Robert Hagg

Flyers Film Study: Robert Hagg makes little things huge

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Flyers Film Study: Robert Hagg makes little things huge

Despite Tuesday night's 6-2 loss to the Ducks, the Flyers have enjoyed a solid start with five wins and 10 points in their first nine games. Nothing to write home about but many positives.

We're still in October, but the early signs are that the youth infusion has no doubt had a significant impact in the early going.

We’ve seen a tenacious fourth line, thanks to Taylor Leier’s chemistry with Scott Laughton, Nolan Patrick, while not making a huge impact yet, has allowed for more forward depth, and the two rookie defensemen have helped reshape a much-improved unit.

Robert Hagg is the subject of our second Flyers Rookie Report. Hagg has quietly become a rock on the blue line and has enabled Shayne Gostisbehere to be himself.

Because of an injury to Andrew MacDonald, Hagg has found himself promoted to the top pair, with 20-year-old Ivan Provorov, but we’re going to look Hagg’s previous work.

Enabling 'Ghost'
For the first eight games, Hagg had been partnered with Gostisbehere, playing on the right side. Hagg’s versatility to play either the left or right side is an added weapon.

What we've seen from Gostisbehere is a different player from last season. He's healthy, which is a factor. His struggles last season were overblown, but it wasn't a flawless sophomore campaign. We have to respect advanced stats because it has a place in the game, but the eye test didn’t do him any favors. This season has been different.

Gostisbehere is tied for second on the Flyers with 11 points, leads the NHL with seven power-play assists and looks like the player we saw in his rookie season. He’s even looked stronger defensively, too. Hagg deserves a lot of credit for Gostisbehere’s early-season success.

We’ll look at two plays from the Oct. 17 Panthers game and the Oct. 19 Predators game. Hagg picked up his first career point against Florida and mastered a 2-on-1 against Nashville. Let’s go to the film.

Hagg has three options here with the puck. One is Jordan Weal near the Panthers' bench. The second is Gostisbehere. The third is Valtteri Filppula at the bottom of the screen.

With one Panther around the blue line, Filppula was too risky of an option, so it was either Weal or Gostisbehere. Hagg quickly surveyed the ice before sending it to "Ghost," who then weighed his options before racing toward the red line with wide-open space.

It's worth noting Hagg's positioning as Gostisbehere began skating up ice. Hagg patiently stayed behind, allowing Gostisbehere to go.

Hagg's positioning allowed Gostisbehere to make a quick pass to Wayne Simmonds, who was stationed at the Florida blue line, and then continue to activate before scoring a goal.

A small but smart play by Hagg netted him his first career NHL point. It's not the most memorable one, but it also showed why the pair worked so well.

The second play is an example of having a sound two-way defenseman with Gostisbehere, who turned the puck over off an offensive-zone draw that led to a 2-on-1 Nashville rush.

Hagg aggressively attacks Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm and showcases incredible stick work, forcing Ekholm to attempt an unsuccessful saucer pass. Hagg breaks up the pass and stays with the play, drops to a knee and takes away the danger.

Coming out party
Hagg's most effective game of his young career came Saturday in the Flyers' 2-1 win over the Oilers. He blocked two shots, had five hits and started the game-winning goal.

He was physical and showed great stick work. We'll look at those, but his most impressive play came with 10 seconds left, the Flyers up 2-1 and Edmonton with an extra attacker.

With the puck in the corner, Hagg challenged Connor McDavid, Ryan Strome and Patrick Maroon to a battle and effectively killed about six seconds, essentially ending the game.

That was a 22-year-old defenseman in his eighth career game challenging McDavid, the best player in the world, Strome, the 2011 fifth overall pick, and Maroon to take the puck from him. They couldn't for six seconds.

Below is a great example of Hagg's stick work. We saw a little bit of it above on the 2-on-1. On this play, Hagg used his stick to eliminate Mark Letestu's options before stripping it from Letestu. 

Hagg didn't get an assist on Simmonds' game-winning goal Saturday, but he threaded a pass to Jori Lehtera that started the play.

Analysis
A lot of what Hagg does will not show up in the box score, but the highlighted plays above are samples of how he’s earned the trust of the coaching staff.

He’s an incredibly sound player with a high hockey IQ. Through the eight games, he seemed like a perfect match for Gostisbehere, a blueliner most effective in the offensive zone.

