Dave Hakstol

Flyers-Panthers thoughts: Top line scary good; Manning-Sanheim big deal?

Flyers-Panthers thoughts: Top line scary good; Manning-Sanheim big deal?

Flyers (3-2-0) vs. Panthers (2-2-0)
7 p.m. on NBCSP, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30
 
Did the Flyers save any goals for the rest of the five-game homestand?
 
That's probably what many are asking after watching the 8-2 demolition they put on the Washington Capitals in Saturday night's home opener.
 
The Flyers will try to keep things rolling Tuesday night when they welcome the Florida Panthers to the Wells Fargo Center.
 
Here are some thoughts before Game 6 of the season:
 
• You couldn't ask for much more from the Flyers' top line against the Capitals. Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek downright manhandled Washington. When Giroux moved to the left wing and Sean Couturier bumped up to first-line center, Saturday's performance was likely the dream scenario in the minds of the Flyers' coaching staff and front office.
 
It seemed like Voracek was making a play every time he touched the puck, Couturier did yeoman's work in all phases, and Giroux looked like his old self, showing a little bit of everything in his arsenal. The trio combined for 10 points on four goals and six assists. No one is expecting such production on a game-by-game basis, but let's see if this group can sustain these positive vibes and turn itself into a staple up top. As evidenced by Saturday, the Flyers go to a different level when those three are on.
 
• No one wants to see Travis Sanheim sitting. He's a first-round pick the fan base has been eager to see. He has great size and offensive upside for a defenseman. It will be exciting to watch him become a pillar of the Flyers' blue line.
 
But is it really the end of the world if Brandon Manning plays a couple games here in the early going? Manning will suit up Tuesday for his second straight game in place of Sanheim (more here from morning skate). The 21-year-old rookie won't be in the press box for long, though, because that doesn't jive with general manager Ron Hextall's development plan. So Sanheim will sit for a few, watch and learn. That's not too terrible.
 
And, the two games Manning has played so far (season opener and home opener), the Flyers won both by a combined score of 13-5. Was he the most critical reason why? No, but he didn't hurt the Flyers, either. Keeping your projected seventh defenseman somewhat active is a good idea for when/if he is needed.
 
Sanheim will be fine and he will play.
 
We're about to be only six games in here … let's just give this some time.
 
• Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said he planned on using both of his goalies over this homestand. Michal Neuvirth will get the call against the Panthers after Brian Elliott started four of the first five games. Neuvirth looks like the clear backup, but it's important to get him starts, and that's what Hakstol plans on doing.
 
Neuvirth didn't see Florida last season. However, he did see the Panthers in 2015-16 and was terrific, delivering a shutout, 1.59 goals-against average and .943 save percentage in two games. He hasn't seen game action since Oct. 5.
 
• Wayne Simmonds, who has been a stud so far with five goals in five games, did work against Florida last season, posting three goals and an assist in three games.
 
• The Panthers are good. They've scored 16 goals through their first four games, all tough tests against the Lightning twice, the Blues and the Penguins. Florida boasts some nice, young talent in center Jonathan Huberdeau (three goals, two assists), center Aleksander Barkov (three assists) and defenseman Aaron Ekblad (two goals, two assists), just to name some.
 
To add to it, Florida's first-round pick at 10th overall this past summer, Owen Tippett, will make his NHL debut tonight. The 18-year-old scored 44 goals in 60 junior games last season for the OHL's Mississauga Steelheads.
 
• Here is the Flyers' projected lineup:
 
Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Dale Weise-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl
 
Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas
 
Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratches: Forward Jori Lehtera and defenseman Travis Sanheim. 

At this point, Brandon Manning appears to have advantage over Travis Sanheim

At this point, Brandon Manning appears to have advantage over Travis Sanheim

VOORHEES, N.J. — Brandon Manning won’t have to wait another 10 days for his shot in the lineup.

