It was a light week for the Philadelphia Flyers, playing just two games before a short New Year’s break. However, coach Dave Hakstol was able to dig up some controversy by replacing Travis Sanheim with Brandon Manning and not playing Michal Neuvirth.
Brandon Manning In, Travis Sanheim Out
Before Manning suffered a hand injury in early December, he was one of Hakstol’s favorite defensemen. And to be honest, the 27 year old wasn’t playing bad. But with six blueliners that should be playing before him, it was likely to cause some roster juggling down the road.
However, it wasn’t too much of an issue at the time because Radko Gudas was serving his 10-game suspension handed out in the middle of November. Since then, the Flyers haven’t had to scratch any defenseman besides call-up Mark Alt.
That changed Friday, though, when Manning was removed off IR and placed back in the lineup by Hakstol in favor of rookie Travis Sanheim. Philly fans were angered, but shouldn’t have been surprised given Hakstol’s past.
Besides that, on Thursday, the Flyers played a horrid game against the Florida Panthers. Besides Sanheim, Hakstol also benched rookie Taylor Leier for veteran Jori Lehtera. Whether that was used as a wakeup call for his team or not, it actually worked out for the coach.
Manning scored the eventual game-winner against the Lightning as the Flyers knocked off a heavily favored opponent. Philly also played a much more energized game after Thursday’s clunker.
Hakstol was vindicated for a night, while Sanheim has been improving throughout the year even if he isn’t lighting up the scoresheet. Hakstol shouldn’t use the one night to continue to push for Manning, but he’s already done so by confirming he would be in the lineup again Tuesday versus the Penguins.
Michal Neuvirth Not Starting
For the third week in a row, Hakstol has forced a discussion on his goalie usage — as in a singular goalie. Michal Neuvirth was taken off IR this past Tuesday and with two games in two nights, it made sense that he would play in one of them.
Instead, Hakstol kept Elliott in net for both contests as his starting streak reached 13 games. On one hand, the Flyers have had some lengthy breaks during that stretch. But on the other, they’ve also played three back-to-backs, including a stretch of seven games in 12 days.
The team finished Saturday’s game with a three-day break, but with Elliott’s recent workload, it begs the question of why Neuvirth didn’t play the Panthers Thursday? The team’s a weaker opponent than the Lightning and the Czech Republic native hasn’t played a game in over a month now.
It seems safe to speculate that Hakstol doesn’t fully trust Neuvirth at this point. He’s played in eight games this season and it’s been a Jekyll and Hyde year so far.
In four of his first five starts, his save percentage never dipped below .926 and he posted a shutout against the St. Louis Blues. But in Neuvirth’s last three starts, he’s given up at least three goals in each of them and has save percentages below .853 in two contests.
This all comes about 10 months after Hextall signed Neuvirth to an extension and raise on his previous contract. With four games this upcoming week, a goalie change should come. One won’t happen tonight against the Penguins, though, as Hakstol has already named Elliott the starter. If that continues, it will speak volumes about Neuvirth’s position on the team.