Flyers weekly observations: Travis Sanheim's impact on Shayne Gostisbehere's role

Flyers weekly observations: Travis Sanheim's impact on Shayne Gostisbehere's role

The Flyers went to the shootout only once last week.

What's gotten into these guys?

Jokes aside, the Flyers had a solid but unspectacular stretch in which they went 1-1-1 with a quality road win over a divisional opponent. They were bit in the skills competition Saturday and have gone to the shootout seven times during November, which has made for an interesting month.

Let's get into that and more with our weekly observations:

• Shayne Gostisbehere watched Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Flames from the press box. He opened the season as the Flyers' power play quarterback. On Game 23, he was a healthy scratch.

With Gostisbehere looking on, Travis Sanheim saw his role expand and it was noticeable. The 23-year-old played 23:16, his second-highest ice time of the season. He entered the game with a total of 6:22 minutes played on the man advantage. During Saturday's game, he played 2:51 on the power play and looked fluid at the point.

Sanheim, who has good size and a strong skating stride, recorded a goal and an assist over the week. The 2014 first-round pick could be a roadblock to Gostisbehere earning back his role and minutes.

The season is young and Gostisbehere didn't just lose his offensive ability. But the 26-year-old has hardly shown glimpses of his trademark slipperiness that helps the Flyers transition the puck up ice and break down the opposition. When he's not providing that, his effectiveness can drop.

Does Gostisbehere have the best traits of a simpler, bottom-pair guy? It's a fair question and makes Sanheim's job duties worth watching moving forward.

• Entering Monday, only three NHL teams had more points than the Flyers in November. Alain Vigneault's bunch has earned at least a point in 10 of 12 games this month (6-2-4).

Some of that is good, some of that is not so good.

The Flyers are in a playoff spot two games before Thanksgiving. Over the previous two seasons, the Flyers were in last place of the Metropolitan Division on Turkey Day.

Then again, the Flyers have lost four of seven shootouts during November. In three of those four shootout defeats, the Flyers held a lead in the third period. So far this month, eight of the Flyers' 12 games have gone past regulation. In six of those eight, the Flyers had a third-period advantage.

No team is going to close out every single game but the Flyers must start tacking onto leads and securing them. The shootout/overtime trend could eventually become costly.

• On Saturday, James van Riemsdyk played only 9:06 minutes, his lowest ice time in a game (non-injury related) since the 2010-11 season. JVR entered the week playing 16:33 minutes per game but played an average of 11 over the Flyers' three-game week.

He's currently on the Flyers' fourth line and is scoreless over his last seven games. The two-time 30-plus goal scorer might have to notch a greasy goal in limited minutes to climb back up the lineup.

The fourth line is not where he is best utilized.


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Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault's heartwarming favorite moment of quarantine

Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault's heartwarming favorite moment of quarantine

In late April during the suspension of the 2019-20 NHL season, Alain Vigneault shared his appreciation for the essential workers on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Flyers' head coach made his way back home to Gatineau, Quebec, where his girlfriend Monica Cotton is an emergency nurse and his sister Nicole Vigneault works for Quebec Health (see story).

He also talked about his parents.

"They’re both in their senior residence, they’ve both been isolated since Day 1," he said on April 29. "My mom is having a little bit more challenging time mentally in the past few months, but my dad is still as sharp as he can be. There’s no doubt that him going through this by himself, he’s very lonely."

For Vigneault, his first visit to see his parents during the quarantine meant the world to the 59-year-old head coach.

He shared the touching story and a picture to Flyers senior director of communications Zack Hill, which you can read and see below. He also chatted about it Thursday on 97.5 The Fanatic's "Farzetta in the Morning" show with Marc Farzetta.

It was the first day I was officially allowed to go out after serving my 14-day quarantine since arriving back in Gatineau, Quebec. The first trip I made was to my parents' senior care residence.

