VOORHEES, N.J. — When Andrew MacDonald took the direct brunt of Mark Letestu’s blistering slap shot to the left knee in the third period of Saturday’s win over Edmonton, the Flyers' experience within their defensive corps also took a hit.
The Flyers announced Sunday MacDonald will miss the next four to six weeks with a lower-body injury.
Now in his ninth NHL season, MacDonald has logged 481 games, and while Flyers fans may quickly write off his contributions and longevity in the league, he has averaged over 20 minutes of ice time in each of his previous eight seasons. MacDonald has earned the respect of his teammates, who voted before the season to name him as one of two new alternate captains.
“[MacDonald] is a pro,” said general manager Ron Hextall. “I hear there’s criticism. It’s unfair. I think everyone knows what his teammates think of him and what we think of him. He’s just persevered through whatever.”
“He’s a very good player,” Ivan Provorov, MacDonald's typical defensive partner, said. “We had a really good chemistry. We played a lot together last year and a little this year and it sucks that he’s out.”
Take MacDonald out of the equation and now the Flyers will be forced to lean on a very talented, but still inexperienced defense. According to hockey-reference.com, 57 active defensemen have more games played than the Flyers entire current six-man unit combined.
“He’s been the biggest part of our defense. He’s the most experienced guy that we have,” Radko Gudas said of MacDonald. “Losing him, it’s obviously tough for us, but it’s opportunity for some of the other guys to step up and show they’re capable of playing a big amount of minutes.”
Complicating MacDonald’s injury for head coach Dave Hakstol is losing a right-side defenseman. As a result, Hakstol elected to rearrange all three of his defense pairings during Monday’s practice, likely signaling what we'll see Tuesday against the visiting Anaheim Ducks:
• Provorov/Robert Hagg (98 combined games) — There may not be another top shutdown pair in the NHL with less experience than Provorov and Hagg, which is not to say they can’t handle the responsibilities. Provorov and Hagg were paired together for a couple of preseason games and a few shifts so far in the regular season. They’ll have a monumental task of containing the Ryan Getzlaf/Corey Perry duo.
“We’ll try and communicate as much as we can and talk before the game, probably talk today about some plays and I think we should be fine,” Provorov said.
• Shayne Gostisbehere/Gudas (427 combined games) — Interestingly, this pair has the most experience, yet according to Gostisbehere, the two guys have never played together. Gudas is expected to fill MacDonald’s role on the team’s top penalty-killing unit alongside with Provorov, and together, "Ghost" and Gudas compliment each other well. Gudas is a stay-at-home defenseman while Gostisbehere is active offensively.
“Obviously things are a little different now,” Gostisbehere said, “We just got to feel each other out right now. I’m sure there will be some growing pains. Hopefully our mistakes won’t be magnified too much. It’s a good fit. Obviously, Gudy’s a bit more defensive and is going to kill people. I’m the guy who’s a puck mover.”
• Brandon Manning/Travis Sanheim (150 combined games) — For two players who have been interchangeable over the first eight games, Tuesday will mark the first time Manning and Sanheim will have played together. Manning will stay on the left side as Sanheim transitions to the right. Actually, I’m intrigued to see Sanheim on the right once a spot opens up for Samuel Morin.
“I think it’s just personnel you have to be aware,” Manning said, “You got to be aware of guys who can skate and obviously other guys who can finish their checks and play you hard.”
“There’s different roles that each unit has,” said head coach Dave Hakstol, “There’s a different rhythm back on the back end, than there certainly is up front.”
Now with a roster that has no reserves on defense, there’s a curiosity of which Phantom could have been promoted from Lehigh Valley. However, Hextall doesn’t anticipate recalling Morin or another defenseman to serve in a backup role at this time.
“We’re going to go with six right now,” Hextall said, “We’re at home and there’s no reason to call someone up to sit.”
On whether the Flyers will call up a seventh defenseman up before the next road trip begins Thursday in Ottawa, “I don’t know that," Hextall said. "We’ll approach it on a day-to-day basis. We’ll see how tomorrow goes and if we get banged up and whatnot. The one great thing about having your minor league team an hour away is you don’t have to cover yourself all the time.”
Projected lines, pairings and goalies
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Jori Lehtera-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl/Dale Weise
Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Shayne Gostisbehere-Radko Gudas
Brandon Manning-Travis Sanheim
Before this week begins, it’s time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.
In this edition, we’ll try to make sense of a highly-touted prospect not living up to his hype … and try to answer the question if we, the media, built him up too much.
Oskar Lindblom, LW, 21, 6-1/192, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
I think it’s a fair time to reflect on this question, because coming into this season, there was a ton of noise surrounding Lindblom’s move to North America. Many, including myself, expected Lindblom to crack the Flyers’ lineup immediately and he didn’t.
With prospects, it’s easy to get carried away sometimes. Especially when they dominate their respective leagues, and in Lindblom’s case, he dictated the SHL as a 20-year-old.
