Travis Sanheim

What are Flyers made of? We're about to find out

What are Flyers made of? We're about to find out

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Penguins have the Flyers on the canvas in a headlock.

The faces of the guys who wear orange and black are turning purple, and unless they put up a courageous fight as they did in Game 2, they will tap out of this best-of-seven series after just five games (see story).

General manager Ron Hextall spoke to the media for the first time since the series started and believes the Flyers have displayed a lack of mental fortitude through the first four games.

“A lot of it is mentality,” Hextall said. “We need to be stronger if a bump goes the other way. We need to be stronger and bounce back and create energy going back our way. The playoffs are a series of momentum [swings] — within a period and within a game. We need to do a better job of bringing the momentum back our way."

So where exactly does that start? The return of Sean Couturier would help considerably.

After sitting out Game 4’s 5-0 loss, the Selke Trophy finalist hasn’t ruled out playing in Game 5 after skating Wednesday and Thursday on his own. Hextall said Couturier would travel to Pittsburgh and nothing more than that.

“I’m feeling better every day, and we’ll see how I feel tomorrow,” Couturier said. “It’s really on me to see how I feel every day and hopefully, it keeps getting better. It’s really up to my body to see how it keeps progressing.”

Dave Hakstol switched up his lines once again Thursday, most notably installing Valtteri Filppula onto the top line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and breaking up the top defense pairing of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere.

Robert Hagg is also expected to make his series debut, playing alongside Andrew MacDonald as fellow rookie Travis Sanheim will serve as the healthy scratch.

“About time,” Hagg said. “I’m looking forward to it tomorrow. Hopefully, I can bring something to the team, some energy. I think it’s perfect and I can’t wait to go in and show what I can bring to the team.”

“He brings a different element than a couple of guys in the lineup if we’re so inclined to make that change,” Hakstol said. “We haven’t generated very much over the last five periods, but at the same time, we’ve given up quite a bit in some of the harder areas.”

Toward the end of Thursday’s 45-minute practice, Giroux gathered his teammates around and delivered a speech he hopes can galvanize the Flyers for Game 5 and bring the series back to Philadelphia for Game 6.

“I think it’s believing in ourselves," Giroux said. "All year we’ve done that, and we’ve talked about it before. You lose 10 in a row and find a way to make the playoffs. Tomorrow’s a big game for us, and if we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down swinging.”

Quick hits
• Speaking on the collision with Radko Gudas, Couturier said, "We've done this drill all year. It was bad timing and a fluke accident. There's no one to really blame, and I should have maybe had my head up there."

• Hextall believes Couturier should be the Selke Trophy front-runner based on his outstanding 2017-18 season.

"I think he should win it," Hextall said. "I know those other players fairly well, and yes, I watch Coots on a daily basis, but the two-way game that he brings to our team is in my mind, the best in the league this year."

• Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist will miss his second straight game.

Why has Dave Hakstol gone away from Robert Hagg?

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AP Images/USA Today Images

Why has Dave Hakstol gone away from Robert Hagg?

VOORHEES, N.J. — If you wanted to hang a banner that represented the thoughts of Flyers fans, perhaps the most prominent message at the Wells Fargo Center would read “Play the Kids.”

And if you look up and down the Flyers' roster, it would appear Dave Hakstol shares that same sentiment.

On a nightly basis, you’ll find 19-year-old Nolan Patrick, 21-year-olds Oskar Lindblom, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny, and more recently 22-year-old Travis Sanheim. All of this youth is why the Flyers are one of the youngest teams in the Eastern Conference.

But sometimes it’s not enough, and more recently, the most perplexing decision has been to sit the most seasoned rookie, 23-year-old Robert Hagg, who was on track to play all 82 games until an injury sidelined him for the first time on March 10. 

“First of all, if you told me a young player would play 70-something games, I would be pretty good with that,” general manager Ron Hextall said. “It’s not like you’re expecting him to play every single game. Hagg has done a good job for us and I know when he comes back in, he’ll do a good job for us.”

From a solid job to now no job, Hagg appears to be the first Flyers player this season to lose his role after sustaining an injury. 

