Flyers shuffle defensive pairings with Andrew MacDonald out

AP Images

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, 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

Flyers at Flames: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Flyers at Flames: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

CALGARY, Alberta — Can the Flyers duplicate their Western Canadian success from a year ago?

The Flyers turned their 2017-18 season around after sweeping the Calgary-Edmonton-Vancouver road trip for the first time in 21 years.

It all starts Wednesday night as the Flyers take on the Flames for the first of three games in a four-day span. Last season, the Flyers won, 5-2, in Calgary as Brian Elliott stopped 43 shots in the victory. 

Let's look at the essentials:

When: 8:30 p.m. ET with Flyers Pregame Live at 8 p.m.
Where: Scotiabank Saddledome
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

• Once again, Dave Hakstol has elected to use the Western Canada trip to drastically change the makeup of his lines, splitting up Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier for the first time since the 2016-17 regular season. 

Last season, Hakstol broke up what was the most efficient line in hockey (Giroux-Couturier-Jakub Voracek) in an effort to establish some balance among his forwards.

Giroux and Couturier had been paired together dating back to Oct. 4, 2017, playing the last 108 regular-season games together on the same line. Giroux scored 134 points (44 goals, 90 assists), while Couturier produced 96 points (41 goals, 55 assists).

Couturier will return after missing the previous two games with a lower-body injury. 

“I think it was just more cautious,” Couturier said. “I probably could have played through it.”

• James van Riemsdyk is one point shy of 400 for his NHL career. 

• Voracek continues his torrid pace with a season-high five-game point streak. Voracek has scored three goals to go along with three assists and is currently four points shy of 600 for his career. 

• Among the myriad of changes, recent call-up Phil Varone will move over from right winger to his natural center position and will anchor the Flyers' fourth line with Oskar Lindblom and Dale Weise. It’s a move that certainly speaks volumes about where the team is with Jori Lehtera and Jordan Weal, who will be healthy scratches.

That’s his natural position. I think he lied to me a little bit when I asked him if he had played wing. How about right wing? He said, ‘Oh yeah. All the time.’ He went in and he did a good job. He looked comfortable and did a good job with the puck.

- Hakstol on Varone

• Anthony Stolarz will make his seventh straight appearance in net — the longest stretch of games of any Flyers goaltender this season. In Stolarz’s previous six games, an interesting trend has developed as he has allowed between two and four goals: two-four-two-four-two-four.

• This may not be the best time for the Flyers to face high-scoring left winger Johnny Gaudreau. The South Jersey native is coming off a strong week in which he was named the NHL’s third star. Gaudreau has 20 points over his last 12 games with a seven-game point streak that was snapped Sunday in a 1-0 loss to the Oilers.

However, Gaudreau may have been preoccupied leading up to that game against Edmonton after learning the devastating fate of his hometown Eagles, who had lost in overtime, 29-23, to the Cowboys. 

Yeah, tough loss. Playing Edmonton, I couldn’t warm up for the first 15 minutes after our team meeting. I had to watch the overtime there. I thought he was going to intercept it there at the end. Unfortunate loss but a lot of injuries. That’s what happens sometimes.

• The Flames have the second-most explosive offense in the NHL, averaging 4.20 goals per game, which is second to the Lightning.

• Flames captain Mark Giordano will return to the lineup after serving a two-game suspension for kneeing Wild center Mikko Koivu. The Flames split the two games Giordano missed. He’s currently fifth among NHL defensemen with 29 points this season. 

Projected lineup

James van Riemsdyk-Claude Giroux-Travis Konecny
Michael Raffl-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Scott Laughton-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Oskar Lindblom-Phil Varone-Dale Weise

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

Anthony Stolarz
Michal Neuvirth

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers

Chuck Fletcher: Brent Flahr 'has a good eye for talent,' familiar with Flyers' scouts

Chuck Fletcher: Brent Flahr 'has a good eye for talent,' familiar with Flyers' scouts

CALGARY, Alberta — Chuck Fletcher on Wednesday added Brent Flahr as vice president and assistant general manager, the position formerly held by Chris Pryor, who was fired two days after Ron Hextall.

Flahr will be primarily responsible for the amateur scouting department and will oversee draft day — the same role he served with the Wild from 2010 to 2018.

“He’s been very active on the amateur scouting front this year, so he’ll work closely with our amateur scouts here in Philadelphia,” Fletcher said Wednesday. “He’ll also be a key advisor to me on player transactions and he’s got very good front office experience.”

In those eight seasons under Flahr, Minnesota drafted forwards Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker in 2010, defenseman Jonas Brodin in 2011, Mathew Dumba in 2012 and Alex Tuch in 2014. Dumba currently leads all NHL defensemen with 12 goals this season.

If there’s a knock against Flahr, it's that he hasn’t found that diamond-in-the-rough type of player in the third or later rounds. There hasn’t been one Wild prospect selected after the first two rounds that has had a promising NHL career.

However, Flahr had been a little handcuffed over the past few years. The Wild had a total of four picks in 2016, and didn’t have a first- or- second-round selection in 2017.

“I took a lot of picks away from him the past few years,” Fletcher said. “We traded a lot of picks the past few years in Minnesota, trying to get better and trying to win, so considering the number of picks the scouting staff had, I think they did a very good job.”

The move was expected considering Flahr is highly regarded and is also one of Fletcher’s closest confidants as they go back to Fletcher’s time with the Anaheim Ducks and even the Florida Panthers, when Flahr was selling tickets and Fletcher served as assistant GM from 1993 to 2002 (see story).

“He has a good eye for talent and Brent is very familiar with many of the Flyers' [scouts],” Fletcher said. “They’ve already been communicating and I think it will be a seamless transition, where there’s a lot of mutual respect. I think it will work very well with the guys that are currently on our staff.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers