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 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