Manning was paired with Radko Gudas during Monday’s practice while Travis Sanheim put in extra work, suggesting that Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol will lean on the Manning-Gudas combination as his third pairing for Tuesday’s game against the visiting Florida Panthers.  

“To be honest, I think I have good chemistry with both guys, “Gudas said. “Playing with Manning, I’m a little more used to it. We played together for awhile the last two years. It’s a little more that we know each other already. And with Travis, he’s getting better every game he plays. It was fun playing with him and we’re getting used to each other.”

Manning started the season as the sixth defenseman in San Jose and was surprised his number wasn’t called again until the home opener this past Saturday.

“You start off the first game of the season and you pick up the win. To come out of the lineup is obviously tough,” Manning said. “I understand the situation. I understand the direction the team’s going, the value of the young kids and their development. You look at the Washington game and it’s a bit of a blowout. But after sitting around for 10 days, I felt pretty good out there. It’s a home opener, so it’s an easy game to get up for.”

Manning can see the writing on the wall. Sanheim, Robert Hagg and Samuel Morin are the future of the Flyers' defense. On a handful of other teams, including the Capitals team the Flyers demolished on Saturday, around the league, Manning would be a mainstay on the blue line.

The numbers back up Hakstol’s thought process. Through the first five games this season, the Flyers are 2-0 with a plus-8 goal differential with Manning in the lineup, compared to the games Sanheim has played in which the Flyers are 1-2 and a minus-2 differential. With Sanheim, the Flyers' even-strength save percentage is 73.3 percent (last on the team) compared to that of Manning’s 88.9 percent, which is currently ranked fifth out of the seven Flyers defensemen.

“I think Travis has played well,” Hakstol said. “I think his play in games and his practices have been good. We're trying to build our lineup each night to what we think gives us the best opportunity to win that night. Travis' play has been good and I’ve been very happy with his performance.”

It's not unexpected that Manning has served as the Flyers' steadier option in the opening month as Sanheim continues to acclimate himself to the NHL game, which has come at a different speed than the level of play during the preseason.

“That’s part of being professional,” Manning said. “That’s something I’ve learned in my couple of years here in the NHL. The situations I’ve been in, I think it’s all about how you react and how you handle them. You can sit there and be pissed off about it, but at the end of the day, there’s going to be decisions that [GM Ron Hextall] and Hak make that you can’t control. What you can control is how hard you work in practice and how well you play, and you prepare for those situations you’re going to be in.”

It’s a unique paradox right now. The Flyers need wins and Sanheim needs to play. At some point this season, everyone’s needs will be met.

Flyers Weekly Observations: Highs of crushing Washington, lows of falling apart in Nashville

Flyers Weekly Observations: Highs of crushing Washington, lows of falling apart in Nashville

Another week of Flyers hockey is in the books on this infantile season.

So that means it’s your favorite time of the week: It’s time for Flyers Weekly Observations!

Please, hold your applause.

We’ll take a look back at the week that was with the Flyers, including Tuesday's absolutely stunning 6-5 loss to the Predators in Nashville and Saturday evening’s 8-2 shellacking of the Washington Capitals in the home opener in South Philly.

It’s not hard to figure out where we’re going to start this week. So let’s not wait any longer and hop right into the main course.

• Let’s just get right to the last several minutes Tuesday night in Nashville, where the Flyers saw a lead disintegrate into a frustrating, head-scratching 6-5 loss to the Preds. Firstly, Dale Weise and Andrew MacDonald, two veterans, can’t be taking penalties, ticky-tack or not in the eyes of some, like they did late while trying to nurse a lead on the road. In such hostile territory like Bridgestone Arena and on a banner night for the home team, no less, that’s a recipe for disaster. But Dave Hakstol, knowing the risks, cannot issue that coach’s challenge on the tying goal unless he knows for sure the Preds were clearly offside.

Look, I get what he was trying to do. He was taking a chance at dramatically shifting the momentum back in his team’s direction. But that wasn’t the time for chances. Any sort of uncertainty, and he needs to hold back there. Instead, he put his team in a deeper hole in a now even more hostile environment and you could just feel the nightmarish ending being written before it actually happened with the next 5-on-3.

