Throughout the first half of this season, the Flyers have been relatively injury free on defense, but as a group, they’ve regressed from last season. However, under assistant Rick Wilson and new coach Scott Gordon, we’re beginning to see signs of improvement.
After breaking down the goaltending Monday, we grade out the Flyers' blue line.
Stats: 2 G, 11 A, plus-10, 18:00 A/TOI
Dare I say that Gudas has been the Flyers' steadiest defenseman this season. While some writers like to use Corsi as a barometer for puck possession, I like to utilize goals against/60 minutes during 5-on-5 play to determine the strength of a player’s overall defense. Gudas’ 1.76 goals allowed/60 min. is the best of any Flyers defenseman … by far. Perhaps most impressively is how Gudas has adapted his physical game without taking foolish penalties.
Offensively, Gudas’ philosophy seems rather simple. When given the opportunity, just put the puck on net as he leads the team with 16 rebounds created at even strength while contributing 13 points — a nice total considering he barely strays from the blue line.
Stats: 4 G, 9 A, plus-5, 17:43 A/TOI
Hagg has gained a reputation as such a hard hitter that other teams' forwards have altered their forechecking approach with the Flyers' defenseman on the ice. Hagg had his most consistent month in November and has cut down on some of the positioning flaws in the defensive zone that were a problem area in his rookie season.
Hagg has even chipped in some additional offense this season. His 15 primary points (goals, first assists) at 5-on-5 is second on the Flyers behind Travis Sanheim’s 16, and he’s currently on pace to finish with seven goals and 22 points, which would more than double last season’s totals.
Stats: 4 G, 11A, minus-6, 17:56 A/TOI
I like the decision from Wilson in placing Sanheim on the top pairing Ivan Provorov. Not only was the Provy-Shayne Gostisbehere combination simply not working, but it has given the Flyers a chance to see how much responsibility Sanheim can handle. Sanheim was tested early against the opposition’s top forwards with a minus-12 rating in 13 games but has had periods of steady play. Has seen his ice time jump by five minutes from October into January.
Overall, Sanheim has made a conscious effort to refine the defensive aspect of his game with improved positioning but can still get beaten one-on-one and along the boards. Would also prefer to see Sanheim on one of the two power-play units.
Stats: 4 G, 13 A, minus-14, 24:54 A/TOI
It’s beyond baffling to see Provorov’s struggles with his puck management this season. It began over a 10-15 game stretch last season, and it’s been a problem area for the entire season. The new coaching staff has worked on eliminating some of those errant passes and making that first pass up the boards. Provorov’s 3.28 goals allowed/60 min. at even strength is up significantly from 2.18 last season.
For a player many expected to work his way into the Norris Trophy conversation, it’s been quite the regression offensively as well. Provorov is projected to finish with seven goals after leading all NHL defensemen with 17 last season. As he simplifies his game, look for Provorov to have a much better second half.
Stats: 5 G, 15 A, minus-12, 20:12 A/TOI
Everything came together for Gostisbehere last season, and conversely, nothing worked over the first few months of this season. Ghost was an NHL-worst minus-18 when Dave Hakstol was fired. Since then, he’s had much more favorable matchups and has settled in playing alongside Andrew MacDonald as the team’s third pairing.
However, the most alarming aspect to Gostisbehere’s season has been his lack of efficiency on the power play, so much so, he’s no longer part of that top unit. Last season, he averaged 7.03 pts./60 min. on the PP compared to just 2.86 this season, a 59 percent dropoff. A big reason to Gostisbehere’s lack of success on the power play has been a failure to get pucks through traffic and his shot on net.
Stats: 0 G, 1 A, plus-4, 16:13 A/TOI
After some obvious struggles in the opening month, Folin has settled in but still can’t be counted on to play extensively. Interestingly, Gordon is much cautious in his use of Folin than Hakstol and Gord Murphy were. After averaging over 17 minutes in October and November, Folin is playing just under 13 minutes in January.
Will be interesting to see how much the Flyers utilize Folin over the second half of the season with Phillippe Myers possibly getting a look with the big club. There doesn’t seem to be much reason to invest in Folin as he won’t be with the team beyond this season and the Flyers can fill that role with a Phantom next season.
Stats: 0 G, 5 A, minus -5, 17:55 A/TOI
Quite frankly, MacDonald came back way too early from a lower-body injury he suffered during an offseason workout and that seemed to throw off the first half of his season. Has been limited to 27 games and has been a healthy scratch as a result of ineffective play. More turnover prone than last season, MacDonald has also really struggled early on with the penalty kill this season.
Last season was the first time MacDonald TOI dipped below 20 minutes per game, and this season, it’s a career-low 17:55. Hasn’t been nearly as active jumping in offensively as well. Zero goals in 27 games with no shots on net in 10 of those games.
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