Johnny Oduya

A look at why Sanheim is back, but maybe not for long

A look at why Sanheim is back, but maybe not for long

In comes one rookie defenseman, but out goes the other.

The reason for Travis Sanheim's recall Friday night under emergency conditions is because Robert Hagg will miss two weeks with a lower-body injury, while Johnny Oduya is out Saturday and day to day with a lower-body injury, as well.

So, the 21-year-old Sanheim is back and will play his first game since Jan. 13 as the Flyers host the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.

How long Sanheim stays is in question, though.

When the 36-year-old Oduya, claimed off waivers Feb. 26, is healthy enough to play, it's presumed he'll enter the lineup. The Flyers will then have to make a decision on Sanheim because he's here on emergency loan and they also won't like the 2014 first-round pick sitting as the seventh defenseman.

That's the reason why Sanheim had been with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley since Jan. 22 — so he could play and develop. With the Phantoms, Sanheim certainly earned his way back to the Flyers, as he put up 16 points (one goal, 15 assists) and a plus-14 rating in 18 games.

Expect Sanheim to slide into the Flyers' second defensive pairing alongside Andrew MacDonald.

Meanwhile, losing Hagg for two weeks is a blow to the Flyers. The 23-year-old had played all 68 games thus far and was steadily reliable, while also leading the NHL in hits with 232.

Flyers have questions after lousy Florida trip

Flyers have questions after lousy Florida trip

The Flyers are done with the state of Florida, and aside from receiving a reprieve from paying state income tax, there weren't many rays of hope to come out of the Sunshine State over the weekend. The Flyers allowed 10 goals over the weekend set against the Lightning and Panthers and have now surrendered 14 goals over their last three games, all losses. It's clear the Flyers have some warts to fix, and the first chance for fixing? Wednesday when the rival Penguins come to town.

Sanheim time?
Defensively, the Flyers were a mess over the weekend for a myriad of reasons. Against the Lightning, it came down to poor collective execution in the defensive zone exits, which were a problem area going back to last Thursday’s clunker against the Hurricanes. Ivan Provorov’s errant pass led to Dan Girardi’s goal in the second period and Andrew MacDonald’s blatant third-period giveaway led to Victor Hedman’s go-ahead goal.

Against the Panthers, the curse was the Flyers' self-inflicted wounds and failures to contain the Panthers' skilled forwards, coupled with more of those pesky turnovers that resulted in stretch passes and breakaways. With injuries to MacDonald (upper body, day to day, per GM Ron Hextall) and Johnny Oduya (left Sunday's game, no official update yet), the Flyers may be looking to dip into their Lehigh Valley depth to add a defenseman. Travis Sanheim has played exceptionally well with 16 points in 18 games and an eye-popping plus-14 rating since he was sent down. While Sanheim can be more assertive offensively at the AHL level, it’s critical that his defense has improved for him to earn a spot on the Flyers' blue line, but I don’t think there’s much of a downgrade with him over Oduya.

Sure, Oduya has veteran experience, but there’s a reason why the Senators weren’t able to trade him for a low-round draft pick and why roughly two-thirds of the league passed up on the 36-year-old defenseman before the Flyers claimed him off waivers last week. It’s naive to think Oduya could just settle in and fortify the Flyers' defense corps. Oduya needs practice time, but the early results in Florida weren’t favorable.   

Power-play Patrick
One of the biggest decisions looming for head coach Dave Hakstol is the personnel on his top power-play unit as Wayne Simmonds looks set to return from injury this week. Nolan Patrick has excelled since he was inserted onto that unit in Simmonds' place. In fact, the Flyers' rookie center has scored the team’s last three power-play goals. The last Flyer outside of Patrick to score on the power play was Claude Giroux on Feb. 13 in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Devils.

Patrick’s net-front presence is different from what Simmonds brings. Patrick has a knack for finding the open seams down low that require quick, inside looks on plays from the perimeter. He has soft hands and is capable of accurately redirecting and elevating pucks sent in his direction. The "Wayne Train" prefers a more blue-collar approach as a disruptive force, taking away the goaltender’s vision while redirecting shots from the point and hammering away at rebounds.

Both styles have proven to be equally effective on the Flyers' setup. My hunch is that Hakstol reinserts Simmonds on that top unit once he’s healthy. He’s a leader and you can’t discount the 85 power-play goals he’s scored since joining the Flyers in 2011-12 (second to Alex Ovechkin in that span). It’s not as if the power play has been clicking over its past seven games with Simmonds out of the lineup. The group is just 3 for 22, or 14 percent efficiency.

Ghost and the gang
Regardless of the outcome, Shayne Gostisbehere was all smiles after the Panthers game as he met with with the Florida state championship hockey team from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students and faculty members were fatally shot on Feb. 14. Gostisbehere attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas for two years.

“It’s the least I could do,” Gostisbehere said. “I’ve got to thank the Panthers for setting it up and obviously the Flyers for going with it. It’s just something to take their minds off. They’ve had a rough past couple of weeks here."

2 maligned pieces have Flyers' trust

2 maligned pieces have Flyers' trust

VOORHEES, N.J. — Who can forget Game 1 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final? 

Ryan Parent, a 22-year-old defenseman, took his first shift to only be overwhelmed in his own end of the ice, which led to Chicago’s first goal of the series. There would be many more goals, but you couldn’t blame any of those on Parent.

That was his only shift of that series. He had lost Peter Laviolette’s trust, and the promising first-round pick acquired in the Peter Forsberg trade with Nashville in 2007, never played for the Flyers again.

Sometimes a team is as only good as its last line of defense or its third defense pairing.

If the Flyers' February success can be attributed to something as wildly mystifying as the Eagles' Super Bowl, then there has to be some merit to think the pairing of Brandon Manning and Radko Gudas has also contributed to the team’s overall defensive play. 

There may be isolated moments in a game when they’re caught in their own end (along with the fourth line), but together, they certainly don’t give Dave Hakstol reservations about playing them during crucial moments.

“No. 1, they have a good veteran presence to them,” Hakstol said. “The chemistry they’ve built with that experience has been very important to our team. They defend hard and they’ve been a very efficient pair back there.”

Efficient and experienced.

The Manning-Gudas combo has more combined games played on the Flyers' blue line with 510. You can also trace their partnership back to the 2016 Eastern Conference quarterfinals and the valuable experience they gained in slowing down Washington’s high octane offense to just two goals over the final three games of that series.

“It starts with a relationship off the ice,” Manning said. “When you know someone that well, it’s easy to talk to about your play on the ice or whatever’s going on. Even looking back at the playoffs in Washington, I think it was the same thing — 20 to 25 games together down the stretch. When you play with someone that much, it makes everything else that much easier.”

Having Manning and Gudas log significant minutes not only helps fortify the Flyers defensively but affords Hakstol from having to overextend his top pairing of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere, especially in the manner in which Provorov has struggled over the second half of the season.

Ron Hextall wasn’t looking to replace Manning or Gudas before the trade deadline but rather provide depth. As of Wednesday, Johnny Oduya had not made it to Philadelphia as he continues to work through some visa logistics on his way here from Ottawa, Ontario.

“We’ll see where he fits into our group, but we’re really happy with our group of six,” Hakstol said. “Our pairs have fit together very well. We’ve got some good chemistry there, and we’ll be cautious about any changes we make.”