Travis Sanheim Is Ready For Bigger Minutes, and Other Thoughts on the Defense

With a quarter of the season out of the way, the Flyers lineup has taken shape, and in terms of sample size it’s time to look at who has performed and who hasn’t. On defense, the Flyers have shown some improvement over last year. The subtraction of Brandon Manning and the growth of Travis Sanheim into a full time defender have been the main drivers of improvement even with the early season struggles of Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov.


In terms of the With or Without You Charts, the Sanheim-Gudas pair is a consistent possession driving defensive unit. Together they’re the only two defenders in the “Good” quadrant as they not only drive offensive possession, but suppress shot attempts against as well. They’re the top 5v5 pair and easily deserve more minutes going forward.

Andrew MacDonald’s drop by himself is likely a result of his rushing back from injury. While he’s easily the sixth defender in terms of talent, it’s not likely he’s that far behind the rest of the team.

Player Pos GP CF% oiSH% oiSV% PDO oZS% dZS% E+/-
Christian Folin D 14 52.4 16.7 89.2 105.9 45.8 54.2 2.3
Shayne Gostisbehere D 20 51.7 6.8 88.6 95.4 51.0 49.0 2.0
Radko Gudas D 18 54.4 8.2 94.0 102.2 44.7 55.3 1.4
Robert Hagg D 20 46.7 12.7 93.8 106.4 38.1 61.9 2.0
Andrew MacDonald D 8 46.3 8.9 88.6 97.5 41.1 58.9 -2.1
Ivan Provorov D 20 48.6 9.2 89.9 99.2 39.3 60.7 2.1
Travis Sanheim D 20 56.2 11.0 88.9 99.9 50.0 50.0 3.3
Provided by Hockey-Reference.comView Original Table
Generated 11/18/2018.

From a usage perspective, Christian Folin’s solid possession numbers are a product of playing with Gostisbehere recently. While the reason Hagg and Provorov are sub 50% in Corsi is likely a result of them being thrown into heavily defensive minutes, Radko Gudas massively overperforms his 44.7% O-zone start.
On the massively positive side, Shayne Gostisbehere is really hammered by bad luck with the 95.4 PDO. Both sides of his PDO should start to trend up, though the betting odds would be more on the offensive side than the defensive side.
Also, the 16.7 On Ice SH% of Folin should come crashing down soon. The On-Ice Save%’s of low on average due to goaltending struggles early on in the season. As such the PDO numbers should be somewhat low, yet not quite guaranteed to regress up, barring an improvement in net. The same applies to Robert Hagg as well, especially as he’s had good relative puck luck on both sides of the ice. And this would be the knock on Radko Gudas, he too has had very good puck luck defensively.
Given what we’ve seen so far, going forward the Flyers defense, Sanheim-Gudas needs to be the top pair going forward. They’ve driven play on both ends of the ice and while puck luck has followed Gudas defensively and Sanheim offensively, they compliment each other too well to be kept apart and in terms of results they control, drive play in a way that warrants more ice time.
The shut down defensive pair is Provorov and Hagg while the offensive pair should be Ghost and Folin for now.
Provorov and Hagg and breaking decently well even while slammed with defensive zone starts. It’s probably not ideal for Provorov’s scoring to be doing the lifting, but he has the talent to do it. In a perfect world, Ghost would have Phil Myers instead of Folin, but barring that call being made, the best option is Folin. Folin would have to get the Nicolas Aube-Kubel treatment though in the third period. Meaning that if the Flyers are trailing, they’d be better off double shifting Provorov and Sanheim with Ghost and skipping Folin shifts when possible in order to score. When ahead, they’d have to deploy Ghost-Folin for just about every offensive zone draw to let Hagg-Provorov and Sanheim-Gudas take the truly tough zone starts.
Which leaves Andrew MacDonald the odd defender out. The toughest part of this is, given his contract, he needs to be on the ice to show he is healthy enough to be traded, even with a 50% retention to avoid the last parts of his contract.

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