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Gostisbehere and Myers helping stabilize Flyers’ shaky defense

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The Flyers have been better defensively recently, and they can thank Shayne Gostisbehere and Phil Myers for that.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Flyers defense has looked better in the past few games after an abysmal start to the season. There wasn’t really much room to get worse, but they’ve had stretches of strong play – while still having their lapses – over the past week or so.

It’s no coincidence that the improved play has come with the addition of two defensemen to the lineup: Shayne Gostisbehere and Philippe Myers.

Gostisbehere missed the latter half of training camp and the first two weeks of the season. He made his season debut on January 26th in a win against the Devils. In fact, the Flyers won the first four games that Gostisbehere played in, with their only loss coming in overtime on Wednesday to the Bruins. Gostisbehere was thrown right into the fire on the top pair with Ivan Provorov, and while he’s had a few missteps, he’s done a hell of a lot better than everyone else they tried there.

Myers played at least 18 minutes in each of the Flyers’ first three games – a 2-1-0 record – before suffering an injury in the fourth. Despite some fear that Myers could miss significant time, he returned to game action just 11 days after his injury. Those three games have been a few of the Flyers’ best of the season, at least for his pair and in terms of the advanced numbers.

So, just over a week after ranting about the lackluster defense with multiple replacement-level blueliners in the lineup, I’m here to say that it might all be okay after all. We still have the issues on the third pair, which is a whole other discussion, but the top four is stabilizing a bit with Gostisbehere and Myers in the lineup.

In the past three games, the Flyers posted Corsi-For Percentages of 41.33, 56.34, and 46.32, and Expected Goals-For Percentages of 38.34, 59.43, and 52.68 at 5-on-5 play. The first game against the Islanders wasn’t great, but a 41.33 CF% is actually better than four other games this season. Those two recent games are the ones to key in on, however.

Sunday’s win against the Islanders was the first time this season that the Flyers had a Corsi-For above 50% and Expected Goals-For above 50%, and on top of that, they outscored the Islanders 3-2 at 5-on-5 play.

Wednesday’s first-period struggles and late-game collapse overshadowed some strong play throughout the game. It was probably one of the Flyers’ better efforts this season, and although they didn’t get the win, they once again had an Expected Goals-For above 50% and outscored the Bruins 3-1 at 5-on-5 play. They’ve now outscored the opposition 11-6 at 5-on-5 over the past four games. Prior to that, at 5-on-5 play, they scored 13 and allowed 16 goals.

It’s a step in the right direction and a lot of it has to do with the boost to the top four.

After some mixing and matching due to injuries, the Flyers’ most-used defensive pairs are what they should be: Sanheim - Myers for 83:24 and Provorov - Gostisbehere for 64:49.

Here is how Provorov is performing with Gostisbehere compared to his other partners this season.

Provorov’s 2021 Defensive Partners

Ivan Provorov with: TOI CF% Rel xGF% Rel GF-GA
Ivan Provorov with: TOI CF% Rel xGF% Rel GF-GA
Shayne Gostisbehere 64:49 -3.89 3.64 4-2
Travis Sanheim 60:07 -3.45 -2.53 1-3
Justin Braun 52:16 -11.78 -5.76 0-0

Provorov and Gostisbehere are lagging a bit behind in terms of shot attempts, but they’re helping the Flyers in terms of expected goals. That has also resulted on the scoreboard with a 4-2 advantage. Provorov and Sanheim wasn’t the worst pair in the world, but they couldn’t get the process or results. Justin Braun somehow wasn’t scored on in 52 minutes with Provorov, so that’s something.

Now let’s take a look at Sanheim with Myers.

Sanheim’s 2021 Defensive Partners

Travis Sanheim with: TOI CF% Rel xGF% Rel GF-GA
Travis Sanheim with: TOI CF% Rel xGF% Rel GF-GA
Phil Myers 83:24 11.33 13.77 5-3
Ivan Provorov 60:07 -3.45 -2.53 1-3
Justin Braun 25:58 -4.54 -5.76 0-0

Myers has clearly been Sanheim’s best partner. They are leading the Flyers with a 54.29% CF and 57.00% xGF in 83:24 at 5-on-5 play. That is much, much better than the rest of the team. It’s also showed up in the goal column with a 5-3 advantage. Both defensemen also have points in back-to-back games, including two nice assists by Sanheim on Wednesday night.

Sanheim and Provorov were fine, as described above. Once again somehow Braun didn’t get scored against, but this time only in just under 26 minutes of play.

The third pair is still a heavy work in progress, but having a stable top four can go a long way to mitigate those issues.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick