Philadelphia Flyers’ Defense Showing Plenty of Improvement

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 11: Philippe Myers #61 and Shayne Gostisbehere #53 of the Philadelphia Flyers chat during warmups prior to their game against the Ottawa Senators on March 11, 2019 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 11: Philippe Myers #61 and Shayne Gostisbehere #53 of the Philadelphia Flyers chat during warmups prior to their game against the Ottawa Senators on March 11, 2019 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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Ever since Scott Gordon took over as head coach and Rick Wilson was named assistant coach, the Philadelphia Flyers’ defense has rapidly improved. The unit is a huge part of the reason they’re in a playoff race.

There are many reasons for the Philadelphia Flyers’ late playoff push. The play of goalie Carter Hart — and even veteran Brian Elliott — is the biggest reason, but enough can’t be said about the improved play of the defense also.

In the first half of the season, mostly under former head coach Dave Hakstol, almost every defenseman struggled. That included stars Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere.

It wasn’t a complete night-and-day after Scott Gordon took over the head coaching role or Rick Wilson joined the staff as an assistant coach, but the progress started almost right away.

First — and biggest — Travis Sanheim took a spot in the top four. The sophomore never seemed to be able to impress Hakstol despite displaying high-end passing ability and improving defensive acumen.

Instead of one-dimensional veteran Andrew MacDonald logging those minutes, they went to the more impactful Sanheim under Gordon. Before Hakstol was fired, MacDonald was logging over 18 minutes a game. Since Gordon took over, the former Islander has averaged 15:25 and has been a healthy scratch often.

Meanwhile, Sanheim has 13 points in the last 15 games on the first pairing with Provorov. Although MacDonald is more of a defensive blueliner, the 32-year-old doesn’t even have 13 points on the season for a team that desperately needed scoring in the first half of the year.

But it doesn’t end with Sanheim. Provorov has turned his season around. Although the offensive game is still taking some time to show itself fully, the Russian blueliner has been a force once-again on the defensive side of the puck, battling with much more success.

Gostisbehere has looked better — and really good in some showings — but his offensive game that’s been one of the best from the blue line over the past few years isn’t quite evident yet. His defensive partner, though, is having no issues adjusting to the NHL.

Philippe Myers has long been a rock for Gordon’s Phantoms clubs and the trust has continued into the NHL. The 22-year-old forms the second pairing with Gostisbehere, is nifty with the puck, and is already on the penalty kill. His minutes have slipped a bit in the last few games, but it’s hard to imagine Gordon ever removing Myers from the lineup.

Between Myers, Provorov, Gostisbehere and Sanheim, the Flyers suddenly have an impressive top four and the future that fans have been waiting for is here. Include Radko Gudas in that group, and the Flyers have a stout top-five.

Gordon and Wilson have helped develop the group of defensemen. Now it’s up to them to help lead the team to the playoffs.

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