Travis Sanheim

Travis Sanheim's defense quickly progressing on the fly

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Travis Sanheim's defense quickly progressing on the fly

The Flyers had a complete off day Friday and you couldn’t blame Travis Sanheim if he wanted to lounge around all day and just scroll through the TV channels.

For the first time since Philadelphia became his permanent residence, Sanheim now has a connection to the outside world. His television is finally hooked up to hundreds of channels. When asked if there’s one show or program he’s looking forward to watching, Sanheim replied, “Just hockey games. I just love to watch hockey, even if we’re not playing.”

Until now, that’s been Sanheim’s only option.

With the help of video coach Adam Patterson, the Flyers have wired each player’s home so they can review each game, and more importantly, shuttle through shift by shift so players like Sanheim can perform some self-assessment when they’re not at the rink. 

Sanheim will probably go back and evaluate the second-period play during Thursday night’s game against the Jets when he lost control of the puck at the blue line, couldn’t recover and was caught up ice, which led to Winnipeg scoring a 2-on-1 goal, cutting the Flyers lead to 2-1.

“I think I have a good ability to turn the page when I do make mistakes, whether it's big or small and not letting it affect and creep into my game,” Sanheim said. “Right now, I’m just focusing on the little areas of my game defensively and trying to make smart reads and not try to give up too much defensively.”

There has been a significant progression in Sanheim’s game just over the past few weeks coming off some early-season growing pains starting in his NHL debut in Los Angeles. There have been some coverage and positional breakdowns, but like any rookie, he’s beginning to clean up those areas of his game. 

After the four-game road trip to begin the season, Sanheim was pulled for a few games in favor of Brandon Manning, but he was reinserted in the game against the Predators and hasn’t been a healthy scratch since. 

“Sanny just keeps becoming more and more consistent and more and more comfortable,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Travis is a player that really had to earn his way onto this team. Everybody does, but coming into camp, he just put one day after another of good performances and he’s continued that as we’ve gone on into the regular season here. He’s an exciting young player.”

“I’m starting to settle in a little more," Sanheim said. “I’m happy with how my play has been growing as a player over the last couple of weeks. I think just my confidence. Being able to make plays with the puck, seeing the ice.” 

The numbers also suggest the defensive aspect of his game is coming together. After a rocky month of October that saw him finish with a minus-6 rating, Sanheim has bounced back in November and is currently a plus-2. While positionally he’s still learning the game at the NHL level, he has shown tremendous control with the puck on his stick. 

At 5-on-5 play, Sanheim has been credited with just four giveaways in nearly 226 minutes of ice time, or a ratio of one giveaway every 56:29 of ice time, which is by far the best on the team. Comparatively, Shayne Gostisbehere has struggled in this area recently and has 14 giveaways this season in almost 262 minutes, an average of one giveaway every 18:47. 

While we’re still waiting to see the dynamic element of Sanheim’s offensive game that he displayed during the preseason, he’s picking his spots and finding those seams when he can take advantage of the defense. As Sanheim found out, the recent home-and-home series against the Wild was not one of those opportunities when he was held without a shot in both games. 

“You learn how little space you have out there,” Sanheim said. “Just the other night against Minnesota, how good they are defensively. You don’t get a lot of space. When you get your chances, you've got to try and make the most of them.

“Obviously, I’m not allowed to do the offensive stuff that I could in junior and skating the puck up. I think it’s something I learned last year was making a good first pass and having an ability to read the play and jump up and find seams in areas that create space and offense as well.”

Thursday, more than 50 family and friends made the three-hour drive from Elkhorn, Manitoba, to Winnipeg to watch Sanheim play for the first time.

They may not notice it right away, but the kid from the tiny town on the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border is already making great strides in a short amount of time in his first full NHL season. 

After AHL season, Travis Sanheim knows how his offense will come with Flyers

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After AHL season, Travis Sanheim knows how his offense will come with Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — Travis Sanheim has solidified his place in the Flyers’ lineup. Now the rookie defenseman is looking for his first NHL goal — and he’s getting warmer.

