The Philadelphia Flyers are already nearing the quarter mark of the season. They are 23% of the way through the 56-game schedule, and there have already been some ups and downs, especially on the blue line.
As we near the quarter mark of the season, let’s take a look at how the Flyers players are performing. I have decided to grade each player individually based on their performance compared to what we expect of them. Let’s continue with the Flyers defensemen grades.
The players are listed alphabetically, and each defenseman has played in all 13 games unless noted. I have only graded defensemen that have played in seven or more games, so Mark Friedman and the great Nate Prosser receive “incomplete” grades.
Corsi For (CF%) measures how many shot attempts (shots on goal, shots that miss the net, and shots that are blocked) a team takes compared to their opposition. The Flyers have 44 shots attempts for every 56 shot attempts their opponent has.
Expected Goals For (xGF%) is similar to Corsi For but considers the quality of the shot attempt. Shot attempts that are closer to the net and in more dangerous areas are worth more.
CF% Rel and xGF% Rel measure how a team performs with the player on the ice vs. the player off the ice. A positive number is, well, positive, while a negative number is negative.
Goals: 0 / Assists: 1 / Points: 1
CF% Rel: -2.63 / xGF% Rel: -7.83 / OZ Start %: 32.79%
Oh boy, what a way to start. Justin Braun has been underwhelming, to say the least.
This offseason, it wouldn’t have been surprising if the Flyers didn’t bring Braun back, but Matt Niskanen’s unexpected retirement put the Flyers in a bind. They re-signed Braun to fill the role of right-handed veteran defenseman, but Braun is more of a third-pair guy than a top-pair guy.
Braun’s age and declining speed have shown early in the season. He is getting crushed in terms of possession and quality of chances against, but I was surprised that Braun isn’t getting many offensive zone starts. I thought Alain Vigneault would shelter him more.
The bar is set higher for Braun, but he’s not performed up to the task. I don’t think his spot in the lineup is in jeopardy, however, due to his usage on the penalty kill and veteran status. There is at least one guy – if not two – that come ahead of him for that. Perhaps Braun can return to a third-pair role once the Flyers have a healthy group of defensemen.
Goals: 0 / Assists: 1 / Points: 1
CF% Rel: -2.53 / xGF% Rel: 9.50 / OZ Start %: 53.57%
From one of the worst in Braun to one of the best in Shayne Gostisbehere.
Gostisbehere missed the latter portion of training camp and the beginning of the season because of COVID. Early injuries magnified his absence, and his return was much needed. Not only his return to the lineup but his return to playing well.
He has been one of the more reliable defensemen this season, and that’s saying something. He’s still had a few bad turnovers, but others he has been able to erase. Most importantly, there haven’t been any momentum-changing goals scored directly off a bad Gostisbehere turnover.
Gostisbehere is getting offensive-zone usage and driving play well. The Flyers have 0.58 more expected goals-for per 60 minutes with him on the ice and 0.22 fewer expected goals against per 60 minutes. That’s big for a guy like Gostisbehere.
Goals: 0 / Assists: 7 / Points: 7
CF% Rel: 1.47 / xGF% Rel: 2.15 / OZ Start %: 57.89%
We’re on a roller coaster here from Braun, up to Gostisbehere, and now back down to Gustafsson.
Erik Gustafsson was the Flyers’ only addition in an attempt to fill the hole left by Niskanen. They brought back Braun and signed Gustafsson in free agency. It’s safe to say that he hasn’t fit the bill.
Sure, Gustafsson has been able to chip in offensively. He had a great start to the season, and his seven points are tied with Ivan Provorov for the team lead among defensemen. Gustafsson’s play-driving numbers are decent relative to his teammates, which could speak more to how poorly the Flyers have been than how good he’s been. That’s about where the positives stop.
He has 11 giveaways in 163 minutes, and it almost feels like every one of them has ended up costing him in one way or another. He’s been on the ice for nine goals against in those 163 minutes. That is one goal less than Travis Sanheim in 54 more minutes, or the same amount as Provorov in 86 more minutes.
