Travis Sanheim skated in his first NHL game Thursday night, and things didn’t go the way he wanted them to. On the ice for both Los Angeles Kings goals, Sanheim looked like a rookie in his first game.
That’s OK. That was exactly what the situation was.
In a postgame interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia, Sanheim said that he was “disappointed” with his effort.
“I wish I could go back and tell myself maybe get a little bit more comfortable,” he said. “Start getting up in the ice and start playing my game.”
On both Los Angeles goals, an out-of-place Sanheim could be found.
On the first, Nick Shore received the puck from Kyle Clifford after a giveaway by Scott Laughton in the neutral zone. Sanheim, skating backwards to the Philadelphia net in an attempt to take away the cross-crease opportunity, failed to pick up Trevor Lewis, who was on a b-line directly to the net on the weak side. A quick pass from Shore was just out of reach from Sanheim, and Lewis converted.
On the second, with just over two minutes left in the game, a pinch by Sanheim led to a 2-on-1 for the Kings, and Tyler Toffoli put the game away.
Granted, on the second goal, hindsight is 20/20. If Sanheim successfully poked the puck farther into the Kings’ zone, the Flyers still would have had an opportunity down low to tie the game up. But, nonetheless, Sanheim’s pinch led to the converted opportunity on goal number two.
His advanced metrics weren’t that good either: In 9:03 of 5-on-5 ice time with Radko Gudas, his defensive partner, Sanheim had a 47.06% Corsi for percentage. In the couple of minutes without Gudas, that stat slipped to 33.33%. Overall, he had a 45% CF in his first NHL game. While he was on the ice, the Flyers gave up four high danger scoring chances (HDCA) and registered zero HDCF. While he did look comfortable at points, including getting a shot through a screen that Quick was able to catch with his glove, it wasn’t enough to be very happy with his play.
Overall, Sanheim had a poor game. And with Samuel Morin waiting in the wings, many fans might be quick to jump on Sanheim and call for Morin to be put in the lineup for the Flyers’ next game Saturday in Anaheim. With that, it’s important to remember how Ivan Provorov’s first game went.
Now the team’s top defenseman, Provorov’s NHL career also got off to a rocky start. Paired with Mark Streit in last year’s opening game against L.A., Provorov combined with Streit to produce a 46.88% CF, the lowest rating of any defensive pair for the Flyers in that game. And while his advanced metrics weren’t as bad as Sanheim’s, using an eye test is another important part of evaluating player performances during a game.
First, the good: Provorov got an assist in his first NHL game. It was a look at what was to come in his rookie year. After intentionally shooting wide of the net, Streit was able to chop the puck past Johnathan Quick to make it 4-0 at that point.
There was a good amount of “bad” from Provorov’s first game, however. He fumbled with the puck a few times in the defensive zone, giving L.A. chances to take the puck off his stick. Officially, he gave the puck away twice and made no takeaways himself. He just looked shaky. Fast forward a few days to the game against Chicago on Oct.18, Provorov fell down and lost the puck in the defensive zone, leading to a breakaway goal by Dennis Rasmussen.
Provorov had a poor start and got more comfortable as the season went on.
Sanheim might have the same opportunity to do that. Of course, him staying up this season is dependent on him winning the battle between him and Morin for the last defensive spot on the team.
Will head coach Dave Hakstol play Morin against Anaheim? If Morin is in, then the game against the Kings could have been a regular season audition for Sanheim. And if that’s the case, it will be hard to make the team after Thursday night’s performance. While that may be difficult to digest, it becomes a situation of misfortune for one of the two players; the only reason they’d need to be better than a rookie in their first game (or second, in the case of Morin) would be because of the competition.
If Sanheim does stay with the team this season, the first game of his career should not be looked at with scrutiny. Like Provorov, both players had rough starts. But, if Sanheim wins the job, he will be given the opportunities Provorov had to solidify himself in the lineup.
As Hakstol told NBC Sports Philadelphia, “This is a hard league. You see it with veteran players, let alone with guys who are playing their first or second game. It’s a hard league.”
Stats from NaturalStatTrick.com.
Dylan was the President of GNGHockey from its beginnings to January 2018.