Sam Morin

Travis Sanheim makes costly mistake in debut as Flyers blanked by Kings

Travis Sanheim makes costly mistake in debut as Flyers blanked by Kings

BOX SCORE

LOS ANGELES — On my way to the Staples Center Thursday, about three hours prior to face-off, a fan approached me on the street and asked if there were any lineup changes.

It’s a curious question considering that less than 24 hours before that, the Flyers exploded for five goals, which included a power play that went 3 for 5. That feat coupled with Wayne Simmonds posting the franchise’s first hat trick on opening night in a building where the Flyers rarely have had success.

What more could one fan possibly want?

Yes, it’s a hypothetical, but you don’t have to venture too far to find the answer — whether that’s a block from the hotel or on a thread of comments listed below a Flyers-related story on the internet.

People want to see the youth and they want to see it now. It’s like a bowl of Lucky Charms, except the Flyers’ young players are the marshmallows, and you can never get enough marshmallows. The rest of the cereal? That’s just filler for the bowl.  

On Thursday night, Travis Sanheim was the pink hearts or the green clovers or whatever color and shape you prefer. The 21-year-old made his NHL debut in the Flyers’ 2-0 loss to the Kings (see observations), much to the delight of anyone who was sitting at home in an orange and black sweater. 

All of that goodness that came out of the preseason was supposed to just carry over into the regular season. That’s what Sanheim’s girlfriend likely expected when she posted on social media earlier in the day that her sweetheart was playing in his first game.

That sort of information is never to supposed to leave Ron Hextall’s double steel-plated vault. Regardless, it leaked out. 

After all, this was a coronation, so let the greatness commence. Never mind that Sanheim played his very first game in one of the league’s toughest venues against one of the league’s toughest teams.

“This is a hard league,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “You see it with veteran players, let alone with guys who are playing their first or second game. It’s a hard league.”

That hard part wasn’t supposed to be part of Sanheim’s night, until the rookie was asked to describe his first taste of regular-season hockey.

“Actually pretty disappointed with my effort,” Sanheim said. “I thought I could play a lot better. I started feeling more comfortable in the third. I got my feet under me and started to play more of my game, and getting up in the ice and making plays. I wish I could have done that early. Obviously, being my first game, I was a little hesitant early. I wish I could go back and tell myself maybe get a little bit more comfortable, start getting up in the ice and start playing my game.”

The plays Sanheim was remembered for making in the preseason weren’t exactly the plays Sanheim will be remembered for following this game. Most notably a neutral-zone turnover that saw Trevor Lewis work his way behind Sanheim and the defense. A pass, a one-timer and just like that, a 1-0 Kings’ lead.

“That shift in the second period was actually a turning point in this hockey game,” Hakstol said. “The one shift that they had there was a turnover that ended up in the back of the net. That’s something they’ll look at.”

“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.”

Overall, Sanheim finished with 10:58 of ice time and a minus-two rating. He also somehow played just one single second on the power play, where he could have unleashed that rocket of a slap shot. 

As if Lucky Charms aren’t coated with enough sugar, Hakstol wanted to make sure he added one more teaspoon. 

“There’s lots of good to say,” Hakstol said. “This is a tough building and a tough environment to play your first NHL game and I really liked the way Travis stayed with it. I really thought he started to play his game in the latter half of the second period and in the third period. That’s a positive. There’s going to be some jitters there.”

Then again, if Hextall had it his way, he’d save Sanheim along with fellow rookie defensemen Robert Hagg and Sam Morin for another day. Not when you’re ready, when he’s ready, and most importantly, when they’re ready. All three will play this season. It just won’t be at the same time or with the same team.

“You can understand with these three guys, they’re three different players,” Hextall said. “Sam’s a big, heavy defensive defenseman. Hagg is a solid two-way guy and Travis has got a little more offense than both of them. You’ve got three different players there.”

“How we piece our lineup together is going to be specific to the team we’re playing against and specific to the situation,” Hakstol said.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Orange stars, yellow moons, blue diamonds and rainbows. 

After Thursday’s shutout, you can see the line of thinking. A bowl of marshmallows would not make for a good team. Unless you carefully craft them and combine them perfectly with the other bland pieces, you will fail to realize just how good the marshmallows can truly be.

Matt Read clears waivers as Flyers' roster is set ... for now

Matt Read clears waivers as Flyers' roster is set ... for now

Updated: 3:12 p.m.

Maybe Matt Read hasn't seen his last days in a Flyers uniform.
 
The 31-year-old winger cleared waivers and was loaned to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley on Tuesday, as the Flyers are set with their 23-man roster ahead of Wednesday night's season opener in San Jose, California, against the Sharks.
 
The Flyers' waiving of Read on Monday was to open a spot for 23-year-old Taylor Leier, a 2012 fourth-round pick who impressed in the preseason with three points (two goals, one assist) in four games. Read, a veteran of six seasons — all with the Flyers — has not been able to rediscover his early success and is on the final year of a four-year, $14.5 million deal. With Read headed to the AHL, NBC Sports Philadelphia's Greg Paone has more on what it means monetarily for the Flyers right here.
 
But Read may be back soon. While the Flyers' roster is at the NHL-mandated 23, things could change once defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere's health is assured. Gostisbehere suffered an upper-body injury in last Sunday's preseason finale, forcing the Flyers to carry rookie defensemen Robert Hagg, Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim all to the West Coast, with eight overall blueliners on the roster. Gostisbehere took part in Tuesday's practice and said he's good to go for Wednesday.
 
General manager Ron Hextall will not keep his young prospects just to be extras. When the Flyers are completely confident in Gostisbehere's health, either Morin or Sanheim (the latter more likely) will be sent to the AHL, while a forward (very possibly Read) will be recalled.
 
