The Philadelphia Flyers are in the midst of their worst stretch of hockey in a long time. Their response to that – sitting three of their youngest players against the reigning Stanley Cup Champions on Monday night.
Dave Hakstol and the Flyers practiced on Sunday morning at the Skate Zone in Voorhees. On the ice was veteran defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who is expected to return on Monday in Pittsburgh. MacDonald had been out for the last month with a lower-body injury after blocking a shot on the penalty kill. He was slotted alongside Ivan Provorov, his old partner, during practice and is expected to be on the top pairing against Pittsburgh. Here’s what the defense looked like on Sunday.
Shayne Gostisbehere – Robert Hagg
Travis Sanheim – Brandon Manning
We all knew MacDonald was returning and that he belongs in the lineup, at least over a guy like Brandon Manning. The difficult thing to register is the fact that Manning has been defended over the last year by Hakstol, so much to the extent that he played Manning over Shayne Gostisbehere in overtime on Friday evening.
Gostisbehere may be the player who benefits the most from MacDonald returning. Ghost got out to an incredible start to the season, all when he was defense partners with Robert Hagg. MacDonald’s return means that Hagg will be back with Gostisbehere on the blue line.
Sam Morin is a significant upgrade over Manning and provides the physical presence that was left by Radko Gudas, who is still suspended. But he will likely be sent back down to Lehigh Valley on Monday, since the Flyers need to clear a roster spot to activate MacDonald.
That wasn’t the only change. It looks like Dale Weise and Jori Lehtera will both be in the starting lineup against the Penguins in place for Jordan Weal and Taylor Leier. Weise and Lehtera are significant downgrades in the starting lineup and make the Flyers an even-slower team when on the ice. Here’s what the Flyers are going with on Monday in Pittsburgh.
Claude Giroux – Sean Couturier – Jake Voracek
Danick Martel – Nolan Patrick – Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl – Valtteri Filppula – Travis Konecny
The only change to the lineup, as mentioned before, comes on that fourth line. Leier was taken off the team’s penalty kill during their overtime loss on Black Friday, which means that Lehtera or Weise will fill that role on Monday. Jordan Weal hasn’t been lights out, but he certainly hasn’t performed to the highest quality. But none of this justifies the need to watch young players progress during the season. Weise and Lehtera are downgrades to a team that is struggling defensively.
Danick Martel and Nolan Patrick have certainly clicked together and, along with Wayne Simmonds, have given the Flyers a spark in the middle-six. The Flyers are looking to keep the Penguins off the board, which is something they’re having trouble doing.
The Flyers forwards have struggled playing solid, two-way hockey during the losing streak. Hakstol believes that making these changes could help his team salvage a huge Metropolitan Division win on Monday before returning home against the Sharks on Tuesday. We’ll know more on Monday, but all signs point to Weal, Morin and Weise not being in the lineup against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.
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