As weekends go, the Flyers have had far worse.
Oh, they’ve had better too, but coming off two truly pathetic efforts in New York and Pittsburgh, to register a pair of shootouts -one a win, and one a loss- and come away with three out of a possible four points is nothing to sneeze at.
That’s what happened this weekend, after the Flyers dropped a 4-3 shootout decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs 24 hours after winning by that same score in New Jersey.
The goal scorers against Toronto were Ivan Provorov, Claude Giroux and Travis Sanheim. The latter had an eventful night, and Brian Elliott was really good again in goal, giving the Flyers chance after chance to win the game.
Garnering those three points has the Flyers at 6-5-2 through 13 games, which has them in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division, and three points out of a wild card playoff position.
Yes, it’s way too early to talk about such things, but November is a very busy month for the Flyers with 16 games in 30 days and 14 of those games are against divisional or conference rivals, meaning that once the calendar flips to December, a third of the season will have been played and the standings will become a crucial part of the conversation about the Flyers.
How they get there and what their status will look like at that point will have to do with the play of several key players, many of whom I’d like to highlight now:
Usually when a guy scores a goal, they garner attention from the media. But, if I’m being honest, Provorov was always going to be a guy I was including in this post, whether he scored or not.
The Flyers’ defense has been in the cross hairs lately, and deservedly so for its uneven and sometimes erratic play.
However, Provorov has been steady. Not great, like he was two seasons ago, but also not the same guy who took a huge step backward last season.
He’s been reliable. With a veteran partner like Matt Niskanen, who is taking some of the pressure off of Provorov that was so prevalent a year ago, the still-22-year-old defenseman has made strides toward being the top defenseman on the team again.
He still garners the most minutes of any of the Flyers defenseman, meaning coach Alain Vigneaut and assistant Mike Yeo, who is in charge of the defense, recognize Provorov’s skill and ability.
For the second time this year, Provorov has been moved back to the top power play unit as well, replacing Shayne Gostisbehere. The last time was a brief stint. This time, I’m thinking he’ll get a longer look.
Especially if you score on the power play:
— x-Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) November 2, 2019
I asked Vigneault about the decision to put Provy back on the top unit and what he likes about having him there and here’s what he said:
“He skates real well and I like the way he moves laterally on that power play. It opened up a couple of lanes. Our first goal, say what you want, there was a lane open, might have been two lucky bounces on that first goal, but it is all about getting pucks through and towards the net, and that is what he did.”
Yes, the first goal was lucky, but what Provorov brings that Gostisbehere has seemingly lost the ability to do, is put pucks on goal, or at least in positions to be deflected on goal.
Gostisbehere’s shot has gone awry. Yes, he has a bigger slap shot than Provorov, there’s no denying that, but playing the point on the power play isn’t just about having a big shot. Getting shots to the net is far more important, even if they don’t have a little extra sauce dripping off them.
Provorov had a couple other shots on subsequent power plays that got through to the net and forced Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen to make saves and hold onto the puck, not allowing for rebounds. And while Andersen was really good for Toronto, making 37 saves, a lot of times, those shots that get to the net are left sitting close by, and guys like James van Riemsdyk, who set up shop in front of the goalie, will have better chances at scoring goals.
Even in overtime, when the Flyers had a 4-on-3 power play, it was Provorov who got the call, not Gostisbehere (Ghost even lost out on the second unit PP in overtime, ceding to Niskanen).
It stresses how important the Flyers coaches believe it is to get shots to the net, not just that you can fire a bomb from distance.
Provorov is not back to being the guy we all thought two years ago was on a Norris Trophy-contending career path, but he’s also a far cry from the mess he was last season. And that’s a benefit for the Flyers.
On the other end of the spectrum is Sanheim, who has been pretty awful this season after being arguably the Flyers best defenseman a season ago.
Everything with him is driven by confidence. There is no doubt he has the high-end skill to be an effective defenseman at this level. There’s no denying that talent exists.
And he’s still young, too, and trying to figure it out himself. But the reality is when something goes wrong for Sanheim, he tends to let it affect him more than many others. He’s incredibly hard on himself and when he takes it to that level, it impacts his game as in it makes him more timid and more prone to continued mistakes.
His game was a crazy one on Saturday.
First there was this in the first period:
Sanheim: Falls 😬
Kapanen: Scores 😎
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) November 3, 2019
If that looks familiar, it is. It happened Friday against New Jersey… and Tuesday against Pittsburgh.
Yep, three straight games Sanheim tripped over his own feet while trying to play defense and it led to an immediate goal by the opposition.
“I would love to figure that one out,” Sanheim said afterwards. “I am a pretty good skater so I can’t say I’ve ever had a stretch of three straight games where I fall, and it ends up in the back of my net so hopefully I can figure that out here pretty shortly. It’s tough to see those.
“I think that’s just sometimes the case when you’re down a little bit, things tend to not go your way and vice versa. When you got a lot of confidence as a team, it’s going to go in for you. I know there is going to be a stretch like that coming up for me and right now I am just trying to fight through and be better and that’s putting in the work coming to the rink with a great mindset that I am going to be better and improve my game.”