Sanheim had multiple opportunities to light the lamp during the Flyers’ 3-1 victory over the Blackhawks on Thursday (see observations). The puck just wouldn’t go in the net for the 21-year-old, who was credited with three shots in the contest.

Yet, while Sanheim’s efforts didn’t result in a point on the scoreboard, they did not go unnoticed.

“In the first 20, 25 minutes of the game, he created three opportunities with his skating ability and his thought process coming up ice from behind,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said Friday following an abbreviated practice. “He’s effective when he’s doing that.”

Sanheim is now 13 games into his NHL career, and Thursday marked his 10th in a row. He’s become a fixture on the ice for the Flyers after being forced to spectate from the press box on several occasions in the early stages of the season.

Despite a reputation as a two-way defender, Sanehim’s increased presence has not resulted in a great deal of scoring — only a pair of assists so far.

“The first one will come,” Hakstol said. “I don’t think that’s a concern for anybody.

“He’s working on his game. He’s working to improve the details and the defensive aspect of his game, and as importantly, he’s staying confident getting up ice and in his play with the puck.”

Sanheim found the back of the net 10 times with 27 helpers for the Phantoms in 2016-17, and posted back-to-back 15-goal/50-assist seasons at the junior level prior to his stint in the AHL. Scoring has always been a part of his game.

That’s also not necessarily what the Flyers need from Sanheim right now. First and foremost, they want him to be sound in his own end.

“We’ve got a ton of skilled guys here and guys that can produce offensively,” Sanheim said. “I want to prove to them that I can play that two-way game, and one thing they’ve tried to get on me is, ‘Good defense leads to offense.’ That’s something I’m trying to focus on right now.”

Cliché though it might sound, Sanheim is a believer in the philosophy.

“Last year, where I shot it the most was early on,” Sanheim said. “I was trying to push offense, and we really tried to focus on the defense.

“The funny thing is when I started to focus more on the defense is when my offense actually started to take off. I believe the saying and that’s something I try to take into this season.”

To his credit, Sanheim has been solid defensively. Along the way in his development, there were concerns the young blueliner was maybe too offensive-minded, to his own detriment and that of the team.

That hasn’t been the case as Sanheim has found his footing in the NHL. Since becoming a mainstay in the lineup, he’s been an acceptable minus-2 at even strength.

Hakstol praised the way Sanheim has approached the game on offense.

“For the most part, the offensive opportunities that he creates, they’re opportunities by supporting the play, by using his skating ability to join a rush and come in from behind,” Hakstol said. “I haven’t seen a whole lot of risk offensively to his game, and certainly haven’t seen him trying to force any of the offensive opportunities.”

Sanheim has a long way to go, but there have been flashes of brilliance in his play at both ends of the ice.

“There’s still going to be learning experiences,” Sanheim said. “I’m still going to make mistakes and have to learn from them, but I’m just trying to get better every day and try to make those mistakes as few as possible.

“Last year, it took me quite awhile. I think there were quite a few bad habits from playing junior. This year, with playing that year of pro, it’s moved the process along a little faster.”

As for that first goal, Sanheim doesn’t sound too worried about it, either.

“If I wasn’t getting the chances, I’d be a little more frustrated,” Sanheim said. “I’m getting the looks, and hopefully it starts to go in for me.”

Flyers Weekly Observations: Lumps, bruises aplenty for rookie D-men

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Flyers Weekly Observations: Lumps, bruises aplenty for rookie D-men

Well, that was a busy week for the Flyers, now wasn’t it?

Seven days filled to the brim with four games, each with unique elements that turned into a 1-1-2 week with four points. The Flyers could have ended the week with more than four points. But they also had every reason to finish the week with less than four points.

It started with a mostly ugly 4-3 loss to the visiting Arizona Coyotes on Monday, continued with a 3-0 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Wednesday and a scrappy 2-0 win over the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center on Thursday, and it ended back home with a 5-4 shootout loss to Colorado Avalanche on Saturday evening.

Four games left us with plenty to get down to, so let’s hop right into this week’s Flyers observations.

And let’s begin on the blue line with the young defensemen.

