LAS VEGAS – While the Flyers’ defense looks a bit young on paper, it does have two things going for it.
One, both Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim each have a year of experience under their belt.
And two, coach Dave Hakstol has paired veteran Andrew MacDonald with Hagg and another veteran, Radko Gudas, with Sanheim.
This is a good strategic move heading into tonight’s season opener against the Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena.
Sanheim could be the wild card in that the Flyers saw flashes of brilliance last year but not quite enough consistency.
After a 49-game trial, he spent the last 18 games of the season with the Phantoms.
Hagg also had ups and downs.
“Both of those guys, their years were a little bit different,’’ Hakstol said after the morning skate. “But each of them had peaks and valleys during the year.
“And that’s to be expected as a young defenseman in this league. The experience for them was good. I really liked the way both of those guys mentally worked through things. They showed some toughness, grit. Not just physically but mentally. That’s going to pay off for those guys as they come into this year.’’
That said, the Flyers need steady performances from them in order to succeed.
“There are still challenges ahead for them,’’ Hakstol said. “It’s a tough league for young defensemen. Those guys are going to be in key roles for us, key situations.
“But I expect for them to continue to grow and embrace those roles for us.’’
Both Sanheim and Hagg admitted they’re excited about getting the season going.
“I’ve played a little bit with him (Gudas) before,’’ Sanheim said. “We’re familiar with each other. It’s nice to have his physical presence and he’s so good defensively.’’
In turn, Gudas believes Sanheim has a lot of potential.
“I’m looking forward to getting some shifts in the offensive zone because he’s able to create some offense and help the forwards out,’’ Gudas said.
“We have to stay as consistent as we can for our forwards. We (the six defensemen, including 21-year-old Ivan Provorov) are still pretty young back there.’’
With these pairings, Gudas and MacDonald should be a steadying influence on the young backliners.
“It’s better than having two more experienced guys and two young guys,’’ Gudas said. “I think it could work pretty well.’’
Hagg suffered an injury last year, then wasn’t afforded the chance to get right back into the lineup after his return. Perhaps a lesson learned that no one’s job is completely safe.
“I’m a little bit less nervous than last year,’’ said Hagg. “You should have some nerves for the season opener but I do feel a little more comfortable this year.
“I know what I’m expecting of myself and I know what my teammates are expecting of me, too.’’
Although he got into only one preseason game, Sean Couturier says he headed into the season opener ready to play in all situations and that his recovery is complete from a knee injury suffered in an August charity game.
“I feel great, new year, excited,’’ he said. “I had a lot of time off during camp, so I’m just going to try to keep it simple, get into the rhythm and go from there.
“We like our group but now it’s going to be to show it into games. On paper, we have a pretty good roster but nothing is given to you. We will have to earn everything we get.’’
While Claude Giroux is coming off the best season of his career (102 points, second in the NHL), he still wants to put team achievement ahead of individual results.
“The end goal is to win the Stanley Cup,’’ he said. “It doesn’t matter what you do in the regular season. It’s about getting in the playoffs, knowing who you are playing and how to beat them.’’
After last year’s showing of some 3,000 Flyers fans for Philadelphia’s first-ever game in Las Vegas, look for far fewer in the stands tonight, mainly because there were fewer tickets made available. After the Golden Knights’ march to the Stanley Cup Final, hockey is suddenly a hot ticket in this town. . .The Flyers will conclude this two-game road trip with Saturday night’s game against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver. . .General manager Ron Hextall said he hopes to have newly claimed goalie Calvin Pickard with the team in the next day or two. As to how quickly Pickard can be ready to play, Hextall said Pickard has been off the ice for a few days so it might take a practice or two to get everything up to speed.