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Quick Hits: Sanheim, Phantoms, Friday Night Fights, Flyers Daily and More

February 1, 2023, 2:41 PM ET [134 Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Quick Hits: February 1, 2023

1) This is strictly anecdotal "evidence" but it's my observation that Travis Sanheim has changed the way he plays to some degree since being paired with Tony DeAngelo. Since DeAngelo is so ultra-aggressive and roves often, Sanheim has been more apt to play conservatively in an effort to the more defensive-minded half of the pairing. At minimum, he's been less apt to jump up on the play when the Flyers are on the attack.

Over the 16 games the Flyers have played since Christmas, Sanheim has only one point (an assist on a backhanded sweep of the puck near the defensive blueline that ended up on Travis Konecny's stick at the attacking blueline in the Flyers' 4-0 road win over Buffalo on Jan. 9).

In the 10 games played since the team's shutout win in Buffalo, Sanheim has registered just seven shots on goal. By contrast, in the 13-game span between Nov. 13 and Dec. 7, the defenseman recorded 22 shots on goal and earned eight points (3g, 5a).

Early this season, from the start of the campaign until nearly midway through November, Sanheim played decently on the defensive side of the puck but wasn't contributing much of anything offensively -- a stark contrast to the reputation he had at the start of his pro career, when the concern was that he'd be a strictly offensive-minded defenseman. This season, 12 of Sanheim's 15 points came in the 21-game stretch between Nov. 13 and the start of the Christmas break (4g, 8a, minus-3). He was third on the team in scoring over that span.

Coinciding with that mid-November to Dec. 23 stretch, head coach John Tortorella called Sanheim out publicly a couple of times, challenging him to be more aggressive. He responded. His most offensively productive portion of the season came while Sanheim was reunited with stay-at-home veteran Justin Braun after his pairing (which dated back to last season) with Rasmus Ristolainen was separated.

Sanheim started being paired regularly with DeAngelo shortly before the holiday break; a few games after DeAngelo returned to the lineup from bereavement leave following his grandmother's passing and a brief stint as a healthy scratch. DeAngelo was paired with Ivan Provorov for the first six weeks or so of the season, played on the third pairing for a bit and then was moved up a pairing to play alongside Sanheim.

DeAngelo is pretty hard-wired to play a gambling, roaming style. Tortorella has said that the player has a green line to rove in the offensive zone as long as there's support up high but he and DeAngelo clash over the player's tendency to chase the puck in the other two zones (especially the D zone). It seems to me that Sanheim has attempted to accommodate his D partner by staying at home much more frequently.

It hasn't been a great fit. Some games it works, some games it doesn't. Sanheim is not best-suited to the role of the shutdown half of a defense pair. That's not his own strongest suit, although he's leaps and bounds better defensively than he was in his early 20s. Sanheim is at his best when he's using his mobility, jumping into the play up ice and moving the puck effectively while also being respectable defensively.

Sanheim is never going to be a big hitter (to the consternation of many of his critics) but he really doesn't have to be. He can be effective as a mobile blueliner who does a little bit of everything. That's how he had a career-best season in 2021-22.

If assistant coach Brad Shaw and Tortorella were to separate Sanheim from DeAngelo and reunite Ristolainen with Sanheim, it raises several different questions:

1) The Flyers coaches are generally happy with how Provorov and Cam York have played in tandem over the last five weeks. They're probably not going to DeAngelo back with Provorov, because that pairing really didn't click as hoped.

2) Ristolainen has recently been thriving on the third pairing (ala Andrej Meszaros in 2010-11) with slightly reduced minutes and somewhat less demanding defensive matchups. Do the Flyers want to tinker with that right now?

3) The team DOES need to get Sanheim back to where he was last season and the mid-Nov. to shortly before the holiday break stretch in 2022-23. Those stretches were the best two-way hockey of his career. He has that ability within him. How much should that objective be the priority if it means changing two of the three current pairings?

I suspect that the Flyers will not immediately make pairing changes on defense after the All-Star Break because they are happy with how Provorov-York and Seeler-Ristolainen have worked together. They're also reasonably happy with the offensive production that DeAngelo has provided (9g, 21a, 30 points) even if there's a steep trade-off in terms of his positional unreliability.

As such, it may be left to Sanheim and DeAngelo to work out ways to get Sanheim more involved again up ice and to find a way to gel better overall. Sanheim isn't Jaccob Slavin but he is someone with whom DeAngelo ought to be able to establish a more consistently effective defensive pairing. Both have puck skill. Both have good feet. Both can contribute up-ice.

