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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)

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.

Flyers-Kings observations: Nothing gets past Jonathan Quick in shutout

Flyers-Kings observations: Nothing gets past Jonathan Quick in shutout

BOX SCORE

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings redeemed last year’s home-opening loss to the Flyers with a 2-0 victory Thursday night at the STAPLES Center.

The Kings didn’t require a spectacular effort from Jonathan Quick, who was solid and steady as he stopped all 35 shots and survived an early third-period wave. 

Michal Neuvirth made his first start of the season and stopped 25 of the 27 shots he faced in the defeat.

• The Flyers (1-1-0) could not match Los Angeles' energy and speed in the opening nine minutes, as the Kings (1-0-0) had a considerable amount of zone time. The first period was one that Travis Konecny would rather forget. First, he failed to cover his man coming down center ice, which resulted in a hooking penalty. As Konecny exited the box, he was immediately stripped of the puck, and as he scrambled back into the Flyers’ zone, he committed another turnover that led to a Kings’ shot.

• Jakub Voracek mentioned how he didn’t like the way the top line played defensively in the game against San Jose. Early on, the unit struggled again to get back with its coverages against the Anze Kopitar line.

• However, the trio of Voracek, Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux produced some prime scoring chances in the second period. Voracek had all sorts of time but was completely undecided on what to do in one instance. 

Later in the second, Giroux came out of the box and made a nice move to cut to the middle of the ice. Quick made the initial stop and Giroux had a second opportunity to put back his own rebound. 

In the same period, Couturier glided across the front of the crease but couldn’t get off a quality shot. Three prime opportunities, but the Flyers were just unable to convert.

• Part of the reason the Flyers didn’t generate some early speed like we saw in San Jose was that the Kings made life rough in the neutral zone. In fact, the Kings capitalized on one of those neutral-zone turnovers when Scott Laughton coughed it up. 

The Flyers’ defense fell out of position with Radko Gudas on the left side and Travis Sanheim on the right. Trevor Lewis slipped around Sanheim, who probably didn’t know he was there, for the easy one-timer off a pass from Nick Shore.

• Making his NHL debut (see story), Sanheim played 4:48 in the first period, all at even strength. 

“I felt good out there,” Sanheim said. “It was nice to get through those first couple of shifts. Obviously, there were some nerves at the start of the game, but I felt good.”

However, Sanheim was careless during the second period in getting his stick too high as he clipped Lewis in the face and drew blood, which resulted in a four-minute double minor. The Flyers’ PK killed off the full four minutes.

• The Flyers' best stretch of hockey came in the third period as they outshot L.A., 11-1, in the first nine minutes of the final stanza, but they simply couldn’t capitalize with a game-tying goal. Then, with 2:21 left, Tyler Toffoli scored off an assist from Jeff Carter to extend the Kings' lead.

• With 1:19 remaining in the first period, Neuvirth came up with the save of the night as he robbed Kings captain Kopitar with a fully-extended glove save. Neuvirth’s stop saved his defense after a turnover that led to L.A.'s quality scoring chance.

Based on his starts in the preseason and Thursday night, Neuvirth is showing early signs of the goaltender who came to Philadelphia in 2015-16.

• A night after the Flyers’ power play exploded by converting 3 of 5 opportunities, the team came up empty against the Kings with an 0-for-5 performance.

• Going back to the end of last season, the Flyers have started two rookies on defense in three of their last four games with three different combinations (Ivan Provorov-Sam Morin, Provorov-Robert Hagg, Sanheim-Hagg).

• The biggest franchise-altering trade between the Flyers and Kings took place on June 23, 2011, when Mike Richards was sent to L.A. for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a second-round pick that was used to acquire Nicklas Grossmann. With the trade of Schenn this past offseason to St. Louis for two first-round selections and a potential third, we may not know the overall value of that trade for another five to 10 years.

Lines, pairings and scratches

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

Defensemen 
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth                                
Brian Elliott

Scratches: Jori Lehtera, Brandon Manning, Sam Morin.