Tuesday was not a positive night for anyone. With MacDonald out, the Flyers’ pairs were new and there was a feeling out period. By the time that happened, the game was out of reach. The Hagg-Provorov pair has potential, but I would put Hagg back with Gostisbehere.

The two clicked and read off each other. Hagg allowed Gostisbehere to do what he does best without having to worry about his partner, and that gave the Flyers a dangerous pair.

If they’re not back together Thursday, I suspect we’ll see them together again once MacDonald comes back from his lower-body injury.

Hagg might not collect a ton of points, but as a buddy of mine said the other day, "he reminds me of a late-career Kimmo Timonen." Which, I'm sure, Flyers fans will take.

Flyers-Ducks thoughts: Topping off a fulfilling homestand?

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Flyers-Ducks thoughts: Topping off a fulfilling homestand?

Flyers (5-3-0) vs. Ducks (3-3-1)
7 p.m. on NBCSP, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30

The Flyers have a chance to punctuate their five-game homestand when they welcome the Anaheim Ducks to the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night.

Let's get you set for puck drop with some thoughts before Game 9 of the season.

• This is tied for the longest home stretch of the Flyers' season, and it just so happened to come in October. The Flyers have another five-game homestand from Dec. 12-20. Despite the first one being so early, the Flyers are making it meaningful. They've built confidence and even somewhat of a new identity for the 2017-18 season. The Flyers have shown they're faster, more mobile and much scarier from top to bottom, while they've also displayed the ability to win in a variety of styles.

Look at what the Flyers have accomplished on the homestay before the finale. They're 3-1-0 and with a combined score of 10-3 in two of the victories over teams led by Alex Ovechkin and Connor McDavid. In the four games total, the Flyers have outscored the opposition, 15-5, while the penalty kill is 13 for 14. They've also outshot teams, 127-112, and have won more faceoffs, 124-101.

It may be a small sample size, but it's a good one.

• With Andrew MacDonald out four to six weeks because of a lower-body injury, the Flyers will maneuver their defensemen a bit (see story). An exciting new pairing will be second-year blueliner Ivan Provorov with rookie Robert Hagg. We know the special makeup of Provorov, but Hagg has quietly been a rock for the Flyers. He leads the team with 22 hits, is first among Flyers defensemen as a plus-5 and has committed just four giveaways.

The 22-year-old rookie does all the little things and played some with Provorov during the preseason, so the two have a nice understanding of how to complement each other. Hagg's ice time could see an uptick from the 18:19 he's logged through eight games.

The third pairing of Brandon Manning and Travis Sanheim will also be worth watching given both players have yet to play in a regular-season game together.

• Brian Elliott in net seems likely for the Flyers. He saw the Ducks a little over two weeks ago, making 21 saves on 23 shots for a 3-2 overtime win. He's also coming off his best performance of the season in which he stopped 23 of 24 shots in a tight, 2-1 win over the Oilers.

However, his career numbers aren't great against the Ducks, posting a 2-7-3 mark in 13 lifetime matchups to go with a 3.10 goals-against average and .886 save percentage.

• The Ducks will look different from the Oct. 7 meeting with the Flyers. Ryan Getzlaf missed the game because of a lower-body injury, but he'll be in the lineup Tuesday. The big 6-foot-4, 223-pound center has never been easy on the Flyers, with 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 14 career games against the orange and black.

Also, defenseman Hampus Lindholm will make his season debut. The 6-foot-3, 208-pounder is only 23 years old and has been a real positive for Anaheim through his first four NHL seasons.

The last time the Flyers took consecutive matchups over the Ducks was when they won on Feb. 2, 2008, and Jan. 2, 2009.

• Jakub Voracek and Shayne Gostisbehere are tied for third in the NHL with 10 assists apiece. They have one goal between them, but they've been stalwarts in making things happen for the Flyers.

• Through eight games, the Flyers currently have six players with six points or more. Through seven games, the Ducks have just one as Andrew Cogliano is their leading scorer with six points (two goals, four assists).

• Here is the Flyers' projected lineup:

Update: Weal (upper body) and Read (healthy) were the final players off the ice at morning skate, signaling they are the likely scratches.

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Jori Lehtera-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Shayne Gostisbehere-Radko Gudas
Brandon Manning-Travis Sanheim

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratches: Forwards Matt Read and Dale Weise, and defenseman Andrew MacDonald (injured).

Flyers shuffle defensive pairings with Andrew MacDonald out

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Flyers shuffle defensive pairings with Andrew MacDonald out

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

Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth