The Philadelphia Flyers, including coach Dave Hakstol and general manager Ron Hextall, made the most of their week before the bye week. The Flyers, themselves, won three out of four games, while Hakstol finally played Michal Neuvirth and Hextall recalled Tyrell Goulbourne. Those choices and Brandon Manning on the power play are the topics in this week’s grading of Hak and Hex.
Tyrelle Goulbourne Recalled
On Thursday, the Flyers turned some heads by recalling Goulbourne from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Although the 23 year old was a third-round draft pick in 2013, an NHL career has never been envisioned for him.
Goulbourne is known as a fighter/enforcer first. The left wingerscored 17 points for the Phantoms in 2015-16, then seemed to take a step back the following year, splitting the season with the Phantoms and the ECHL Reading Royals.
This year, Goulbourne’s played 34 games with the Phantoms and is scoring at a much better clip with six goals and 10 points. Hextall also commended him for the way he changed his game over the past couple of seasons:
Hextall on Goulbourne before tonight's game (Goulbourne will not be playing due to the weather, but the recall stands). pic.twitter.com/CVjVB7Hg2W
— Charlie O'Connor (@charlieo_conn) January 4, 2018
As O’Connor mentioned, Goulbourne missed the game against the New York Islanders Thursday, but was able to make it in time for Saturday’s contest against the St. Louis Blues. It didn’t take him long to make an impact.
On his first shift, Goulbourne brought the hard forecheck Hextall mentioned, running over Alex Pietrangelo and removing him from the puck. Scott Laughton was able to scoop up the loose puck and rip a shot past Jake Allen for the first goal of the game.
Goulbourne wasn’t given an assist on the play, but he deserved one. From there, though, the Edmonton native’s accolades didn’t grow much. He played just 5:23 Saturday and 5:45 Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres. After the Sabres game, Goulbourne was sent back to the Phantoms.
Tracking back to the recall itself, it was definitely an odd one. Oskar Lindblom has been playing great hockey in the AHL and Mike Vecchione, Matt Read and Colin McDonald seem like better recalls on paper and on ice.
But looking at the move in a vacuum it starts to add up. The Flyers got manhandled by the Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday. I don’t believe Goulbourne was recalled for that reason alone or as the leading reason.
The Flyers needed some kind of spark before entering the bye week Sunday. When Lindblom is recalled he’ll be here to stay. Read and McDonald probably wouldn’t be too much of a spark, but a player with grit and energy might have been.
It also should have spoke to some of the veterans that haven’t been playing like their jobs are on the line (Dale Weise). Whether it was the recall or not, the Flyers rattled off three straight wins and had a goal created from Goulbourne, so this move has to be counted as a win.
Neuvirth Finally Gets in Game
Despite being removed from injured reserve on Dec. 26, it took almost two weeks for the Czech Republic native to get a start. He did appear in relief for Brian Elliott against the Penguins Tuesday, but it was two games later that Neuvirth started a game.
In all, Elliott started 16 games in a row, including six after Neuvirth was deemed healthy enough to come off IR.
Looking at this past week, Neuvirth would have made sense as the starter against the Islanders before the Sabres game. It was the game after the Pens and an opponent the 29 year old has had success against.
However, it was also a divisional rival and Hakstol has proven this year he trusts Elliott a whole lot more than he trusts Neuvirth. However, when it was Neuvirth’s time, he made the most of it.
He stopped 30 shots against the Sabres, including a highlight reel glove save on Sam Reinhart in the first period, allowed just one goal and got a win when most of the Flyers looked sluggish and disinterested in the game.
As I’ve mentioned before when analyzing the goalie usage, the big issue is Elliott’s energy. If he tires out in March when Philly’s making a real playoff push, we’ll look back at this stretch as a mistake.
It’s fine that Hakstol has picked a starter. I think most would agree Elliott deserves it, but there has to be a case for better balance on a weekly basis.
Brandon Manning on the Power Play
Before we get into this topic, it’s important to note that assistant coach Kris Knoblauch runs the power play — its design, formations and the personnel. Hakstol may get some type of word in the decisions, but it all comes under Knoblauch’s rule.
Actually moving into the topic, Brandon Manning has found himself as a fixture on the Flyers’ second power play unit since he’s returned from injury. He played just eight seconds on the man advantage against the Penguins, then increased to a high of 2:51 against the Blues. In three of the four games this past week, his minutes were right on par with Ivan Provorov.
Looking at that decision exclusively, maybe there’s some merit to it if Knoblauch wants two defenseman on that second unit. Manning’s better defensively but he does have a better offensive game than Radko Gudas, Andrew MacDonald and Robert Hagg.
Of course, it would make more sense to play one of the better playmaking forwards in a role like that such as Travis Konecny or Jordan Weal.
But where the big issue is is the team’s refusal to play Travis Sanheim on the man advantage. Behind Gostisbehere the rookie may be the best offensive defenseman on the roster. When Sanheim makes a name for himself in the league it will be through his power play work, yet he’s only averaged 21 seconds of power play time this season.
The simple excuse is that Sanheim still needs to work on his defensive game, while his man advantage acumen will be above average when he does get those minutes.
Still, if Knoblauch is trusting Manning — a bottom-pairing blueliner at best — with power play minutes, there’s no reason Sanheim shouldn’t be getting them either.