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Meltzer's Musings: O'Neill Recalled, Road Trip, Sanheim, Morin & More

October 31, 2017, 1:16 PM ET [162 Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT

1) The Flyers held approximately a 45-minute practice at the Skate Zone on Tuesday in preparation for back-to-back games in Chicago on Wednesday and St. Louis on Thursday. The team has recalled Will O'Neill from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms for the upcoming road trip. Mark Alt is still with the team.

Both Shayne Gostisbehere and Nolan Patrick skated on the "Phantoms" ice sheet on Tuesday. Neither will make the trip, per Ron Hextall. There is a chance one or both could be ready to play by Saturday but the GM said he didn't want to speculate on a return date.

Hextall said that recall paperwork had not yet been filed on Samuel Morin at the point it was learned that the "minor nagging injury" he'd been playing through worsened over the weekend. Morin did not disclose the unspecified injury but then was unable to participate in Monday's morning skate. The GM said the young defenseman would be out for a week or two.

Andrew MacDonald is progressing fast with his injury rehab. Hextall said that the current timetable may closer to the original low end (four weeks after his Oct. 24 injury) than the high end (six weeks).

2) The team that deserved to win Monday's game at the Wells Fargo Center ultimately did, as the Arizona Coyotes prevailed in against the Flyers in overtime, 4-3. Nevertheless, the Flyers stole a standings point they didn't deserve with their three goal comeback, including just the second two-goal comeback in franchise history to tie a game in the final minute.

3) As mentioned in yesterday's video preview on the Flyers' official site, Monday's match had "trap game" written all over it before the opening faceoff was even dropped. The Flyers were coming off a high-quality road win on Saturday in Toronto, playing for the fourth time in six nights (home-road-road-home) before a brutally tough upcoming road back-to-back against the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues on Wednesday and Thursday. They were playing against the NHL's final winless team, which was coming off a game in New Jersey where they were the better team for much of the game but not rewarded for it in the end.

In short, there was a very high risk of a poor start for the Flyers and an urgent effort from the Coyotes. The Flyers needed to be on their guards against it, and they simply were not. Things got better in the second period as the Flyers started to take over as the period went along but did not really get cranking until they were in a 3-0 hole in the third period: far too late to deserve to win the game.

4) Over Sean Couturier's last 32 games dating back to last season, he is averaging a point per game (14 goals, 18 assists, 32 points) and is a +28 in traditional plus-minus rating with an equally impressive shot-attempt differential metrics underneath it. Jakub Voracek summed it up succinctly and accurately after the game when he said, "Coots is just a smart player."

Couturier doesn't have to have the fastest feet or softest hands. But he reads plays very well and gets to the net now that he is on a line with two players whose playmaking abilities are their greatest skill sets. In turn, he adds his own two-way ability, forechecking and heaviness on the puck to the mix.

For the second straight game, Couturier was deployed as the left-to-middle slot and board work player on the top power play unit. Last night, he swept home the Flyers first goal of their comeback. Later, at 6-on-5, he tipped home the game-tying goal on a nicely conceived setup by Giroux.

5) Without two excellent keeps at the left point by Ivan Provorov in the final minute of the third period, there is no way the Flyers would have found a way to tie the game. His three-assist game looked very nice on the stat sheet but, except for one momentarily dangerous giveaway, it was his all-around dominance, shift after shift that really stood out with and without the puck. He logged 28:07 of ice time and it is not hyperbole to suggest that he easily could have played another five or six minutes with no drop-off in his play.

Provorov said that, due to his intensive training regimen, he has "fast" recoveries between shifts. How fast? Twenty seconds or less.

6) It hasn't taken long -- nine games -- for the segment of Flyers fans who may have been watching the team for many years but learned precious little about the game to decide Travis Sanheim isn't NHL-ready after all.

I have seen this cycle so many times where very small samples of games -- or even worse, a couple of good or bad plays within that small subset -- feed into knee-jerk assessments of the player. It's all based on an insatiable need for instant gratification, with seemingly no learning curve to understand that "patience with a young player" means reserving judgment until you see how the rookie adjusts (and how prescouts by other teams set in and force new adjustments).

A balanced assessment of Sanheim's first nine games: He's shown flashes of high upside at both ends of the ice in every game, but his ability to join the attack and make some good breakout passes are ahead of his defensive game. He put everything together over one full game minus a single bad shift (the 1-0 loss vs. Nashville) and otherwise has been uneven. However, he's done enough good things to suggest that he is NHL-ready enough to stick with him and let him continue to work for greater consistency as weeks go by.

As a defenseman who has to be involved in the play to be at his best, without being a flat-out rover, Sanheim is going to lose some battles. As he moves along, he'll find ways to win more of them because he is a pretty smart player and will eventually use his size and skating ability to more regular advantage even though he'll never be a crusher. As for turnovers, when defensemen handle the puck a lot, there is going to be a higher rate of those than with the guys who handle it less (even the legendary Nicklas Lidström once led the NHL in charged giveaways, and he was one of the all-time great decision makers).

