The Philadelphia Flyers managed to pull off a helter-skelter, wide-open 7-4 victory over the Washington Capitals on Sunday afternoon, but the questions that surround the defense are only going to amplify after young blueliner Travis Sanheim entered the NHL’s COVID protocol list.
The 24-year-old appeared in each of the Flyers’ first 12 games this season, recording a goal and four assists with a +3 rating on Philadelphia’s second defensive pairing alongside Philippe Myers.
With no Sanheim and Sunday and for an extended stretch now, the Flyers shook up their blue line, moving Myers up to the first pairing with Ivan Provorov, putting Shayne Gostisbehere with Justin Braun on the second unit, and rounding things out with Robert Hagg and Erik Gustafsson as the third duo.
While they came away with the win, they didn’t provide much confidence as they were torched for two early goals by the brilliance of Alex Ovechkin, ushering a nigh of disorganization and uncertainty.
Luckily for them, the Flyers offense was clicking on all cylinders to bail them out, but trying to outscore your opponents in an offensive shootout every night is a dangerous game to play — especially when this organization has direct experience running into a defensively-loaded team like the New York Islanders in the playoffs last season.
The Flyers’ 46 goals scored is tied for third-best in the NHL, but their 41 goals allowed is seventh-most.
Without one of their top defensive contributors in Sanheim available, head coach Alain Vigneault will have to start getting creative to get the most out of his blue line.
Provorov and Gostisbehere would make an appealing top pairing based on their two-way, playmaking capabilities. While Provorov is the undisputed top defensemen of the stable in both facets, Gostisbehere’s more-offensive style of play could be covered better by one of the best young blueliners in the game.
On a potential second pairing, Myers and Gustafsson have had limited success in their 13 minutes on the ice together as a pairing, according to Natural Stat Trick, which could open the door for Mark Friedman to get a chance at some more playing time. While the two have yet to play together this season — Friedman has appeared in just three games — Myers could leave a conservative, no-nonsense pairing to play a simple, effective brand of defense to at least provide some stability.
Should that duo struggle, then Gustafsson can immediately slot back in next to Myers.
As a third pairing, Justin Braun and Robert Hagg have yielded their fair share of chances, allowing seven high-danger chances in 36:28 of playing time together compared to just four while they’re on the ice. However, their Corsi For% is at an even 50%, which is flirting with the status of elite number.