• It was a week of bumps and bruises, both figuratively and literally for the Flyers’ defensemen. Much of the week was played without the injured Shayne Gostisbehere and Radko Gudas, the latter of whom left the game in Chicago early and hasn’t seen the ice since. But for the younger D-men, there were booby traps all over the learning curve this week.

Let’s start with Travis Sanheim, who made a costly mistake Monday against Arizona. And by costly I mean lethal, as it led to the goal that lost the game for the Flyers. During a rush late on the 3-on-3 OT, Sanheim turned his back to the Coyotes' net instead of getting the puck toward the net. His pocket was easily picked and the Coyotes converted on the ensuing 3-on-1 rush. Game. Set. Match. It was an odd decision for a smooth, offensively gifted defenseman, especially at that stage of OT. But you get the sense it was an example of a rookie just a month or so into his career trying to do too much. Those bumps are anticipated, but, man, that was just the wrong time for that move.

Robert Hagg had two similar experiences this week that left a pit in his stomach. First in Chicago on Wednesday, a puck bounced right over his stick after a faceoff win and Jonathan Toews was off to leave Brian Elliott out to dry on a Windy City clothesline. Then Saturday night while on the PK, a Mikko Rantanen pass attempt went right off Hagg’s stick, which was in good position on the ice, and into the net for an Avalanche goal. And to boot, he took a slapper to the kidney area later in the game. Ouch.

Again, these are all lumps that come with being a rookie in the NHL, especially in a high-pressure position such as defenseman. Remember that awful game Ivan Provorov endured early last year in Chicago? Yes, he’s a special talent, but he bounced back almost immediately. The key is not letting one or a couple plays stick in your mind and change the way you play. One good play, no matter how big or small, reinforces all the confidence in the world.

• Speaking of Provorov, that guy is just a machine. Let’s take a look at his ice time this week: 28:07 vs. Arizona, 29:51 vs. Chicago, 27:08 vs. St. Louis, 28:00 vs. Colorado. That’s an average of 28:17 over the last week. What more can he do? A lot. He added three assists vs. the Coyotes and then 10 blocked shots against the Blues. He was a monster in that game in St. Louis, helping keep Russian countryman and sniper Vladamir Tarasenko at bay. It’s hard to remember sometimes that Provorov is just the ripe, old age of 20. At 20, he’s the unquestioned leader of the Flyers’ defense, and rightfully so.  

• The first 50 minutes of the loss to the previously winless Coyotes on Monday was some of the ugliest hockey we’ve seen the Flyers play in a long, long time. No one on the same page. Absolutely nothing in sync. Passes all over the place. Breakdowns aplenty. The list could go on and on and on. To say the effort was lifeless would be quite the understatement. Of course, it’s harder to get up and get motivated for a winless, less-than-sexy team like Arizona. But still, that was inexcusable.

• We all watched Brayden Schenn play for five seasons here in Philadelphia. We know he’s not a dirty player. A physical player always looking to drop a hit whenever he can? Absolutely. But not dirty. But that hit in St. Louis on Sean Couturier was unacceptable.

Fortunately, Couturier only had the wind knocked out of him and came back later in the game, but that hit was late, high and incredibly dangerous. Schenn was given a two-minute minor for interference on the play, which speaks to a more general issue around the league.

That’s exactly the type of hit the NHL wants to eradicate from the game, yet only a two-minute penalty is given? What message does that send? You can knock another player out, but it’s OK, you didn’t do that much wrong? Stiffer penalties, both during and following games, are steps to getting rid of those hits.

• Captain Claude Giroux said it best following the shootout loss the Avs (see video) — The Flyers could really use the upcoming four days off after playing a stretch of seven games in 11 days that included a visit to Canada and a journey to Chicago and St. Louis on back-to-back nights. The stretch of four games in six days this past week was especially grueling. And to top it all off, it seemed like a Flyer was getting nicked up at every turn Saturday night against the Avs. These four days off will be refreshing for a team that’s already been ravaged by injuries at different points this season. We may not like having four days without Flyers hockey to watch, but the Flyers will certainly take it.

Coming up this week: Thursday vs. Chicago (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday vs. Minnesota (7 p.m. on NBCSP+)