New defensive pairings aid Flyers just in time to face high-scoring Avalanche
The struggling defensive pair of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere was broken up in Saturday's 5-2 win over New Jersey, and the early returns were positive.
This was a breakup you could see coming.
Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov played well when used as the Flyers' top pairing last season, but the young defensemen struggled in the first two weeks this year and were put on different defensive units in Saturday's 5-2 win over New Jersey.
The move worked. The new pairs – Provorov with Robert Hagg, Gostisbehere with Christian Folin — were steady as the Flyers permitted just 21 shots, equaling a season low, and bounced back from a 6-3 loss in Columbus two nights earlier.
The 6-foot-2, 204-pound Hagg is "a little heavier body to play with Provy in some of those situations," said coach Dave Hakstol, whose team entered the game having allowed 31 goals, second-most in the NHL. "He obviously has a different look than Ghost. He doesn't do as much with the puck, but he provides a heavier presence, so that changes the look of that pair."
Provorov and Gostisbehere both like to jump into the offense, which can sometimes leave the defense outnumbered the other way.
The lineup change left each pair more balanced, with a puck-moving defenseman and a stay-at-home defender. The puck movers are Provorov, Gostisbehere, and Travis Sanheim, who are paired, respectively, with Hagg, Folin, and Radko Gudas.
"We felt it was time to make a little bit of a difference with the rhythm," Hakstol said of his lineup change.
While the defense played well, the forwards did a commendable job with their backchecking. In short, the Flyers, for one of the few times in the young season, played a strong two-way game for all three periods.
"We had a full 60 minutes of smart play and we took care of the puck well," said center Nolan Patrick, who scored a goal after missing the three previous games because of an apparent shoulder injury. "We really limited our turnovers."
"We're going to try to build on this game and put a streak together," Provorov said after collecting two assists, blocking four shots, and registering a plus-2 rating in the win.
On Monday, when Gritty T-shirts are given out to fans, they will host a Colorado Avalanche team that scored a 5-2 win (including an empty-net goal) over the visiting Flyers on Oct. 6.
It will match two of the NHL's highest-scoring teams. Entering Sunday, the Flyers (4-4) were second in the league with 30 goals, while the Avs (5-1-2) were tied for third with 29.
Center Nathan MacKinnon (eight goals, 14 points ) and right winger Mikko Rantanen (eight goals, 14 points) have scored points in all eight of the Avs' games, and their other linemate, left winger Gabriel Landeskog (eight goals, 10 points), has five goals over his last two contests.
MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog are a combined plus-26 and will present a difficult challenge when matched against Sean Couturier's line.
The Flyers are aiming for their first two-game winning streak of the season. … Heading into Sunday, the Flyers led the NHL in faceoff percentage (56.9). … Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek lead the Flyers with 11 points apiece, and Gudas tops the team with a plus-4 rating. Gostisbehere, who had 10 shot attempts Saturday, is a team-worst minus-4. … All three players on the second power-play unit (Travis Konecny, Sanheim, and Jordan Weal) had a point on a goal Saturday. For the No. 2 unit, that happened just once in the 2017-18 season.