Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers-Capitals: 5 things you need to know

flyers-at-capitals-gamenotes.jpg

Flyers-Capitals: 5 things you need to know

Flyers at Capitals
8 p.m. on NBCSN

Fresh off a seven-goal outburst against one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference, the Flyers (17-19-7) will hit the road for a divisional clash with the Washington Capitals (23-11-8) at the Verizon Center.

Let's take a closer look at Flyers-Caps:

1. Another defenseman down
Already without the services of Nicklas Grossmann (shoulder), the Flyers' defensive corps took another significant hit in Monday's 7-3 shellacking of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Braydon Coburn, who blocked a shot attempt from Nikita Kucherov early in the first period, is expected to miss at least four weeks with a suspected left foot fracture. You may recall the same injury cost Coburn 12 games earlier this season after he blocked a shot in the opener against the Boston Bruins. Chalk it up to some unfortunate luck.

Coburn's season, much like many of the Flyers', has been mired by inconsistent play. He's been uncharacteristically weak when handling the puck, which has led to numerous glaring turnovers. The veteran blueliner has also had difficulty clearing lanes in the slot, usually an area of strength in his game.

It should be interesting to see how the Flyers perform with Coburn sidelined. They've gone 6-4-2 without him in the lineup this season, and a string of wins over the next few weeks could potentially damage his trade value. He's unquestionably a solid second-pairing defenseman, but moving the 29-year-old would clear a good chunk of a cap space — something the Flyers desperately need — and provide an opportunity for young prospects to compete for the vacant spot. Let's not forget, Nick Schultz and Michael Del Zotto are on one-year deals, too.

In the meantime, Carlo Colaiacovo will step in to fill Coburn's void. Many fans have wanted Colaiacovo reinserted to the lineup anyway, but don't be surprised if he shows some signs of rust in his first game back. Remember: He hasn't played since Nov. 19 against the New York Rangers.

2. In the crease 
It was somewhat startling to see head coach Craig Berube give recent call-up Rob Zepp the start against Tampa Bay over backup Ray Emery.

Then again, Emery hasn't exactly been dependable in net as of late. The team was in need of a spark, which Zepp ultimately provided.

Berube rewarded Zepp with another start Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Maybe the Flyers' coaching staff is losing faith in Emery. Maybe it was just a gut decision. No matter, Emery holds no resentment for the decision.

“You always want to be in there and want to contribute,” Emery said (see story). “I want the team to do well. I can’t control when I play. ... I try to use it as motivation to get better and contribute when I get in there.”

Emery has had the same positive attitude since rejoining the orange and black. He has struggled to find a rhythm, but has a well-respected voice in the locker room. With that said, it remains imperative for Emery to elevate his game with Mason out. 

3. Catch the Caps?
It's going to be mighty tough to catch the Caps for the third and final automatic playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division.

The Flyers enter Wednesday 13 points back of Washington and have played one more game than their divisional foe.

It doesn't help that the Caps are one of the hottest teams in the NHL. They've picked up at least a point in 17 of their last 18 games and have allowed just 36 non-shootout goals during that stretch. Oh yeah, and they are riding a six-game home winning streak. Like we said, one of the hottest clubs in the league.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: The one thing that has been consistent for the Flyers' defense this season has been Mark Streit's offensive production. The 37-year-old has five goals and 26 assists in 43 games after tallying a marker and two helpers against the Lightning. Streit, who is on pace for 60 points, has the tendency to cough the puck up now and again, but he's never been relied on to shut down the opposition's top lines. He's paid to provide some extra offense, and that's exactly what he's done.

Capitals: Nicklas Backstrom is like a man possessed when he faces the Flyers. The 27-year-old has 12 goals and 29 assists in 27 career games against the orange and black. It shouldn't come as a surprise, however. The veteran centerman displays outstanding patience when handling the puck and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He enters Wednesday leading the Caps with 42 points in as many games. Why hasn't this guy ever been an All-Star? Arguably the biggest offensive snub from this year's festivities.

5. This and that
• The Flyers have won their last four meetings with Washington.

• The Capitals have gone 13-1-4 in their last 18 games.

• Zepp had 21 saves on 24 shots Monday, but stopped the last 12 he faced.

