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Flyers’ defensive depth put to the test with injuries to Braun, Gostisbehere

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Next man up worked so well across the street for the Eagles, perhaps the same can be true when it comes to the Flyers’ defense here in the next few weeks.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers are really starting to get stretched thin on defense these days.

They’ll be missing the services of Shanye Gostisbehere for the next three weeks as he recovers from arthroscopic surgery on his injured left knee. That news breaks just as the Flyers started life without Justin Braun, who is expected out until at least after the all star break with a goin issue.

The loss of Braun forced de-facto seventh defenseman Robert Hagg back into the lineup, and he responded with a goal in the big win over the Capitals on Wednesday night following an assist in the loss at Carolina a few nights earlier.

Gostisbehere missed the Caps game with the knee injury, and the Flyers called up Mark Friedman from Lehigh Valley to take his place in the lineup. Friedman took 13 shifts in the win, registering 11:49 of ice time on the night.

With two veterans out of the lineup for an extended period of time, that puts added pressure on a unit already rather top heavy relying on the likes of Ivan Provorov and Matt Niskanen.

2019-20 Flyers defense

Player Position GP TOI CF CA CF% FF FA FF% SF SA SF% GF GA GF% xGF xGA xGF% SCF SCA SCF% HDCF HDCA HDCF% HDGF HDGA HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off. Zone Starts Neu. Zone Starts Def. Zone Starts On The Fly Starts Off. Zone Start % Off. Zone Faceoffs Neu. Zone Faceoffs Def. Zone Faceoffs Off. Zone Faceoff %
Player Position GP TOI CF CA CF% FF FA FF% SF SA SF% GF GA GF% xGF xGA xGF% SCF SCA SCF% HDCF HDCA HDCF% HDGF HDGA HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off. Zone Starts Neu. Zone Starts Def. Zone Starts On The Fly Starts Off. Zone Start % Off. Zone Faceoffs Neu. Zone Faceoffs Def. Zone Faceoffs Off. Zone Faceoff %
Justin Braun D 42 628.9 600 515 53.81 431 394 52.24 328 294 52.73 26 35 42.62 23.16 21.21 52.20 282 233 54.76 110 102 51.89 17 19 47.22 7.93 88.10 0.960 114 146 103 526 52.53 203 199 214 48.68
Ivan Provorov D 44 781.46666666667 736 682 51.90 551 518 51.54 423 361 53.95 33 33 50.00 31.65 27.72 53.31 356 308 53.61 145 117 55.34 24 14 63.16 7.80 90.86 0.987 114 183 135 544 45.78 205 248 274 42.80
Shayne Gostisbehere D 40 589.26666666667 528 491 51.82 399 375 51.55 287 283 50.35 21 21 50.00 20.53 23.93 46.18 225 235 48.91 95 119 44.39 8 15 34.78 7.32 92.58 0.999 134 135 61 458 68.72 220 179 150 59.46
Travis Sanheim D 44 729.26666666667 690 647 51.61 513 503 50.49 380 371 50.60 36 40 47.37 28.93 29.1 49.85 321 321 50.00 132 141 48.35 20 20 50.00 9.47 89.22 0.987 111 153 105 610 51.39 220 226 230 48.89
Matt Niskanen D 43 702.43333333333 648 617 51.23 488 467 51.10 382 335 53.28 28 31 47.46 29.29 25.45 53.50 309 273 53.09 135 115 54.00 20 15 57.14 7.33 90.75 0.981 108 183 113 508 48.87 183 239 232 44.10
Philippe Myers D 26 403.46666666667 341 354 49.06 256 275 48.21 186 197 48.56 26 14 65.00 13.87 14.8 48.39 162 161 50.15 62 71 46.62 10 6 62.50 13.98 92.89 1.069 79 90 57 325 58.09 134 128 112 54.47
Robert Hagg D 25 344.18333333333 290 323 47.31 222 239 48.16 156 178 46.71 15 13 53.57 12.06 14.55 45.32 134 152 46.85 53 67 44.17 6 8 42.86 9.62 92.70 1.023 73 83 44 283 62.39 121 115 102 54.26
Samuel Morin D 1 12.533333333333 13 16 44.83 8 15 34.78 6 11 35.29 0 1 0.00 0.33 2.17 13.24 3 12 20.00 2 11 15.38 0 1 0.00 0.00 90.91 0.909 1 4 0 11 100.00 5 5 2 71.43
Mark Friedman D 1 11.816666666667 5 12 29.41 4 7 36.36 2 4 33.33 0 0 - 0.39 0.61 38.71 4 5 44.44 3 3 50.00 0 0 - 0.00 100.00 1.000 3 4 0 6 100.00 3 5 1 75.00

Provorov easily leads the Flyers in ice time with over 24 minutes per game this season (10th most among all players) while Niskanen is second with just over 21 minutes per game. While those two log plenty of minutes on their own, they figure to see their ice time ramp up in the next few weeks to try and make up for the losses of both Braun and Gostisbehere.

But while they’re absences will be felt, it also provides an opportunity for those defenders on the roster not named Provorov or Niskanen.

The two with the most to gain —or lose depending on how you view the glass half-full/half-empty deal— are Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers.

Sanheim is third on the team in terms of ice time per game and has shown flashes of his ability but hasn’t been consistently good night-in and night-out. He has the ability to replace some of the offense that Gostisbehere takes to injured reserve with him, and should be penciled into some extended power play time in order to kickstart his offense while Ghost is out. But not only should he pick up some extra power play time, he should get extra shifts at 5-on-5 with Braun out, too, and that’s valuable time for a player the Flyers are still trying to figure out exactly what they in.

For Sanheim to take advantage of his chance here, he has to stay aggressive and activate offensively when the opportunity presents itself. When he’s attacking defenses with the puck and pressing in the offensive zone, he created extended zone time and can be a difference maker like on the play below in Carolina. That goal helped the Flyers earn a much-needed point to close an awful road trip.

Myers is the other who stands to gain from the slew of blue line injuries in recent games as he has been a healthy scratch at time this season for coach Alain Vigneault in favor of the aforementioned Hagg. Just crunching numbers that seems insane since Myers has badly outproduced Hagg (eight more points in one more game) thus far in a similar amount of action. But like Sanheim, Myers finds himself out of position once or twice a night and finds himself quickly back in Vigneault’s doghouse.

Like Sanheim, Myers is also at his best when he’s trusting his ability and staying aggressive. He’s blessed with great reach and skating ability that helps him make up for some of his bad reads or mistakes, and sometimes he relies too much on said ability. The tools are all there for Myers, and the injuries to Ghost and Braun ensure that he’ll have plenty of chances in the regular lineup to continue to find his game at the NHL level and that’s important for the Flyers because there is plenty there to work with.

But while Sanheim and Myers stand the most to gain from the recent injuries, Hagg and Friedman can also benefit in the short term as well. For starters, Hagg slides into the penalty killing roll served by Braun, and could use the time to try and cement his place in the lineup going forward and not just in the press box with solid play. As for Friedman, he’s played a ton of AHL games and is likely seeing his first extended NHL action in the next few weeks. Passed over for NHL promotions in the past few years in favor of other defenders, Friedman can show the Flyers’ brass that he deserves a chance to compete with a guy like Hagg for a place on the big club even as an extra body or perhaps more.

Injuries have hit hard this season, but where there come injuries there come opportunities, and there is certainly plenty to go around on the blue line for the Flyers these days.