Through seven games with the Phantoms, Lindblom's offense has yet to blossom. He scooped up his first assist in the Phantoms' 4-3 win Saturday over Binghamton.
"He's playing hard," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said of Lindblom last Thursday. "Is he to the level that he can play? No, he's not but that's going to come. …
"Everybody's talking about him. He comes here, there's all this hype. It's unfair, quite frankly, the expectations that some of these kids come in with."
Lindblom came overseas after he scored 61 points in 72 games, including postseason, last season with Brynäs IF. Add in international play, it was even more impressive.
There was a ton of interest around Lindblom during development camp in July. It was clear then he was strong enough to play in the NHL, even in a non-competitive camp. Then came the rookie camp. The strength was there, the compete level was there.
Then came training camp and preseason. Lindblom started strong but fizzled out. The scoring didn't come as naturally as expected and while his skating was visibly improved, there were still times you could see additional work was needed in this atmosphere.
"Oskar did some good things (in preseason)," Hextall said. "Probably not quite at the level that we want him to get to or that he's hoping to. It was pretty obvious — not early, but as we got along, that he wasn't quite ready for this level. That's OK. He didn't fail.”
As easy as it is to get carried away with prospects, it’s just as easy to overreact. Lindblom hasn’t quite performed as projected yet, but it’s easy to dismiss the rink and speed adjustment from playing in Sweden to North America. He remains a top prospect.
And on Saturday against the Devils, Lindblom started to show signs of the player people expected to see. He created chances, rung some posts and was strong on the puck.
Did we overhype Lindblom? I don’t think so. Did we place unfair expectations on him?
Yeah, perhaps we did.
2017 CIBC Canada Russia Series
Last week, Teams WHL, QMJHL and OHL revealed their rosters for this year’s series, which begins Nov. 6 and ends Nov. 16. Team Russia has yet to announce its roster.
Three Flyers prospects are confirmed for the series: Carter Hart (Everett, Team WHL), Pascal Laberge (Victoriaville, Team QMJHL) and Morgan Frost (Sault Ste. Marie, Team OHL). German Rubtsov is not on Team QMJHl but should be on Team Russia.
Hart remains out of action because of mono but appears to be getting closer to a return.
Laberge is enjoying a solid start to his 2017-18 campaign. In three games last week, Laberge, 19, had two assists. He now has 10 points in 10 games this season.
Rubtsov had a goal and two assists last week for Chicoutimi and has six points during his current six-game point streak. He scored his first of the season Saturday night.
Frost, the Flyers’ second 2017 first-round pick, continued to produce for the Greyhounds last week with a goal and three assists in three games. He has 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in 14 games this season and is a plus-11.
• Mike Vecchione added two more assists last week with the Phantoms. He’s on a four-game assist streak and is a point-per-game play thus far (seven in seven).
• Philippe Myers suffered an injury in the second period of the Phantoms’ 5-2 win over Bridgeport Friday night and missed Saturday’s game. There is no update on his status.
• Nicolas Aube-Kubel had a two-point weekend, picking up an assist Friday and scoring Saturday night. He’s on a three-game point streak and has five in seven games.
• Samuel Morin stuffed the stat sheet on Saturday night, with a goal, assist, three shots and six penalty minutes. He had an assist Friday and has points in three straight. Morin appears in line to be called up to the Flyers after Andrew MacDonald's injury.
• Though not considered a high-end prospect by any means, Danick Martel, 22, is worth mentioning. The 5-foot-8 winger is off to a torrid start with the Phantoms.
Martel had two goals and an assist Friday against Bridgeport. He has seven goals and 10 points in seven games, with three multi-point games, 23 shots and a plus-10 rating.
• Wade Allison had a two-assist night in Western Michigan’s 6-4 loss to Michigan State. He has seven assists and nine points, with three multi-point games, in seven games.
• It was a big weekend for sophomore Tanner Laczynski, who had an assist Friday and three assists Saturday night as Ohio State swept Massachusetts.
• Carsen Twarynski had a hat trick Saturday night in Kelowna’s 7-2 win over Portland. Watch all three goals here. Twarynski has six goals and 11 points in nine games.
• Guelph winger Isaac Ratcliffe had a two-goal game Saturday night in the Storm’s 2-1 win over Saginaw. He was pointless in two other games last week.
• Maksim Sushko followed up a monster six-point weekend with a goal and an assist this past weekend for Owen Sound.
• Wyatt Kalynuk recorded his first collegiate point, an assist, in No. 6 Wisconsin’s 4-0 win over Northern Michigan on Saturday night. Kalynuk has one point in seven games.
• Matej Tomek stopped 20 of 21 shots in USHL Waterloo’s 4-1 win over Sioux City.
• A rare clunker from Felix Sandstrom last week. Sandstrom allowed five goals on 36 shots in Brynäs IF’s 5-4 loss to Rögle BK on Thursday.
• Olle Lycksell had two goals last week for Linköping HC J20. He has five goals and 10 points in 13 games, one more point in the league than he had in 29 games last season.