Gustafsson needs to be the Flyers’ sixth or seventh defenseman, not a second-pairing defenseman.
Goals: 1 / Assists: 0 / Points: 1
CF% Rel: 1.44 / xGF% Rel: -9.15 / OZ Start %: 56.82%
Right down there with Braun and Gustafsson is Robert Hagg. All three of them are ideally sixth or seventh defensemen, but they’ve all been in the lineup simultaneously. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Hagg has been sheltered like Gostsisbehere and Gustafsson, but it hasn’t mattered. The Flyers are averaging 1.56 expected goals-for and 2.55 expected goals-against per 60 minutes. That’s almost an entire goal. Relative to his teammates, the Flyers average 0.45 fewer expected goals for and 0.29 more expected goals against per 60 minutes.
Hagg’s PDO-boosted 2019-20 season is a thing of the past as he is the only Flyers defensemen with a negative goal-differential at 5v5. He has been on the ice for just five goals for and nine against at 5v5 play.
Goals: 0 / Assists: 3 / Points: 3
CF% Rel: 5.27 / xGF% Rel: 5.32 / OZ Start %: 45.71%
Phil Myers, when healthy, has been one of the Flyers’ best defensemen. He is driving play in terms of both raw shot attempts and quality.
Myers is being relied upon heavily in his sophomore season. He leads all Flyers with a 48.96 CF% and is in the top tier with a 49.49 xGF%. He’s been on the ice for eight goals-for and five goals-against in his eight games. He has played 16:49 per game at 5v5 this season and 2:15 per game on the penalty kill.
Myers could probably form a pretty strong top pair with Provorov. However, he has chemistry with Travis Sanheim, and they can form a formidable second pair when they’re on their game. At this point, Myers is one of the bright spots on the blue line.
Goals: 2 / Assists: 5 / Points: 7
CF% Rel: -8.48 / xGF% Rel: -6.58 / OZ Start %: 43.4%
Grading Ivan Provorov will always be interesting, but especially so early in a season when he’s had a few different defensive partners. And on top of that, those defensive partners haven’t exactly been great.
His possession numbers have taken quite the hit due to a poor start without a proper top-pair partner. He’s also had some mishaps on the power play that have dinged his grade a bit.
Given all of that, we’re going to grade Provorov perhaps a bit lower than he’ll end up at the end of the season. Playing with Gostisbehere and a healthy defensive corps should help take some of the pressure off of Provorov as the season moves along.
Goals: 1 / Assists: 4 / Points: 5
CF% Rel: 4.95 / xGF% Rel: 7.65 / OZ Start %: 40%
Travis Sanheim has been the Flyers’ best and most consistent defenseman this season, and I don’t have much hesitation saying that. Unfortunately, he is currently the only Flyers player on the NHL COVID Protocol list.
Sanheim played in Friday night’s game, practiced on Saturday, but was held out of Sunday afternoon’s game due to an undisclosed injury. We found out after the game that he was placed on the COVID list. Hopefully, he’ll be okay and back to playing soon, but let’s take a look at his season thus far.
Sanheim has looked especially comfortable and confident with Myers as his partner. The two were a force in the second half of last season, and they’re the best Flyers’ pair so far this year as well. The Sanheim-Myers pair leads all Flyers pairs (that have played more than 11 minutes together) with a 54.29 CF% and 57 xGF%. And only 42.31% of their shifts have started in the offensive zone.
He recently found his game offensively with two nice assists in the first game against Boston last week.
Sanheim is a guy that the Flyers can rely upon to play in all situations as a top-four defenseman, and they don’t have to worry too much about him. That’s incredibly valuable.
Let’s take a quick synopsis and wrap this up.
- A: Philippe Myers, Travis Sanheim
- B: Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov
- C: N/A
- D: Justin Braun, Erik Gustafsson, Robert Hagg
This is about what we expect—four solid defensemen and then a race to the bottom for the other three.
All stats via Natural Stat Trick