Sam Morin

Flyers Weekly Observations: The Wayne Train hasn't skipped a beat

Flyers Weekly Observations: The Wayne Train hasn't skipped a beat

Flyers hockey is finally back in our lives.

Feels pretty darn good to say that, right? It’s been too long.

You guys know what else is back?

Flyers Weekly Observations! Woo-hoo!

I know, it’s so hard to contain your excitement. I understand.

Anyway, the Flyers started things off with a bang with a hard-fought 5-3 win on opening night Wednesday in San Jose vs. the Sharks, endured a tough 2-0 loss Thursday evening vs. the Kings in Los Angeles and finished up the California portion of the trip with a strong 3-2 OT victory over the Ducks in Anaheim Saturday night.

Still sleepy from staying up for all those West Coast games?

That’s OK because there’s plenty to discuss after a busy first week of the season. Let’s hop right into it, shall we?

• Through all the change the Flyers have gone through both externally with player movement and internally with line changes, prospects filtering themselves into more prominent roles and veterans still in orange and black losing a step in the eyes of some, one constant has remained a driving force — Wayne Simmonds. He picked up right where he left off with his hat trick Wednesday at the Shark Tank. He was right there in his office in front of the net, deflecting two pucks from the point past Sharks goalie Martin Jones. His second tally on the evening was as stealthy as it gets as he tipped a chest-high shot right by Jones. But here’s the thing you have to like about his empty-netter to seal the victory — sure, it was an empty-netter, but Simmonds is trusted enough to be out there on the 4-on-4 as the Flyers desperately nursed a one-goal lead. He also played 3:30 of shorthanded time in that game. Yes, he’s a goal-scorer, but he’s the Flyers’ Mr. Do-It-All. He’s their steady rock. And that OT winner in Anaheim was just an another example of the complete player he is who possesses a heck of a wrister.  

• Let’s get into the kids now. Specifically, the ones who patrol the blue line. I questioned the decision to bring Travis Sanheim and Sam Morin to California only for both to be healthy scratches in the opener vs. San Jose. Sanheim eventually got in Thursday in L.A. (more on that in a bit) and stayed in for the OT triumph in Anaheim. But Morin has yet to suit up this season and play. What’s the point of having him there if he’s not going to play? These are important times in the development of a 22-year-old defenseman who already has to live with the pressures that come with being a high first-round pick. If he’s not playing with the big club, he should be getting reps in Lehigh Valley. The guy needs to be playing somewhere, not sitting somewhere.

• So, now, back to Sanheim, who made his debut at STAPLES Center on Thursday evening. The nerves were obviously there for the 21-year-old, especially early on as he tried to get his legs underneath him. And that’s to be expected. Try and put yourself in his shoes, or, in this case, his skates. You would feel the same way. The nerves should be there. But the game was a tougher one for Sanheim, as he tried to get adjusted to regular-season NHL speed and precision all night and wound up taking a bad four-minute high-sticking call in the third. He was critical of himself and his play afterward, saying he needed to be better. And you have to like that out of a kid, especially after his first game. He wasn’t happy just being there. He rebounded with a solid outing Saturday night in Anaheim. He can keep building and keep getting more and more comfortable in the NHL. He’s got the right attitude.

• Speaking of the kids, how about keeping Nolan Patrick and Travis Konecny on the same line for a long, long time?

• One area that had my particular interest coming into this week was the goaltending. Both how each goaltender played and how head coach Dave Hakstol would rotate them because you just knew he would split the starts one way or another. I will say that I’m still not sold on the Brian Elliott-Michal Neuvirth tandem, but each was very solid in net this week in their respective starts. Elliott hung in there in a tough environment in San Jose and earned the victory with 32 stops. Perhaps his best one came in the first period when Kevin LeBanc found himself all alone with a loose puck in front of the net and Elliott stuck out the arm to make an impressive stop. Neuvirth was very good the next night in Los Angeles as he took a hard-luck loss with 25 saves. That incredible sprawling stop he made on Anze Kopitar, though? My groin hurts more and more every time I watch it. Elliott retook the reins Saturday in Anaheim and excelled with 21 saves in the OT triumph. So, while Neuvirth played well in Hollywood, Elliott is still the one with two victories. Knowing how Hakstol tends to ride the hot hand in net, don’t be surprised to see Elliott see the fair share of starts coming up. Speaking of goaltending, how good was Jonathan Quick on Thursday? When healthy, he’s got a legit claim to being the best goalie in the NHL.