“I don’t know, maybe,” Hagg said. “I played two games since I came back. Hexy wanted to get me back, as well, to get the timing right and all that stuff. It is what it is and you have to deal with it. The team is doing pretty well right now, so getting into the playoffs is all that matters.”

Despite spending most of the season on the right side of Andrew MacDonald, Hagg was paired with Radko Gudas in his two-game return and it proved to be a choppy combination. Then again, so has Sanheim and Gudas and at times, Brandon Manning with Gudas. 

Sunday against the Bruins, Gudas was clearly the worst of the Flyers' six defensemen, especially in the Flyers' end of the ice, while committing the types of mistakes you’d expect to see from a rookie like Hagg, who had played rather consistently for much of the season. 

“He wasn’t clean enough with the puck,” Hakstol said Sunday about Gudas. “Games come down to small plays and how efficient you are with the puck, especially when you’re playing against good players, it's important. There was a couple of those tonight. In most cases, he had second effort that helped them clean it up, but there was a couple of plays that he needs to be cleaner on.” 

When Sanheim returned to the Flyers following an 18-game stint with the Phantoms, Hakstol was cautious to not pair him with Gudas again, and consequently, Sanheim has played considerably better with MacDonald. 

Like Gudas, Hagg hits hard while separating the player from the puck, he’s capable of killing penalties, blocking shots and positionally it appears the rookie is just as reliable.

Or maybe not. 

“[The coaches] see about 50 times more video than what we see,” Hextall said. “Yeah, you tend to err on experience, but if a young guy does it and can do it, coaches will give him a chance.”

And with Hagg, you can’t help but wonder when that chance will come again.

Film shows why Travis Sanheim should be here to stay

Film shows why Travis Sanheim should be here to stay

With a rookie defenseman out with an injury and veteran day to day, an opportunity arose Saturday for a second chance.

From here, Travis Sanheim got a passing grade.

After a seven-week stint in the AHL, Sanheim was back in The Show following an emergency call-up because of injuries to Robert Hagg (two weeks) and Johnny Oduya (day to day).

“When I went down,” Sanheim said, “I wanted to get that next opportunity. It’s unfortunate with the injuries, but I got a chance here to take advantage of the opportunity.”

In his first NHL action since Jan. 13, Sanheim more than doubled his ice time while playing a much more controlled game in all three zones while paired with Andrew MacDonald.

Sanheim played 12 minutes, 44 seconds during the Flyers2-1 win over the Jets, registering a shot on goal and finishing as a plus-1. What he did best didn’t show up in the box score.

“Right from the first shift, he was aggressive,” MacDonald said. “He made some really nice stick plays in the neutral zone and broke up some plays. Sent their guys in on great transition plays. I think he made that nice stretch pass from behind our net right away and you could tell he was feeling comfortable and confident. That’s a heck of a way to come back in.”

Let’s look at two plays from one shift in the first period that helped set the tone for Sanheim.

Here, Jets center Jack Roslovic finds himself on a 1-on-2 with Sanheim and MacDonald, who both play their gaps well. Roslovic doesn’t have many options as he crosses the red line.

Roslovic attempts to cut toward the sideboards with his momentum, but Sanheim positioned himself well to defend and attacks with a stick check, breaking up any potential danger.

One of Sanheim’s flaws before his demotion was stick checking, but on Saturday, he took calculated risks as to when to attack.

Another high point from Sanheim was a stretch pass that came about 18 seconds before impeding Roslovic. This time, Sanheim did what he does best.

Sanheim gathers the puck behind Petr Mrazek with four Jets in the Flyers’ zone. Matt Read and Scott Laughton begin their breakouts as Sanheim canvasses the ice.

As two Winnipeg players get back and another attempts to pressure Sanheim, the blueliner fires a stretch pass, hitting Laughton in stride. Laughton doesn’t get a scoring chance because the Jets defended well, but Sanheim’s pass is the highlight.

We know Sanheim’s puck-moving and offensive instincts are NHL-ready; what needed fine-tuning, whether we agree with where it needed to take place, was his play in his own end.

It was one game, but Sanheim played well against the Jets. The Flyers snapped a five-game losing streak, and they did so with Sanheim fitting nicely on the second pair.

Sanheim deserves another game, but will he get it? We'll see.

“He just looked like a guy who got his game back a little bit," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said.