My mom Loraine (87) and dad Maurice (85) were originally both on the fifth floor but my mom is now battling dementia so she had to be moved to a 24-hour service on the second floor. When I arrived, they both walked out onto the second floor balcony and I was able to take this photo. We were able to talk for a few minutes. It was a very cold day in May but it was a good day for my mom. She recognized me and that was a real good positive for me. 

Ever since the beginning of May, my sister and I had been visiting every other day. For the last three to four weeks, the country has opened up and my dad can travel and do his errands and can leave the residence. It's coming along in Canada in a positive way.

This moment was no doubt the highlight of my quarantine — getting to see my parents.

Alain Vigneault seeing his parents Maurice and Loraine. (Picture courtesy of Vigneault)

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Flyers training camp observations: A 'dangerous card,' Claude Giroux's game, more

Flyers training camp observations: A 'dangerous card,' Claude Giroux's game, more

Alain Vigneault turned things up a notch Wednesday.

The Flyers got after it with high-volume, condition-heavy practices as training camp continued in the team's preparation for the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament.

"Everything’s just kind of accelerated with a shorter camp and the meaningful games," Justin Braun said. "He’s pushing it; he’s not going overboard."

The team won't be on the ice Thursday. Here's its schedule through the weekend.

Let's dive into five observations over the camp's first three days. We'll have five more later today.

'That's a dangerous card to have'

Maybe it's the benefit of being only 21 years old. Monday marked the Flyers' first formal practice since March 11, a span of 124 days, and Hart somehow found a way to look like he had never stopped playing during the NHL hiatus.

Hart was impressive and it served as a reminder (even if you didn't need one) that this team possesses a huge amenity in the playoffs: a young goalie who can go on a run.

During one drill, Hart robbed point-producing prospect Morgan Frost, who skated away smiling. In another sequence, Hart denied a Matt Niskanen rebound attempt with a ridiculous split stop. Niskanen, who has a Stanley Cup ring and owns 125 career playoff appearances to his name, absolutely loved the save as he shouted out loud in appreciation.

I talked to him the other day and he said he feels good," Niskanen said Monday about Hart. "I don’t know anything on how to critique a goalie, but he looked awesome today. He’s shown what he can do, his capabilities. I think everybody’s real confident and excited to have him back there. Especially the further you go now, you've got a talented goalie and he gets hot, ooh, that’s a dangerous card to have. We have that potential with Carter and he looks fresh and happy. Looked pretty sharp to me today.

Hart was off his game Wednesday but the practice featured a ton of work for the goalies with all kinds of odd-man drills. Nothing to worry about. Nobody seems worried about Hart's first taste of the NHL playoffs.

"Whenever I play, I'm always nervous before games but that’s just because I care," Hart said Tuesday. "That’s not at the point where I let it affect me or let it affect my game. I'm sure there will be nerves that come when the first playoff game comes about here. That’s just part of hockey. As a younger player, that’s just part of the steps in your career that you have to take. It's definitely one step that I've been waiting for my whole life. It’ll definitely be very exciting and I know our group here is really ready to get things going."

Captain's log

Would anybody be surprised if Claude Giroux is able to play into his 40s?

We ask because his skill and smarts will never go away; if anything, they've gotten better with age.

Even after an unprecedented layoff like this, he stands out from the onset and looks like the best playmaker on the ice.

He put on a mini clinic Tuesday and gave Hart fits Wednesday (the captain scored a lot on the kid).

Like always, there will be many eyes on Giroux, who has four points and a minus-12 mark over his last two postseason series (12 games). The Flyers, though, are much deeper and more balanced in 2019-20, which has helped Giroux and could open things up for the 32-year-old during these playoffs.

The Vigneault factor

A plus for the Flyers should be Vigneault's experience. At his previous three stops (Canadiens, Canucks, Rangers), each of his first seasons resulted in playoff bids and at least one series win. In his 16 seasons as an NHL head coach before coming to the Flyers, Vigneault secured 11 playoff berths, with eight of those teams advancing past the first round.

