Flyers Confidence Has Not Wavered with Defensive Pairings
When things are going as well as they were going for the Flyers before the pause hit on March 12, you don’t try to do too much to change what is working. It’s how the Flyers came to have a consistent group of forwards and defensemen in games with the only changes coming when injuries required it.
Shayne Gostisbehere only made it back into the lineup when Phil Myers went down with a knee injury. Joel Farabee, Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Nate Thompson were all in the lineup when James van Riemsdyk suffered a fractured finger.
But leading up to that, defensively, the Flyers were consistent with their pairings. For the entire season, Ivan Provorov has played alongside Matt Niskanen. Given their chemistry and experience together in the AHL, Travis Sanheim and Myers have played together. And eventually, Robert Hagg settled into a role next to Justin Braun.
So when training camp started a couple weeks ago and the Flyers started to work back to where they were before the pause, the pairings remained the same and they have been unchanged since then. Alain Vigneault said he doesn’t plan to change them anytime soon.
“The pairings, the last 20 games, have been real successful. There was some real good chemistry between the D partners,” Vigneault said. “At this point right now, I’m staying with what we have. It doesn’t mean certain guys have won certain battles. At this point now, I’m going to stay this way and in the near future, if I feel I need to make a change, I will. Guys were playing extremely well both defensively and offensively. We had a good mix there, a good balance, and hopefully we can bring that to our first game on Sunday.”
For players like Sanheim and Myers, this can only be a benefit. The two have played on a pairing in the AHL with the Phantoms and carried that over to the NHL. Now, as they prepare for Round Robin games and eventually the playoffs, they hope to work off each other and be as successful as they were before the pause.
“We’ve built a pretty good relationship between the two of us,” Sanheim said. “It’s pretty easy to play with a guy with his skill set, the way he handles himself and plays at both ends of the rink. I try to talk to him as much as I can right now. Obviously, we’ve got to work out some of the kinks early on, but it shouldn’t take too long.”
“He’s a great guy, easy to play with,” Myers said. “He skates well, he can make plays with the puck. I think we complement each other pretty well on the ice. It’s fun going through this with him and we’re looking forward to the playoffs here.”
For Myers, this will be his first playoff experience in the NHL. While that is sure to be on his mind when he takes the ice on Sunday, he’s also trying to treat it like just another game.
“Just get ready the same way. Try to bring that intensity as much as I can and obviously, I’m going to do everything I can to help the team win,” Myers said. “It’s sort of the same mindset that I had this year. Nothing changes.”
Between Sanheim, Myers, Hagg and especially the continued growth of Provorov, whom Niskanen called ‘a stud’ earlier in the week, the Flyers have expressed confidence in giving these young defensemen increased roles and sometimes difficult assignments within the game. In doing so, they give these players the experience needed to make substantial growth and start to reach their potential.
The first test for this team comes on Sunday when they face Boston in the first Round Robin game. While there is still time to work out some of the issues that are expected to come from the lengthy pause, this is also a game that counts for potential re-seeding and can help the team build momentum heading into the first round of the playoffs.
The Flyers will have one more practice on Saturday afternoon before taking the ice for that first Round Robin game on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.