• Braden Holtby is 0-1-2 with a 4.74 goals-against average in his last four starts against the Flyers.

• Claude Giroux has 12 goals and nine assists in his last 15 games against the Caps.

Forcing the Flyers' hand? Travis Sanheim's chances at roster spot grow in preseason loss

Forcing the Flyers' hand? Travis Sanheim's chances at roster spot grow in preseason loss

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Is starting the season with three rookie defensemen asking too much?

Travis Sanheim might be making it possible.

“We got another good night of information," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said Monday after a 3-2 overtime preseason loss to the Rangers (see observations). "Those two young guys (Sanheim and Robert Hagg) played pretty well — Sanheim had a real impact on the hockey game tonight. We’re going to let these guys make those decisions.”

If the brain trust of Hakstol and Ron Hextall was expecting two of their three rookie defensemen to separate themselves during the preseason test run, well that hasn’t quite happened, as the 21-year-old Sanheim has displayed an offensive element that would give the Flyers a much-needed weapon from the blue line. Sanheim’s NHL-caliber slap shot, coupled with his mobility and ability to read plays in the offensive zone have set him apart from fellow rookies Hagg and Sam Morin.

“I’m slowly starting to build my game, get a lot more confidence and get comfortable playing with the guys around me,” Sanheim said. "I’m getting more comfortable with the team, systems, and players around me. It’s been good so far. Obviously, we wanted a different outcome tonight, but I like where my game’s at.” 

If it wasn’t for Sanheim, the Flyers would have been shut out in each of their last two games, as he’s provided their only offense in overtime losses to the Bruins and Rangers. A week ago, it appeared all signs were pointing to Lehigh Valley and another year of AHL seasoning, but that’s when Hakstol noticed a change in Sanheim.

“I learned more about him five to six days ago,” Hakstol said. “He didn’t have a great night (preseason opener against Islanders). Sometimes you learn as much about a player and where he’s at coming off a night like that. It didn’t shake him. He came back and had a great practice the next day and he carried that into the next game. To me, that showed maturity on his part.”

Sanheim has continued to rise up the charts coming off a strong performance against the Islanders in Allentown, Pennsylvania, last Wednesday, and he’s rolled that over into the past two games, playing mostly with NHL regulars. What’s even more impressive is that Sanheim is having a tremendous offensive outburst despite seeing very little time on the team’s power play, as he logged just 36 seconds with the man advantage, a unit that came up empty once again and is now 0 for 14 over its last two games.

Still, captain Claude Giroux can’t see any reason why three rookie defensemen can’t make this team out of camp.

“You’ve seen them play. They can play,” Giroux said. “We have a lot of young D that are ready to play in the NHL, and they’re competing right now for a spot. For us, it’s fun to see because every day they’re doing stuff and it’s pretty amazing. It’s a long season — whoever’s hot, whoever’s playing good will have the opportunity to play.”

With Morin receiving his first night off from preseason action, Hakstol had Sanheim paired with Radko Gudas, while Hagg was working with Flyers top defenseman Ivan Provorov. Outside of a slow start and an unfortunate bounce on the Rangers' second goal, Hagg continued his steady play.

“I thought he didn’t have the cleanest start to a hockey game, but to his credit, he worked his way into the game,” Hakstol said. “The goal against — there’s a couple of things that happened before that that led to that play, but he had a hard-working night.”

You can be my wingman
Giroux’s much-anticipated left wing audition could be described as a good first night and worthy of a callback, whether that comes Tuesday night against the Rangers or Thursday against the Bruins.

Unofficially, the top line of Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek saw 15 shifts together at even strength, and then chemistry appeared to grow as the game progressed.

“It was good," Giroux said. "As the game went on, I started to feel more comfortable. We had a lot of chances, just some mistakes that you don’t see during the season, like a 2-on-0 with Jake, usually our chemistry is better than that. As the game went on, our chemistry got better and we were able to find each other a little bit more."

Giroux and Voracek had a prime scoring opportunity in the opening period, but Giroux’s shot from the right side went just wide of the net. Combined, the Flyers' top line finished the night with a minus-2 rating and six shots while winning 67 percent of its faceoffs.

“Maybe there was a tendency to make one more pass instead of putting it on net and stopping at the net and looking for one of those greasy goals,” Hakstol said. “But overall, there’s some good things there. There were enough positives to see if it can grow.”

