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Twenty game check in: the defense and goaltenders

Defense, Defence, D-Fence.

Heather Barry - SB Nation ©

In continuation of our roundtable discussion from yesterday, today we will be taking a look at how the defensemen and goaltenders (which we evidently have a lot less thoughts about) have performed through the first twenty games of the season. Like the forwards, the defensemen needed to play in a minimum of ten games to make the list, but that rule didn’t apply to the net-minders or we’d only be talking about Brian Elliott.

We’ll be taking a look at who has been the team’s best defenseman so far, who we need to see more of, and for someone who didn’t make the ten game minimum to get on the list, we sure do mention Andrew MacDonald a lot.

Shayne Gostisbehere - 20gp, 3g, 8a, 11p, 50.08% CF, 49.18% xGF

Colorado Avalanche v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

Bill R: Ghost has been inconsistent. The early pairing of Ghost and Provorov just didn’t work at all for whatever reason and I think they’ve been trying to figure out who fits well with him. That’s bound to make it tough for any defenseman, because defense is as much about trusting your partner as it is knowing where you need to go. He still does a lot of things other defenseman can’t do offensively, and when the powerplay heats up so will he.

Drew: In terms of what to expect from Ghost, he’s bound to make mistakes and be caught out when he jumps in on the rush, and this has happened quite a bit this season. I think that’s why they’ve paired him with Folin and MacDonald (if only they were good defenceman). But I don’t think Ghost has been awful by any stretch. As Bill said, some consistency would be nice.

Kyle: Ghost is having a start similar to Voracek in regards to leaving you wanting more. His numbers are definitely hurt by the fact the power play has been awful, and his defense partners at 5-on-5 after he and Provy were seperated have been not exactly offensively gifted. It’s frustrating, but I’m not worried about Ghost moving forward.

Brad: The Flyers need their top defenseman to play like their top defenseman again. I’d really like to see him with back with Provorov sometime soon, as the larger sample size from last season showed us just how great they can be.

Ivan Provorov - 20gp, 2g, 5a, 7p, 48.44% CF, 48.01% xGF

Florida Panthers v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Bill R: I don’t think it’s time to get worried, but Provorov is playing ridiculously hard minutes and he’s fighting it a bit. The problem is you can’t really back him off and try to ease up, because much like the situation in goal with Elliott, no one else could handle his minutes.

Brad: While the importance of quality of competition stats can be overrated at times, it should be noted that Provorov has quite possibly been playing the toughest minutes in the entire league thus far. Though, as we’ve seen, a lot of the mistakes he’s making are unforced errors, so how much of that is really on the level of competition that he’s played against? Maybe it is, but Provorov’s play with the puck has been a real bummer so far. It’s still relatively early.

Craig: Something is wrong with Provorov, but I don’t know what it is. I feel like it can’t be physical at this point, which makes me a little worried. It’s still early in the season and Provorov is way too young to start getting worried about long-term issues, but I just wish I knew what was causing him to look so hesitant.

Drew: I think he’s still fighting back the injury he sustained in last year’s playoffs. I think the Flyers would be smart to shield him for a few games and give Sanheim-Gudas more minutes. That pair has been excellent.

Kyle: I’m with Drew. He’s way too good to be playing like this healthy. I know that a lot of the mistakes he’s making are mental ones, but I think an injury is making him unsure of himself which leads to these mental miscues. I know we hate the whole “healthy scratch so the player can view the game from a different vantage point” but at what point do you just try that with Provy because continuing to play him clearly isn’t doing much of anything?

Travis Sanheim - 20gp, 0g, 5a, 5p, 54.07% CF, 58.80% xGF

Vegas Golden Knights v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Drew: Sanheim has been getting more minutes as of late, and is finally being trusted to play late in the 3rd period. Props to Hak for doing so, but more props to Sanheim for forcing Hak’s hand with strong play.

Craig: I think Sanheim has been the team’s best defenseman so far this season. Like Drew said, he’s essentially made Hakstol give him more minutes with how well he’s played. Also, he does well with anybody he’s paired with. Luckily that’s been Gudas for most of the season, but he recently performed very well with Andrew MacDonald in the Devils’ loss.

