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).

Flyers Rookie Report: Travis Sanheim's teaching moments overshadow solid start

Flyers Rookie Report: Travis Sanheim's teaching moments overshadow solid start

Today, we’re introducing a new wrinkle to our Flyers coverage this season. Every so often, we’ll take a look at the Flyers rookies’ progress with a Rookie Report, similar in nature to our Future Flyers Report, which runs every Monday morning. The Rookie Report will have its similarities but will also have its own unique blend to it.

We’re four games into the Nolan Patrick-led youth movement. The Flyers began the season with five rookies, though just four played on their four-game road trip.

Samuel Morin on Wednesday was sent to Lehigh Valley, where he will continue to fine-tune his game. That leaves Robert Hagg, Taylor Leier, Patrick and Travis Sanheim.

As the future begins now, we’re going to track their development throughout their first seasons. We’ll utilize film reviews and other forms of evaluating players. Let’s get going.

Teaching moments
Sanheim, to little bewilderment, beat out Morin for the second open spot on the Flyers’ defense, even though Morin seemingly had a strong enough camp to make the team. There is a strong argument all three young blueliners showed enough in the preseason.

But it’s clear Flyers GM Ron Hextall, despite previously indicating he’d make room for a kid if they prove they’re ready, wasn’t comfortable carrying three rookie defensemen. It should be noted we don’t see what goes into the decision-making behind the scenes.

Either way, Sanheim is here to stay. The 21-year-old had a bumpy start to his NHL career last Thursday in Los Angeles and then Anaheim last Saturday night. Let's go to the film.

This play began as a result of a neutral-zone turnover by Scott Laughton. Above you can see Radko Gudas in front of Kyle Clifford and Sanheim turning around. Sanheim squares up, sees Trevor Lewis coming and begins to backpedal.

As Lewis enters the faceoff circle, Sanheim's eyes are still focused on the puck and a little too high, allowing Lewis to creep behind him. As two Flyers pressure Nick Shore, the forward sees Lewis, feeds him the puck before Sanheim can break it up.

It's an easy goal for Lewis on a play where Brian Elliott had no chance, and it ended up being the game-winner for the Kings.

“Yeah, I saw him,” Sanheim said of Lewis. “My gap was a little off. With the turnover, I wish I was a little farther up. I think then he doesn’t see that play. I wish I could have had a better gap. That’s a mistake and something I can learn from.”

Two nights later in Anaheim, Sanheim had another moment on the Ducks' first goal. Sanheim and Hagg were caught on the ice together, which isn't ideal, but the two were in Lehigh Valley together last season so it's not like they haven't communicated before.

The play began in the corner, with Hagg playing strong on Ondrej Kase. After a short puck battle, Jakub Voracek and Antoine Vermette join in. The puck eventually breaks free.

Sanheim, with Hagg still in the corner, aggressively goes for a poke check on Josh Manson while Vermette begins to break across ice to unmarked territory.

Below, you'll see Hagg getting back into his position but Sanheim remains stationary. Voracek and Claude Giroux are all focused on the puck, Kase and Manson.

Vermette is completely alone.

Kase finds Vermette for the easy tap-in goal as Hagg and Sanheim are literally right next to each other. It was a little too much aggressiveness in his own zone by Sanheim.

The poke check wasn't the best play there for Sanheim. As the puck popped out, it was a 2-on-1 situation. Sanheim went for the puck, got beat and Vermette was left all alone.

“We ended up getting beat — we got beat out on a 2-on-2 on the wall,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said afterward. “One of their players spun off of that battle and it ended up catching Sanny in between. Really there’s not a lot I’d probably ask him to do differently on that play. He got caught between in a little bit.”

Analysis
We’re highlighting these two plays because they were obvious mistakes made by a rookie in his first two games. They’re learning moments and that’s what they are.

Sanheim had a rough second period in Los Angeles but bounced back in the third. Hakstol stayed with him in the third, and even used him late in the period with the game on the line and the need for more blue-line activity.

With Sanheim, there are going to be growing pains. That’s expected, of course. Even Ivan Provorov had them last season. Sanheim’s puck-moving and shot are clearly NHL ready and he showed in preseason his defensive play has improved. He still has to improve his coverage, as evidenced above, but the only way he can do that is by playing.

It appears the leash on Sanheim isn’t short. The coaching staff appears ready to let Sanheim make the mistakes and learn from them. That’s a positive because, after the Kings’ game, some felt Morin may get one final look before the competition was over.

Hakstol didn’t go to Morin or insert Brandon Manning back into the lineup in Anaheim, and outside of the Vermette goal, Sanheim didn’t have any other major miscues. That will be important for him. How quickly can he move on and learn from a mistake?

“I thought he picked up where he left off in the third period in L.A., which was back to playing his game,” Hakstol said after the Ducks game. “He used his feet well, I thought he played a pretty confident game.”

Quick hits
• In the Flyers’ season opener Oct. 4 in San Jose, Hagg brilliantly stifled a 2-on-1 against the Sharks’ Joe Thornton and Kevin Labanc, forcing Thornton to turn back and regroup. Thornton did just that and Labanc eventually did score San Jose’s first goal.

Hagg sees the 2-on-1 developing before center ice and positions himself accordingly. Once Thornton gets to the blue line, Hagg has two choices here: Attack the puck carrier before the play gets deeper or stay in position while he waits for help, delaying his decision.

It’s one he had to make in real time. Attack the carrier and get beat, Brian Elliott is facing a 1-on-1 break. But Hagg makes a smart play in attacking Thornton. He bent down with his stick on the ice, taking away the pass option and forcing Thornton to circle back. The Sharks scored moments later, but Hagg played this 2-on-1 perfectly.

• One thing worth noting about Patrick is his passing from behind the net. Patrick scored his first Tuesday in Nashville but picked up his career first point in Anaheim last Saturday. Patrick, from behind the net, found his former Brandon teammate, Provorov, for a one-timer just as a power play expired. It’s a type of pass the Flyers will certainly benefit from this season.

• One of the bright spots thus far has been the Flyers’ fourth line featuring Leier, a rookie, Laughton, a former first-rounder who finally made the show full-time, and Michael Raffl. Leier and Laughton have uncanny chemistry from their time together with the Phantoms. They were the Flyers’ most consistent line throughout preseason.

The line creates energy, works hard and always seems to be in the offensive zone. In fact, after four games, the Flyers’ fourth line is dominating the Corsi department. Let’s highlight a play made by Leier against San Jose that was absolutely bonkers.

Before the pass, the line had forechecked and spent 12 seconds in the Sharks' zone and when San Jose finally escaped its own zone, 38 seconds had passed. But this play started with a Provorov pinch, freeing up the puck for Leier to skate behind the Sharks’ net, then he anticipates where Laughton will be, spins around and sets Laughton up for a prime chance. Martin Jones made the save, but Leier's pass was ridiculous.

Stats
Leier: 4 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, minus-2, 11:30 TOI
Hagg: 4 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, even, 18:12 TOI
Patrick: 4 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, plus-3, 13:53 TOI
Sanheim: 3 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, minus-2, 11:55 TOI