Nolan's night
The No. 2 pick continues to settle into his role as the Flyers' No. 2 center. Once again, Nolan Patrick centered a line that included Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds. Patrick’s defense has been a steady component of his game since camp began, and now the rookie is sprinkling in some offense. Patrick contributed the primary assist on Sanheim’s first goal, which came during 4-on-4 play in the first period.

“Those are the kind of things he can do,” Hakstol said. “That’s hockey sense. That’s knowing what’s around him and being a step ahead. He’s building. As the speed of the games go up, there’s always more to learn. I think over the last week, he’s done a little more offensively. Each and every night he’s impacted the game offensively in our last three games, and that’s been a real positive.”

Flyers-Rangers preseason observations: Travis Sanheim's push to make team heats up

Flyers-Rangers preseason observations: Travis Sanheim's push to make team heats up

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Dave Hakstol conducted some garden variety experimentation Monday night against the Rangers, by moving Claude Giroux to left wing for the first time in his Flyers career.

"It's definitely a change but you know I'm just trying to be in good position and make the right play," Giroux said. "Slowly, I'm feeling more comfortable."
 
The line combination of Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek failed to generate a point, but it was the play of rookie Travis Sanheim that took center stage off Broadway.

Sanheim notched a pair of goals, but the Flyers fell, 3-2, in overtime at Madison Square Garden. Ryan McDonagh scored the game-winner for New York in the 3-on-3 OT.

"It's really high right now," Sanheim said of his confidence. "Obviously, I don't want it to get too high. I just have to try and keep an even-keel here and finish up strong."

Sanheim has now scored the Flyers' last three goals of the preseason.

• For the fourth time in five preseason games, the Flyers went to overtime. The Rangers finished the job Monday, as the captain McDonagh collected his own rebound and pushed the puck past Michal Neuvirth for the game-winner with 1:09 remaining in OT.

• New York scored on its first shot on net, when Rick Nash deflected McDonagh's shot from the point to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead just 3:16 into the game.

• Sanheim tallied his first just 2:23 after the Rangers' first goal. The defenseman ripped a rocket past Henrik Lundqvist from the top of the left circle. It was his team-leading second of the preseason with assists from Jordan Weal and Nolan Patrick, who picked up his second assist in four preseason games.

• Sanheim added his second goal in the final moments of the second period, when he pinched behind the Rangers' defense and corralled Radko Gudas' shot from the point and backhanded it past Lundqvist with four seconds remaining in the period.

"I'm just trying to play my game,” Sanheim said. “All along I play that offensive side. I'm just trying to keep it simple defensively and trying to make smart plays and make good reads to get in the play and it's been working so far."

Sanheim has continued to make significant strides and show improvement throughout the preseason, and his offensive upside has to give Hakstol some serious consideration to how he wants his defense to look when the regular season begins (see story). There have been few lapses defensively since the preseason opener against the New York Islanders.

• The Rangers tied the game at 2-2 when Neuvirth knocked away Mika Zibanejad’s wrist shot with his blocker, but the rebound hit Robert Hagg, deflected off Neuvirth and just over the line for a goal.

• The Flyers' power play continues to work out the kinks. The team worked on the PP structure for the first time over the weekend. That unit is now 0 for 14 over the last two games. The Flyers finished Monday’s game 0 for 5.

• Scott Laughton continues to be a valuable asset on the Flyers' penalty kill. Laughton broke up several passes on the Rangers' early power play of the second period.  
  
• Gudas fell to the ice late in the first period and then appeared to be holding his hand in obvious pain. Gudas didn’t miss any time and made a pronounced statement in the third period when he unloaded an open-ice hit on Rangers center Filip Chytil. Mats Zuccarello rushed to Chytil’s defense, which resulted in a two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a Flyers power play.

• The two teams will continue their preseason home-and-home series Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center as Brian Elliott is expected to play the entire game in net. Elliott turned aside all 18 shots in two periods of action last Thursday in Boston.

Lines, pairing and scratches:

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Jori Lehtera-Valtteri Filppula-Travis Konecny
Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Matt Read

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratches: Sam Morin, Taylor Leier, Mike Vecchione, Dale Weise, Oskar Lindblom