• Have to like what we’ve seen from the Flyers’ newfangled top line of Claude Giroux on left wing, Sean Couturier at center and Jake Voracek on the right wing. The triumvirate opened the scoring on the season with Giroux’s first-period tally in San Jose and has combined for two goals, seven assists, nine points and 21 shots on goal on the young season. Keep that kind of offensive pressure up and the goal numbers will come. And remember, those three could still benefit from more time to jell together.

• Mr. NHL Schedule Maker did the Flyers no favors to start the season. The California hell trip is hard enough, but then two of those games were the opponent’s home opener. The cherry on top: a trip to Nashville for the Predators’ opener and Western Conference championship banner ceremony.  But, hey, coming out of Cali with four points ain’t bad by any stretch of the imagination.

Coming up this week: Tuesday at Nashville (8 p.m./NBC Sports Philadelphia), Saturday’s home opener vs. Washington (7 p.m./NBC Sports Philadelphia)

Flyers-Ducks thoughts: Dave Hakstol showing confidence in Travis Sanheim

matchup-flyers-leier-perry-nbc-logo.jpg
USA Today Images/CSN

Flyers-Ducks thoughts: Dave Hakstol showing confidence in Travis Sanheim

Flyers (1-1-0) at Ducks (1-0-0)
10 p.m. on NBCSP, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 9:30

The Flyers continue their season-opening road trip in Anaheim against a Ducks team that rallied from a 4-1 deficit in their opener Thursday for a 5-4 win against Arizona.

After tonight, the Flyers head to Nashville Tuesday before their home opener next Saturday against Washington. Coming back east with two wins would be the ideal start for the orange and black, but a point tonight would also make for a successful trip.

Let’s get you set for puck drop with some pregame thoughts for Game 3 of the season.

• As the road trip nears its end, we’ll soon find out which young defenseman won the second spot on the Flyers’ blue line. Perhaps a move will be made Sunday or Monday.

It sure looks like Travis Sanheim has has secured a spot over Sam Morin. Thursday was an indication of that and since Sanheim draws back in tonight, it’s safe to bet Sanheim is here to stay.
 
Sanheim made his NHL debut Thursday and the 21-year-old had his struggles. In the second period, Sanheim was at fault for the Kings’ first goal. Sanheim had a neutral-zone turnover and then allowed Trevor Lewis to get behind him for a one-timer.
 
But Hakstol chose to trust Sanheim in the third period with the game on the line. That was refreshing to see. Sanheim will make his mistakes, but he has to learn from them. The only way he will is to keep playing. For that reason, I’m happy to see him in tonight.

• How impressive has the Flyers’ fourth line been? Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier and Michael Raffl is a huge improvement from last year’s unit. The trio creates energy, plays responsible defensively and always seems to be in the opponent’s zone. There’s so much to like from the line and the chemistry between Laughton and Leier is uncanny.

They’re going to break out for some goals sooner or later. I’m betting it’s tonight.

• It’s been a quiet start for Nolan Patrick, but I haven’t been disappointed with his play. I think he’s flashed some positive signs as he adjusts to the NHL regular-season pace, but there’s still more to be desired. I believe it will come shortly. 
 
From a possession standpoint, however, the Patrick line with Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds has been dominated in the early going. We saw it in San Jose as the Logan Couture line was matched up against them and in L.A., with the Carter line.

It appears Hakstol has decided to switch things up for tonight’s game in Anaheim. Patrick was skating with Travis Konecny and Dale Weise during the morning skate while Valtteri Filppula moved up to the second line. 

I don’t view this as a demotion per say. Second or third line is where Patrick will be this season, and I still have faith we’ll see him back with Weal and Simmonds at some point. But for now, it looks like he’ll be skating with Konecny. That should be fun.

• The Flyers will avoid Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf, who will miss his second straight game with one of those famous part-of-the-body injuries. In fact, Anaheim is banged up. The Ducks also will be without Ryan Kesler, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen.

Getzlaf, 32, has five goals and 17 points in 14 career games against the Flyers.

• You might remember John Gibson’s performance against the Flyers the last time they were in Anaheim. Gibson turned away 51 shots in a 4-3 shootout win on Jan. 1.

In three career games against the Flyers, Gibson is 3-0 with a 2.32 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. He allowed four goals on 30 shots Thursday against Arizona and even challenged Coyotes goalie Louis Domingue to a fight.

• Even without Getzlaf and Kesler, the Ducks survived an improved Arizona team Thursday with much thanks to Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell.

Perry had two goals and an assist, while Rakell scored the game-winner and gathered two helpers himself. Perry has five goals and 16 points in 15 career games against the Flyers. He’s one of those players you’d love to have but absolutely just despise when he's your opponent.

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.