Gostisbehere has not been placed on injured reserve, another sign that his issue is not overly serious and all three rookie defensemen are on board for safety measures.
 
Nonetheless, the roster is ready for now, as are the Flyers, who open the 2017-18 season with a four-game road trip.
 
Here's a look at the 23 players for opening night Wednesday and our best projection of the Game 1 lineup:
 
Forwards (13)
 
Sean Couturier
Valtteri Filppula
Claude Giroux
Travis Konecny
Scott Laughton
Jori Lehtera
Taylor Leier
Nolan Patrick
Michael Raffl
Wayne Simmonds
Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal
Dale Weise
 
Defensemen (8)

Shayne Gostisbehere
Radko Gudas
Robert Hagg
Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning
Sam Morin
Ivan Provorov
Travis Sanheim
 
Goalies (2)
 
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth
 
Projected lineup
 
Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
 
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
 
Travis Konecny-Valtteri Filppula-Dale Weise
 
Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Taylor Leier
 
Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
 
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
 
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas
 
Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
 
Brian Elliott
 
Scratches: Forward Jori Lehtera, and defensemen Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim.

Ron Hextall not veering from Kings' path with Flyers' young defensemen

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AP Images/USA Today Images

Ron Hextall not veering from Kings' path with Flyers' young defensemen

If that “mirror, mirror on the wall” actually existed, Flyers fans would be lined up right now wanting to know, “Who’s the most deserving of them all?”

And rightfully so.

Unfortunately, without that magical piece of glass from the movie “Snow White,” you may not get the straightforward answer you’re looking for. "Preseason 2017," for lack of a better title, will be remembered as “The Battle on the Blue Line,” and now that we’ve cycled through the credits, culminating with the final game against the Islanders, it appears as if a sequel is already in the works.

It was an intense competition revolving around the team’s talented, homegrown defense. Sam Morin, Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim competed for the two vacated positions. Sanheim displayed an impressive and rare offensive skill set with a team-high-tying three goals, but he flashed shortcomings with his penchant for turnovers. Morin was strong in all phases, most notably his imposing physical presence, while also showing a tendency to contribute offensively. Morin’s mishaps, perhaps not nearly as glaring as Sanheim’s, were mostly positional play. Hagg was perhaps the least flashy and noticeable of the trio, but remained consistent throughout.

All three rookies had their bags ready to go Sunday night — destination unknown at the time. Either they would be joining the rest of the Flyers team on the charter to San Jose or they would be carpooling to Allentown as they begin another season in the AHL. Now with the upper-body injury to Shayne Gostisbehere, all three rookies are California dreaming, and more importantly, California unpacking.

If "Ghost" suits up in the season opener, then in all likelihood, only Hagg will actually crack the lineup to start, and that will remain a head-scratcher for a fan base that's been asked to sit on its collective hands.

And they’re not alone. Even members of the Flyers' Cup teams have expressed to me personally a desire to see the kids play. The decision is even more puzzling to guys like Morin and Sanheim, who both believe they did everything possible to earn their spot.

“Yeah, I’m very excited,” Morin said Monday. “I think I had a pretty good camp. I deserve it. We’re going to see what happens. I’m just living one day at a time. I’m just really excited to prove I can be in the NHL and be a regular.”

For Hextall, this is nothing more than business as usual. He rarely deviates from the script that comes straight out of Hollywood, just not crafted by Disney.

During his time with the Kings, then-general manager Dean Lombardi nurtured his defensive corps in much the same manner.

Alec Martinez — Three seasons of college hockey followed by 2½ seasons with the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL. Became a full-time NHL regular at age 23.

Jake Muzzin — Four years in the OHL (Ontario Hockey League) proceeded with 2½ years with the Monarchs. Became a full-time NHL regular at age 23.

Slava Voynov — Three full seasons (266 games) with the Monarchs. Entered the NHL at age 22.

Martinez and Muzzin remain core pieces to the Kings' defensive unit and Voynov was equally as talented, perhaps even more so. However, Voynov was indefinitely suspended for allegedly assaulting his wife, and hasn’t suited up in an NHL game since October 2014. He has since returned to Russia to play in the KHL.

Compare those players with Hagg, 22, Morin, 22, and Sanheim, 21, and you can see Hextall will not serve up one of his defensemen until they are properly aged to his standards. You can place Drew Doughty and Ivan Provorov into a category of all their own.

During his brief press gathering Sunday night following the decision that Oskar Lindblom would begin his North American career with the Phantoms, Hextall had this to say: “American League time hasn’t hurt one player in the history of professional hockey.” In other words, to Hextall, no one regresses playing in the minors … ever.

It seems fitting the Flyers will begin their season just a few hours away from Napa Valley, because Hextall refuses to pluck one of his guys off the vine until the time is absolutely right. There’s no one right way to serve up an NHL defenseman, but there is, in Hextall’s vision, a certain recipe for disaster. Don’t think for a moment the ingredients that go into that will ever change, especially now that Hextall just recently hired Lombardi, who I’m sure packed up his “How to Build a Stanley Cup Champion” cookbook and brought it with him.

When asked about his three impressive, young defensemen specifically, Hextall smiled and said, “When you look at the career of a young player, going to the minors is OK, even if its for a couple years. It’s not a death sentence. You’re still a pro hockey player and you’re still one injury, one day away from a call-up. It’s not as disastrous as you try to paint it, maybe.”

Even Hextall understands that sometimes the best-laid plans have to shelved. It was an injury to Mark Streit that opened the door for Gostisbehere, who burst onto the scene two years ago and never looked back, despite just 21 games of AHL experience.

When will Morin and Sanheim earn their spot, permanently?

If you have a magic 8-ball lying around, now would be a good time to dust it off, and give it a good shake.