We’ve heard that kind of talk before from players who struggle. It’s almost a cliche these days.
Then, there was this in the second period:
— Hockey Daily 365 (@HockeyDaily365) November 3, 2019
This one wasn’t as egregious, he just struggled to corral a loose puck and Jason Spezza got just enough of it for it to go off Sanheim’s stick and into the net.
Sanheim had to be feeling pretty low at this juncture. The Flyers played about as poor an opening 15 minutes as they could, but were kept in the game by Elliott’s goaltending. From there they were easily the better team against Toronto and even took the lead on a Claude Giroux goal (more on that coming).
Then this happens, and despite the Flyers outplaying the highly skilled but wildly inconsistent Leafs, the game was tied after two periods.
Sanheim needed something, anything good to happen for him. Then this happened in the third period:
This truly is a great play by Sanheim to follow his own shot and put the Flyers back on top in a game they should have been winning all along.
So, after the game it was one of those conversations that was awkward because there was some good and some bad involving the same player. And that often leads to a whole lot of nothing.
But, there was something to be culled from postgame comments regarding Sanheim, and predictably, it came from Vigneault, who is so refreshing as a coach.
“On our bench when he scored that goal, it was funny, the three or four guys sitting in front of me said ‘watch him skate now,'” Vigneault said. “Obviously, he is feeling a little bit of heat and pressure. We need him to be the player that he can be. He is fighting it right now. He is going through some growing pains. When he comes out of it, I am very confident that he is going to be a very useful player for this team.
“Sometimes, you have to let things work themselves out. By putting him back there, showing him we have faith in him, different guys have different money in the bank. He doesn’t have a lot of money in the bank, but he has little bit of money in the bank. I’ll give him time to work his way back. He is a real good kid. Coaches tend to be behind real good kids.”
There’s a lot there.
Most notably is the bit about his teammates indicating that he’ll skate more now that he scored the goal. That screams confidence. That screams of a player who really needs to have positive things happen for him to be at his best.
Each player has to be treated differently, and that was Vigneault’s second point. Sanheim has done enough well that he has a little “money in the bank.” This means, he’s going to be given rope to pull himself out of the pit he fell into.
That, and the fact that he’s a likable, hard-working young player that the coaches really like, gives him even more leeway to fight his way out of a slump.
So, people calling for him to be sent down or to be a healthy scratch, Vigneault just told you that’s not going to happen.
— x-Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) November 3, 2019
I’m inspired. Are you inspired?
And in case you don’t get that, you need to read Mike Sielski’s Inquirer takedown of Giroux and Jake Voracek (two assists against the Leafs) from Friday’s paper.
I couldn’t disagree more with Mike. Giroux is a hell of a player. He’s going to end up in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Could he and Voracek have gotten off to a faster start? Yes. Was Vigneault calling them out? No. Vigneault was saying what many other coaches have said after their team played like crap for a couple games – it starts at the top. If the team leaders start to play well it has a trickle down effect to everyone else on the roster.
Here’s what you need to know. Giroux will be fine. Don’t worry. Relax.
Just some other points to hit on from the weekend:
- Sean Couturier is still struggling on face-offs because of an undisclosed injury. A little birdie told me he got slashed across the hand by Sidney Crosby during the game in Pittsburgh and he’s having a hard time really gripping the stick to his liking. He’s playing through it, but it’s obviously sore and having an adverse effect.
- The shootout against Toronto went 11 rounds. That’s ridiculous. The only thing worse to decide contests in pro sports is penalty kicks in soccer. Either keep playing until someone wins, or just let it end in a tie. What’s the big freaking deal? Shooters were 3-for-22 in the shootout. That’s supposed to be entertaining? What a joke.
- Speaking of the shootout, Provorov and Gostisbehere were two Flyers defensemen who got a chance to shoot, a rarity for defensemen. I asked Provy about it after the game and he said it was his first time shooting since juniors. When I asked him what it was like on the bench when that’s happening he said, “We all just want someone to just score so it can end, but we definitely want it to be one of our guys and not one of theirs.”
- On Friday, Joel Farabee scored his first NHL goal. He hasn’t blown our doors off with his play, but he also has not looked out of place. He looks like he belongs in the NHL. That’s good to see.
- Justin Braun has struggled too. He’s a little slower than I thought and the Flyers have yet to find a good pairing for him. They’re going to need more out of him going forward.
- The fourth line barely played against Toronto, especially in the third period. I just don’t think the coaching staff has much confidence in the Flyers depth, or lack thereof, at this point.
- Dave Hakstol returned to the Wells Fargo Center for the first time since being fired. He’s an assistant coach for the Leafs. I’m still waiting for the Flyers to play their #ThanksHak tribute video. Hmm. Maybe next time.
For more Flyers coverage, check out Snow The Goalie Radio Mondays from 5-6PM on 610 ESPN Philadelphia and subscribe to Snow The Goalie: A Flyers Podcast, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, GooglePlay, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and wherever else you get your podcasts. Also be sure to tune into The Press Row Show as Anthony and Russ live stream during pregame and the first and second intermission breaks of every Flyers home game live from press row of the Wells Fargo Center via the Crossing Broad Facebook page and Twitter.