Sanheim is not as good of an all-around player right now as Provorov was even a year ago, and may never be but he has plenty of upside of his own. Even Provorov last season was a minus-nine after 11 games -- with all the predictable "did we overrate him?" panic on social media -- and then made a few fairly subtle adjustments and clicked. Sanheim has bigger adjustments to make, which is why he spent last season in the AHL, and still has a way to go but doesn't look out of place in the NHL. Rather, he looks like a typical rookie. Provorov wasn't a typical rookie.

Provorov said after Tuesday's practice that he gave Sanheim a word of encouragement after his costly OT turnover on Monday, saying he'd been in the same place and to hang in there. In terms of his own adjustment to the NHL last year, Provorov said the biggest lesson he learned early on was that he couldn't try to make the big play on every shift; couldn't hold the puck nearly as long, for one thing.

7) I doubt the aforementioned cycle will ever be broken among some fans when it comes to prospects. Phase one is to set unrealistic immediate impact expectations for the young player before he ever plays an NHL game. When he wins a job, phase two is non-stop obsessing and fretting (to the exclusion of the actual game being played, save for harping on miscues both real and imagined by vets playing in his stead) over his playing time in his earliest days in the NHL. Phase three is the "instant assessment" when there's been less than a quarter of a season played.

With defensemen, mistakes tend to stand out more than with forwards. But there was some of the same way-too-hasty "disappointment" expressed pre-injury for Nolan Patrick. When he did not score a goal in the preseason and had one goal and three points through his first nine NHL games, some were already expressing misplaced concern.

Nevermind the unusual maturity of his two-way game, flashes of high-end playmaking and hints that he would eventually click in the goal-scoring department. Modest early point totals and a few lost battles that ended up in the Flyers' net were enough for the group of fans I'm referring to -- a minority, but an obsequious and voluble crowd -- to decide he's really not all that good.

There are things Patrick can work on -- first-step quickness being on the top of the list, being a little less unselfish with the puck at times when he has shooting opportunities being another -- but they are all workable things.

By the way, that same crowd has suddenly gone suddenly silent about Couturier, after years of ignoring all the good things he brought and worrying only about his point totals. Now that he's scoring regularly, too, they're off his case. Well, that is until Couturier goes back-to-back games without a point or is unable to finish a scoring chance at a key juncture. Then he's back to being treated as if he's a latter-day Kent Manderville (that is, if Mandy had somehow been counted on for offensive output).

8) Everything said above is why I am concerned about the amount of overhype for Samuel Morin that has been making the rounds daily since training camp.

He is not going to be a "perennial all-star" as one newspaper lede suggested. He won't have a comparable impact to Chris Pronger or Zdeno Chara even if one holds in checks expectations of similar offensive output.

That doesn't mean that Morin isn't NHL-ready and deserve playing time. He is a unique player because of his size, strength, reach, mean streak and deceptive straight-line speed for a player his size (he eats up a lot of ice with those long strides). His decision-making with and without the puck, positioning and discipline have all gotten significantly better since he's turned pro.

Nevertheless, he still ends up on the wrong side of the puck his fair share and still sometimes falls back on trying to do a little too much. Expect a fair share of unnecessary penalties and some odd-man rushes against when he forces things. He knows that less is more in terms of his effectiveness but is an emotional player rather than a calculating one.

Morin is a very likable young man with a tremendous attitude. It was a shame that he got injured as his recall with a chance to play was about to come. Understandably, he downplayed whatever nagging injury he has, until it worsened. Sooner or later, though, he will get his chance and eventually he stands a good chance of being an effective NHL defensemen for what he does well while minimizing some of his weaker areas.

Just don't expect Morin to be The Terminator -- a one-man shutdown, hitting machine who can turn games around simply by his presence. That's not realistic, and expectations like those set a player up for failure. Also, keep in mind that shining in an NHL training camp and doing the same thing over the marathon-like regular season are two totally different things.

Remember how Sanheim dominated the preseason stretch of games from the Allentown game through the home-and-home against the New York Rangers including a game where New York had mostly its NHL lineup playing? See how much harder it has been to hit that level now that the regular season is underway? That's precisely what Hextall was talking about in terms of the jump in level of competition during the season.

Sanheim is getting a taste of that right now. When Morin finally gets his crack in the Flyers' lineup, don't be surprised if there are some rough nights and some "uh oh" moments even within otherwise good games. It would be more of a surprise if that didn't happen.

As for Morin's lengthy gestation in the AHL, look at how much Jamie Oleksiak has struggled in the NHL (after quickly playing in an AHL All-Star Game), ended up on an NHL-AHL yo-yo for a few years and how lost he still sometimes seems with Dallas. In my estimation, the cautious, step-by-step process with Morin actually has him better set up to be an effective player for the Flyers over the long haul than where Oleksiak (drafted two years earlier than Morin) appears to be with Dallas.

9) Happy Halloween to all HockeyBuzz readers. In honor of the day, here's a blast from the past: Jeremy Roenick sporting his "Bobby Clarke Halloween costume" during warmups and Clarkie's priceless belly laugh reaction from the executive suite up in the balcony.

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