taylor Hall got the second assist as part of his big night. The Devils' leading scorer had a goal and two assists as the Devils picked up points in a third straight game (2-0-1).

Damon Severson also scored for New Jersey and Cory Schneider made 23 saves to improve to 6-1-2 against the team that made him a first-round draft pick in 2004.

The win gave the Devils a sweep of the two-game season series, having beaten the Canucks 2-0 in Vancouver on Nov. 1 (see full recap).

Pastrnak goal in 3rd lifts Bruins past Penguins
BOSTON -- Matt Grzelcyk scored his first career goal, David Krejci had a goal and an assist and the Boston Bruins stretched their season-long winning streak to four straight in a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

David Pastrnak's goal on a breakaway 5:06 into the third broke a 3-all tie and Anton Khudobin shut out the Penguins the rest of the way to win his fourth straight start. Khudobin finished with 17 saves for Boston, which outshot Pittsburgh 33-20 and has its longest winning streak of the season.

Sydney Crosby had a goal and an assist for Pittsburgh, which rallied from deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 to tie it with three goals in the second period. Jake Guentzel and Phil Kessel also scored for the Penguins, who lost their third straight.

After being outshot 14-4 in the first period, Pittsburgh pulled within 2-1 just 1:02 into the second on a one-timer by Jake Guentzel with assists by Crosby and Kris Letang.

Grzelcyk put Boston back up 3-1 at 10:31 of the second, when Krejci misfired on a slap shot from the blue line and the puck slowly, found Grzelcyk for a wrist shot that hit Murray's glove and continued into the net. Grzelcyk is the seventh Boston player to score his first career goal this season (see full recap).

Atkinson scores twice as Columbus tops Ottawa
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Cam Atkinson scored twice to lift Columbus over the Ottawa Senators 5-2 on Friday night, extending the Blue Jackets' league-high winning streak to six games.

Sergei Bobrovsky turned back 24 shots for his 14th win in 19 starts. Columbus improved to 15-7-1 and leads the Metropolitan Division with 31 points.

Ottawa's Craig Anderson stopped 27 shots as the Senators (8-7-6) lost their fifth straight.

Tom Pyatt got the scoring started off the Senators' second shot in the first period, taking a cross-crease pass from a driving Derick Brassard and going top shelf over Bobrovsky's left shoulder. It was Pyatt's fourth goal of the season, assisted also by Mark Stone.

Atkinson tied the score less than 30 seconds later, stealing the puck from Alex Burrows just inside the Jackets' blue line and creating his own breakaway. He slipped the puck under Anderson's left skate for his fifth goal of the season. It was Atkinson's first score in eight games.

A shot got behind Bobrovsky 17 seconds into the second period but was swept off the goal line by Boone Jenner without crossing (see full recap).

Streaking Jets roll past Ducks on Ehlers' 2 goals
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Nikolaj Ehlers scored two goals in the game's first 5 minutes, and the streaking Winnipeg Jets went on to beat the Anaheim Ducks 4-1 on Friday.

The Jets have won six of their last seven.

Bryan Little also had a goal and two assists for Winnipeg. Ehler added an assist to his two goals. Kyle Connor scored an empty-net goal from the red line, his sixth goal of the season.

Conner Hellebuyck stopped 30 shots for the Jets.

Anaheim's lone goal came from Francois Beauchemin. John Gibson stopped 34 of 36 shots for the Ducks.

Winnipeg scored on two of its three power plays, while Anaheim was unable to score during its two man-advantage situations.

The Jets went up 3-1 on a power play midway through the second period, Little slipping one past Gibson. Little assisted on Winnipeg's first two goals (see full recap).

Latest loss forcing Flyers to reexamine narrative

Latest loss forcing Flyers to reexamine narrative

BOX SCORE

Black Friday is that designated day after Thanksgiving when buyers are enticed to something special they wouldn’t be able to get any other day of the year.

Instead, Flyers fans got a whole lot more of the same. Same blown lead. Same defensive breakdown in overtime. Same result in the standings.

The Flyers fell, 5-4, in overtime to the Islanders for their seventh straight loss Friday at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

In fact, Black Friday looks and feels similar to Groundhog Day right now.

“We obviously have to work on it,” goaltender Brian Elliott said. “It’s the definition of insanity if you keep doing the same thing over and over again. We have to change some things and talk about it because these are big points and they can come back and hurt us.”

Right now, it hurts to watch. During the Flyers' current seven-game losing streak, their longest stretch of winless hockey since 2008, they’ve lost four of those games after regulation and they’ve held a lead in each of their last five games — and a two-goal lead in three of their last five.

“If you’re looking for a confidence level on this side of the TV, I can’t give you one,” Elliott said. “Everybody here is battling their own battles and trying to do their jobs. You don’t make it to this level without being able to handle things like this and being able to handle the ups and downs.”

Sure, you can cite the first-year players on defense for some of the late-game breakdowns. After all, there’s a rookie on every pairing, but the veterans have been just as culpable throughout this two-week skid. Jake Voracek has blown assignments on two of the overtime losses, including Nick Leddy’s OT winner Friday.

“Mistakes, personal mistakes,” Voracek said, “It is simple. Leddy was open there. He is my guy. I got caught puck watching. I didn’t cover my guy and got scored on. My bad.”

“I don’t know if it is a lack of confidence,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “I think we kind of get away from our game. I think it is just up to us to own it and finish the game.”

After the game, and perhaps equally as disturbing, is how Dave Hakstol has spin-doctored the past four weeks. As he opened up his postgame comments, he made it sound as if the team should be patted on the back on their way out the Wells Fargo Center door.

“You got to evaluate it for what it is," Hakstol said. "I think in seven of our last ten we’ve gotten a point. Five of those are shootout or overtime losses.”

So, let’s evaluate it for what it is. The Flyers have collected just nine points in those 10 games. Spread that out over an 82-game season and you finish up in the 74-point range. That usually secures a top-five lottery pick, not a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Accumulating a point here and there is presenting a silver lining where one doesn’t exist.

Instead, the Flyers have won just four of their last 17 games. That’s the picture that needs to be painted and winning hockey games is the only solution to this problem.

“I really believe we’re going to learn from this,” Claude Giroux said. “We’re going to get a better team and we’re going to get back in a playoff spot.”

If the Flyers don’t heed the captain’s words soon, then this season will feel more like a Black Monday, that October day in 1987 when the stock market crashed.

I'll take 6 for 600
Giroux became the 10th player in Flyers history to record 600 points with the franchise. Giroux now sits one point from tying and two points from passing Rod Brind’Amour for ninth place on the Flyers' all-time scoring list.

Johnny on the overtime spot
Islanders captain John Tavares has been New York’s overtime spark plug. On Wednesday, Tavares put on a dazzling display fighting off Sean Couturier before firing a cross-ice pass to Josh Bailey, who scored the overtime winner at Barclays Center. Friday, Tavares was the on the ice again and registered the secondary assist on Leddy’s goal.

“Three-on-three, I don’t think there’s a guy other than maybe (Connor) McDavid that I would take Johnny over," Islanders rookie Mathew Barzal said. "Obviously, he’s one of the most skilled players in the league. I think we got a really skilled team up front. I’ll take us 3-on-3 against anybody."