With Justin Braun’s return to the lineup tonight, the Philadelphia Flyers have loaned defenseman Mark Friedman back to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The Orange and Black have been without two of their regular defensemen for the last five games, but with Braun’s return the Flyers will head into a game with their ideal top four intact for the first time since January 4th.
Friedman may have made his NHL debut in last year’s regular season finale, but this stretch of games was his first real taste of the National. He grabbed an assist and had one of his four shot attempts hit the net while averaging 13:01 of ice time in the five games he helped the Orange and Black on their blue line in the absence of Braun and Shayne Gostisbehere. Friedman’s helper was his first point in the NHL, as he shot from the point banked off Connor Bunnaman for his first NHL goal in the Flyers’ win over the Boston Bruins this past Monday.
Considering the circumstances, Friedman was a net positive in his callup with the big club. Thrown into the mix with two d-men injured, the product of Bowling Green State University was used on the third pair with Robert Hagg and technically saw a few seconds of power play time, but was used primarily as a 5-on-5 player. The pair’s possession numbers weren’t pretty (37.25 shot attempts-for percentage and 40.42 expected goals-for percentage in 58:25 of 5-on-5 time), but the tandem of the team’s seventh d-man and a 24-year-old rearguard getting his feet wet in the NHL managed to be on the ice for two Flyers’ goals and only one goal against. Once the pair was announced the hope was the two wouldn’t hinder the team from winning during a tough stretch of games, which they managed to do even if the process wasn’t pretty.
The underlying numbers weren’t great, but Friedman did display a set of skills that general manager Chuck Fletcher might find trustworthy the next time he needs to call up a blue liner from Lehigh Valley. He didn’t make any terrible decisions with or without the puck and his ability to keep it simple is something Philadelphia hasn’t seen on the third pair for much of this season. His size and ceiling may prevent Friedman from being a lock on the Flyers’ defense in the near future, but he did show he can play at the highest level if need be.
As for Braun he returns to the lineup after a six-game absence where the team went 3-2-1. He has two goals and eight apples for ten points in 42 games this season, but when it comes to Braun it’s more about his impact on the defensive side of the puck. The d-man with the best corsi (shots on goal, missed shots, and blocked shots combined) for percentage also owns the lowest rates of shot attempts against, unblocked shot attempts against, shots against, and expected goals against of any Flyers’ defenseman so far this season. Out of the 138 defenesemen in the NHL who have played 600 or more 5-on-5 minutes this season Braun is ninth with a rate of 49.13 corsi against-per-60 and 20th with a rate of 2.02 expected goals against-per-60.