I’m not a big fan of the offside challenge in general. It’s just such a convoluted rule and process that needs smoothing out. A guy is either onside or offside. Why the league insists on creating so much grey area in something that should be way more cut-and-dry is beyond me. And this new rule that penalizes an unsuccessful challenge defeats the purpose of having a challenge anyway. But it also means, more than ever, that there is a time and place to challenge. With uncertainty surrounding whether the Preds were actually offside, let’s just say holding onto a precious point while your team still has a penalty to kill and creating a second 5-on-3 for your team to kill on the road in the final minute of tie game isn’t the time or place for Hakstol to take that challenge.

• With as heartbreaking as the result in Nashville was, quite the impressive rebound performance Saturday night against the Capitals at the Wells Fargo Center. Sure, it was the home opener and there were all types of juice in the orange-clad atmosphere, and the Caps were playing their third game in four nights, missing star defenseman Matt Niskanen and started backup goalie Philipp Grubauer. But that was just utter domination of the Caps in all phases.

The Flyers outshot the Caps by a 37-23 margin, converted on the power play and added a shorthanded tally. The Flyers had five players with multiple points, led by Claude Giroux with four. Alexander Ovechkin had six shots on goal but was minus-4 on the evening. Basically, the Caps barely ever had a chance. The Flyers jumped on them early and often and squeezed the game away. That’s how you respond from a loss as jarring as the one in Nashville.

• Prized 21-year-old rookie Travis Sanheim was a healthy scratch Saturday and watched in a suit from the press box as Brandon Manning dressed instead. Sure, Ovechkin and the Caps are a tough matchup, but they’re a tough matchup for anyone on any team around the league. What exactly does Sanheim get out of watching that game from above? Is it more than the in-person experience he would get going up against a star-studded team? Nope.

If a 21-year-old rookie with the skill of Sanheim struggles and takes his lumps, so be it. He’ll gain that valuable experience that comes with it. And when he comes back and plays well afterward, whenever that may be, he’ll have all the confidence in the world. Confidence isn’t gained watching from the press box.

• How about the first line of the Flyers? Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek combined for 10 points against the Caps. Giroux and Couturier each had two goals apiece and Voracek was all over the ice all night long as he had both the puck and the Capitals on a string. The trio had three more points a few days earlier in Nashville, giving them 13 in their last two games. That’s impressive, and we’re just five games into the season.

The chemistry is obviously there, but they are still jelling together as a trio as the early season progresses on. Couturier has been on a tear dating back to last season. In his last 24 contests overall, he’s got 23 points (eight goals and 15 assists).

• I’m a big believer that every good team has a fourth line that not only can annoy with grit and hard work but can also be a threat to contribute offensively on any given shift. The Flyers hadn’t had that in recent years, needless to say. The script has been flipped this season with the Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Taylor Leier line. They can punish and smother teams on the defensive end and they can be a threat when they scoot up the other end of the ice.

Look no further than what Laughton did against the Caps on Saturday. His shorty was all effort and then his third-period tally was a laser beam of a beauty. These guys are more than effective together, but each also has the ability to move up and down the lineup if necessary. The Flyers may be on to something here with this triumvirate.

• Good for Nolan Patrick getting that first goal of his career under his belt, albeit during Tuesday's loss in Nashville. It was a great play by Weise to drive the net hard and create the ruckus in front that ended with Patrick burying the puck into the twine.

Here’s what I really liked about that goal from the 19-year-old’s perspective: He lifted the puck and left no doubt about it. Many his age would hastily try and shuffle the puck along the ice, where there was no open real estate. It may seem like such a simple concept, but that was some savvy and poise in the heat of the moment by the teenager. And that was also the first of many times he’ll light the lamp in his promising career.

Coming up this week: Tuesday vs. Florida (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Thursday vs. Nashville (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday vs. Edmonton (1 p.m. on NBCSP).