Bill R: The numbers here have been pretty good, given the fact that he gets no powerplay time to speak of. The most important thing is he’s playing and being allowed to work through things. As a player, every time you step up a level you have to learn new things and he’s finally getting the opportunity to do that.

Kyle: LOVE Travis Sanheim’s game so far this season. He’s sheltered for sure seeing the majority of his zone starts come in the offensive zone, but he’s been arguably the team’s best defenseman in the first 20 games. His ability to get the puck to his forwards in the offensive zone is what is setting him a part from the rest, right now.

Brad: Since my actual thoughts were taken by those above me, I’m gonna go off the rails a bit here. I’m a big fan of the “Amac Test” where you judge a defenseman based on how he plays with MacDonald (usually as a rookie) and compare that player to the others that have played with him for an extended period of time. And I’ll tell ya what, the Amac test makes Sanheim look like the Flyers’ best defenseman. Wouldn’t it be wild if he ends up being that one day—outside of just this 20-game stretch.

Radko Gudas - 18gp, 0g, 5a, 5p, 54.20% CF, 58.68% xGF

Florida Panthers v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Bill R: The shirtless, motorcycle helmet wearing version of Radko Gudas from earlier this year is the only version of Radko I will ever see again. That felt like the most Radko version of Radko there could be. Beyond that, Gudas has been surprisingly disciplined and fairly serviceable defensively.

Drew: He’s back! Now, if only Gudas would throw more big hits again.

Brad: Gudas has looked a lot like the Gudas that we saw anchor the top pair a few years back and that’s obviously a huge plus for the team. He’s been one half of the team’s best pair, and while he’ll never be a standout on the offensive side of things, he has been fantastic in the defensive zone and the neutral zone. I’d say he’s been their second best defenseman so far this season.

Steve: Steve here, just to talk about Radko. We haven’t seen the Mr. Hyde version of Mr. Gudas known as BADKO rear its ugly head yet. That creature appeared at the end of the playoffs last year and raised the ire of the entire Flyers fanbase. That includes the shoooooot crowd, guys who yell, “Hit him!”, stat nerds, old timers, and people just there because they enjoy the hockey atmosphere. Gudas is working very well with Travis Sanheim at this time, a partnership that has proven to be extremely beneficial for both players. It’s extremely encouraging, and a rare glimmer of sunshine on the extremely gloomy Flyers defense.

Robert Hagg - 20gp, 3g, 6a, 9p, 46.23% CF, 48.04% xGF

Chicago Blackhawks v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Maddie: You’ve forgotten the most important stat — Robert Hagg is sixth in the league in hits.

Brad: Sorry, sorry, that must have slipped my mind, it’s really not talked about enough for me to remember.

Bill R: Early on Hagg showed some decent offensive ability. I don’t think anyone would have expected him to have more points than Provorov at this point. Oh, also, he hits a lot and I’m sure no one pointed that out this year.

Drew: Hagg has an eye for goal now. This is surprising, in a very good way. Keep throwing hits. We’re the Flyers and by George that’s what we do.

Brad: After an awesome start, he’s kind of cooled off a bit. Recently I’ve seen a lot more of what he showed in his rookie season, like defaulting to exiting the zone by banking the puck off the glass and getting burnt by forwards rushing into the zone, however, should Hagg get back to where he was at, no complaints here.

Craig: He had a nice play to set up Simmonds’ game-tying goal on Saturday. He has provided some plays that show he has some offensive upside, which I didn’t really expect out of him this year. However, his underlying numbers are still pretty bad. He has the worst relative corsi for percentage out of the seven defensemen the Flyers have used this season and he’s under 50 % in both of the major possession stats mentioned in his stat line above.

Christian Folin - 14gp, 0g, 1a, 1p, 53.01% CF, 55.77% xGF

Florida Panthers v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Kurt: Keep Folin Folin Folin Folin WHAT

Folin’s been fine. Some really glaring errors early on, and he shouldn’t be anything more than a sixth defenseman that the Flyers can ideally upgrade from, but he’s been serviceable in that role and is certainly better than MacDonald.