"My focus here is not just to win the first round, but it’s the first step obviously," Vigneault said Tuesday. "It’s like anything else, when you’re in the playoffs, you’ve got to focus on that game, stay in that moment, so I think that’s what we’re going to do as a staff is make sure that our guys don’t look too far ahead, stay in the moment and do what we need to do the first game, then move on to the second game. It’s about players preparing, coaches preparing the team for specific adjustments that you need from one game to the other."

In Year 1 with the Flyers, Vigneault proved how good he is at getting his team to turn the page. That quality was a major reason why the Flyers went 19-6-1 since Jan. 8 without consecutive losses.

What will be a new experience for Vigneault (and Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper and Capitals head coach Todd Reirden) is strategy in the round robin. The Flyers know the importance of the round robin as it offers them a chance to improve their seed and first-round matchup. Ultimately, though, Vigneault wants to be in the most ideal shape possible for that best-of-seven first-round series.

Brian Elliott and some of the Flyers' key extras are going to see action in the round robin, which Vigneault will use to help construct his best Game 1 lineup in the first round.

"Obviously if your intentions are going on a long playoff run, a lot of times there are some battle days and there are some days where you need guys to step up and chip in," Vigneault said Monday. "To do that, it would be safe to say at this time that I intend on using more than 20 guys for those four games (one exhibition contest, three round-robin matchups). As important as they are, I’m going to look at different players in different situations during that time. It’s not about an experiment, but it’s about finding out where guys are and then making the best decision for the team."

'Why not us?'

With the Flyers' renewed health because of the prolonged stoppage along with the acquisitions of Derek Grant and Nate Thompson at the trade deadline, Vigneault has good decisions to make, especially at forward.

One decision could come down to the veteran Thompson or rookie Joel Farabee as the team's extra forward. A thought would be Farabee gets the early nod in the lineup, but regardless, the Flyers have the ability to mix and match and adjust with nice depth on an expanded roster. It'll be a big storyline moving forward.

We like the depth of our club," Fletcher said. "I think you’ll see as you watch practices this week — we have six good forward lines, we have six good defense pairings and four talented goaltenders. We feel that we have the depth and we have the talent. 

"We’ve put ourselves in a good position, we’re a good hockey team, yet we’re all coming off of a four-month pause. We’ll have to see what it means but we’re going to focus on what we can control, we like our team, we like our group. And why not us? Let’s push forward here and see what we can do.

Status of Ghost

Speaking of lineup decisions, Shayne Gostisbehere was forced to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right knee about seven weeks ago. He had a procedure done on his left knee in January.

The 27-year-old defenseman has been through a lot and this latest hurdle could impact his ability or availability in the beginning of the tournament.

In early February, Gostisbehere tried to come back 23 days after his surgery. He was rusty in his return on Feb. 6 and then missed more time as he dealt with lingering issues before needing a conditioning loan to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley on Feb. 20. Reps and rhythm were critical then, and that may ring true this time, as well.

"It was something I was trying to rehab personally and I hit a point to where there was no way I could rehab it anymore," Gostisbehere said after practice Monday about the most recent knee injury.

“I was compensating so much over time. My quads were kind of uneven and it was really hard to fix it off the ice and workout-wise.

"Trying to battle back from that. I haven’t really skated too much. It was awesome to get out there with the boys and see where I was at."

We'll have to wait and see if Gostisbehere feels like himself at the Flyers' start of the tournament Aug. 2. If Gostisbehere doesn't look very comfortable, swift and effective in the exhibition game or the round-robin contests, Vigneault's decision on the Flyers' sixth defenseman for Game 1 of the first round will not be as difficult.

“My ultimate goal is to get back in the lineup, get out there and do I what can do to contribute to this team, win a Stanley Cup," Gostisbehere said when asked if he'll have any limitations come tournament time. "Right now, I’m just focused on good skates, getting out there and getting that feeling. It’s been tough but just grinding my way, I want to work hard and I want to help this team win.

“It’s definitely been a tough road, especially with all this stuff going on. But I’m not going to feel bad for myself, there’s a lot of stuff going on in this world that people are worried about. I’m just going to do my best to get back, be healthy and help this team win."

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