I personally don't Sanheim individually is the issue here. I think the broader issue is that it can be tricky to find the ideal partner for DeAngelo if you don't have a comparable player to Slavin (there aren't many) with whom to pair him.

However, Sanheim is a reasonably versatile defenseman. It's been a work in progress for him fitting his game around DeAngelo's without over-compromising the things Sanheim himself does the best. Sanheim is not a lead-dog offensively at the NHL level and he's not the ideal shutdown half of a pairing so he ideally needs a partner who either can meet him halfway.

2) ICYMI: On the All-Star Break edition of Mondays with Meltzer on the Flyers Daily Podcast, Jason Myrtetus and I discussed Saturday's 4-0 win over the Jets, the state of the Flyers through 51 games this vs last season, trade deadline deals and tons more. To listen to the 29-minute episode, click here.

3) The Lehigh Valley Phantoms (20-16-5) return to action tonight, hosting the Hershey Bears (28-9-5) at the PPL Center. Game time is 7:05 p.m. ET. The Phantoms are winless this season in head-to-head meetings with the Atlantic Division leading Bears. Most recently, the Bears crushed the Phantoms, 7-3, in Allentown this past Saturday.

In the most recent game, veteran backup goalie Pat Nagle was in net for the Phantoms in that game so as to rest Samuel Ersson rather than sending him out for the third time in four nights. Ersson will be back in net for tonight's tilt.

Young defenseman Ronnie Attard and veteran team captain Cal O'Reilly have scored goals in back-to-back games for Ian Laperriere's club. Fourth-line center Jackon Cates also tallied in a losing cause on Saturday. Zayde Wisdom, who assisted on Cates' tally, dressed for the second time in January following a three-game ECHL stint with the Reading Royals.

After a seeming breakthrough in the second half of last season, including good reviews for a 10-game NHL stint with the Flyers and a strong stretch drive for Lehigh Valley amid an unsuccessful push for the final playoff spot, Isaac Ratcliffe has had an extremely disappointing 2022-23 season. It started in NHL camp, where John Tortorella made no secret of the fact that he was underwhelmed by what he saw from the player and Ratcliffe (after clearing waivers) being one of the Flyers' early roster cuts. The struggles continued into the regular season, where "Ratty" was unable to work his way back to where he finished last season. Playing largely, ineffective hockey in mostly 4th line duty, Ratcliffe posted three points (1g, 2a) and 20 PIM in 20 games. He was a healthy scratch for the entire month of January: 11 straight games as a DND.

Laperriere has said that the Phantoms have an excess of healthy forwards has, on the one hand, created competition for starting spots. On the flip side, it's made it harder to get players who need a reset (such as Ratcliffe, Wisdom, Ryan Fitzgerald and the recently injured Cooper Marody) back into the lineup with the team playing well the past month. The coach said that the guys on the outside looking in will simply have to practice well, stay in shape and make the most of their next chance to play whenever it comes.

"Lappy" was Jason Myretetus' guest on today's edition of Flyers Daily. They discussed the team as a whole and the responsibility the farm team has in developing various NHL prospects including Tyson Foerster, Attard, Ersson, Bobby Brink, Elliot Desnoyers, Egor Zamula and others. To listen, click here.

Tonight's Phantoms vs. Bears game will be televised on Service Electric Network. Alternatively, it's available by live stream on AHLTV (subscription required).

4) Update on the Flyers Alumni Association's "Friday Night Fights" event at 2300 Arena (the former ECW Arena) in South Philly on March 3. A segment has been added to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Philadelphia Phantoms' Calder Cup championship with Frank "the Animal" Bialowas as the featured speaker (via Q&A format). Flyers assistant coach Rocky Thompson, who played for the Saint John Flames -- the Phantoms' opponent in the Calder Cup Final -- will be a special guest.

The main speakers at Friday Night Fights: Dave "the Hammer" Schultz, Dave Brown, Todd Fedoruk, Riley Cote, Stu "Grim Reaper" Grimson and Matthew Barnaby. The segments are fast-paced with highlight video intros followed by anecdotes from the speakers.

Dinner and dessert are provided by Chef Robert Manniti of Bacio Kitchen & Catering. Appetizers are available during the pre-event VIP cocktail hour and meet-and-greet session.

For ticket information, click here. All proceeds benefit the Flyers Alumni Association and its charitable initiatives, including Every Child Deserves a Bike and 12 Days of Christmas.

Note: All tickets this year are VIP level, unless the original version the event which had VIP and general admission tickets available. At the original edition of Friday Night Fights, general admission tickets were a fraction of the cost of VIP tickets but excluded the cocktail hour, meet-and-greet reception and the catered dinner.
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