Craig: Kurt is stealing jokes (not mine, but no way did that dork come up with a Folin/Limp Bizkit joke) and my opinion on Folin.

Bill R: And I’m freeeeeeeeeeee free Folin. If for no other reason than the puns are fantastic, this guy should be a Flyer for life. In all seriousness, Folin has provided steady return on investment. He’s basically been what you’d expect a cheap veteran signing to be.

Drew: Folin is what I really wish MacDonald was. Except the Flyers treat Folin correctly and view Mac as excellent.

Brad: He was brought in to help the penalty, which he hasn’t, but outside of that one...let’s say memorable moment, Folin’s been pretty good. I don’t love him being paired with Gostisbehere, but he’s fine.

And since it was asked of us in yesterday’s comment section, here is the season-to-date data in table form for the defensemen we discussed:

Defensemen data after 20 games

Player GP G A P CF% xGF%
Player GP G A P CF% xGF%
Shayne Gostisbehere 20 3 8 11 50.08 49.18
Travis Sanheim 20 0 5 5 54.07 58.80
Radko Gudas 18 0 5 5 54.20 58.68
Robert Hagg 20 3 6 9 46.23 48.04
Christian Folin 14 0 1 1 53.01 55.77
Ivan Provorov 20 2 5 7 48.44 48.01
CF and xGF via and is score-adjusted.

Brian Elliott - 14gp, 2.59 GAA, .911 SV%, 1 SO

San Jose Sharks v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Kelly: I know Charlie doesn’t go here anymore, but he made a tweet about BAMF last week that is relevant here, I think: I feel really bad for Elliott, to be honest. After a poor start by the numbers, largely driven by awful team defense (remember, he stayed for the entirety of that 8-2 laugher), he was all the way up to a 0.912 sv% and 12th in the NHL in 5v5 Goals Saved Above Average. BRIAN ELLIOTT IS GOOD. But Brian Elliott is breaking down under the pressure of being, quite literally, the only serviceable goaltender in the org right now. And that’s on Ron.

Maddie: He’s been good, for sure! But he’s also 33. Dude needs a break.

Bill R: I agree with Kelly and Maddie here (especially about this being on Ron). When Elliott is “on” he’s a serviceable 1a or 1b type goalie. The problem is he’s 33 and you can’t play him like he’s a 75 game starter. Historically it hasn’t worked. It’s like me deciding I’m going to get up right now and run a’d find me 4 blocks away, laying in a pile of leaves, asking pedestrians for water.

Drew: There are some moments this season where I’ve thought “Wow Elliott really needs to stop that one.” But other than some very soft goals, he’s been okay. It’s been said before, but when Elliott is playing well, the Flyers need to capitalise. They haven’t done so many times this season.

Craig: Elliott is fine. I feel like more times than not he is holding his own/doing his job for the team, but he’ll definitely let in a leaky one every couple of games. I think the best defense of Elliott is his 5-on-5 save percentage, since no goalie has survived the Flyers’ penalty kill over the last few seasons. Of the 16 goalies who have played 600 5-on-5 minutes this season, Elliott is fifth with a save percentage of .931. Again, probably isn’t going to stand on his head and downright steal a game for the Flyers, but he isn’t going to cost you games by himself. Flyers’ goaltending has cost the team games this season, but I think that’s more Pickard than Elliott.

Calvin Pickard - 8gp, 4.60 GAA, .852 SV%, 0 SO

Florida Panthers v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Craig: When it comes to a starting goalie, I hope the Flyers PICK somebody else every game (swish).

Kelly: Craig high five. Remember when Flyers fans convinced themselves that Calvin Pickard was the answer to all of our problems in net? That didn’t age well for those people.

Maddie: I still stand by my trade proposal from last weekend to my Leafs friend—Pickard for a crisp high-five. Come get your mans, the Marlies.

Brad: He has a cool mask design. That’s all I got.

Bill R: As much as I want to really complain about Pickard, he was an insurance policy for Neuvirth and probably nothing more. The fact that he’s had to play in 8 games already is unreal. Over 10% of your games will have been played by a guy who is allowing almost 5 goals a game on average. That simply can’t continue.