ELMONT, N.Y. – Last season might have been a dismal one for the Flyers but that had nothing to do with Travis Sanheim.
The 26-year-old defenseman enjoyed a breakout year, posting seven goals/31 points with a team-best plus-9.
Although Philadelphia missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season, Sanheim worked with veteran Rasmus Ristolainen to form a solid second pairing.
The stellar production did not go unnoticed. In fact, Sanheim took home the Barry Ashbee Trophy for Flyers’ most outstanding defenseman.
As a reward, on the day the 2022-23 regular season was about to start, the Flyers signed Sanheim to a whopping eight-year, $50-million contract.
The outlook for this duo looked pretty bright until Ristolainen was injured during the preseason and then missed seven regular-season games.
Since Ristolainen has returned, the pair couldn’t seem to recapture the magic and the Finn was dropped to the third pairing. Sanheim has spent a lot of ice time playing with veteran Justin Braun.
And it appears the reconfiguration has affected Sanheim’s play as well. Through 21 games, he’s registered just one goal/six points with a minus-7, although he was on a three-game point streak prior to Saturday night’s game against the Islanders at UBS Arena.
Could the added pressure of a big new contract have an impact on Sanheim’s play?
Braun said there might be something to that notion.
“Yeah, I think a little bit,’’ Braun said. “I think it weighs on you. You have to perform. I think he’s settling in now, he’s playing much better.
“It doesn’t help when you sign that new deal. We have a new coaching staff, new system. I think that had a lot to do with it, too, finding his way through that.’’
If all that cash is weighing on Sanheim’s mind, he’s not going to publicly confirm it.
“For me, I know what my game is, what it’s all about,’’ he said. “I think it’s more trying to figure out where that fits in. I’m trying to build on that and add it to my game.’’
The question is whether Ristolainen can pick up his game enough to regain his post on the second pairing with Sanheim.
Through 14 games, Ristolainen had no points and was a minus-2. Plus, his defensive game has not looked all that energetic.
In recent games, Sanheim and Ristolainen have spent time some together.
It’s a long season. Maybe coach John Tortorella will see fit to put Sanheim and Ristolainen back together for a substantial length of time.
“Last year was last year,’’ Sanheim said. “I think it’s a completely different group this year. Some of what went well last year maybe hasn’t necessarily been there this year.
“In saying that, we’ve had some good minutes together. It’s just finding our team game. Trying to win games and get this thing back on track.’’
Overall, the Flyers defense appears to have improved its play in recent games, even though it might not show up on the stats during a humbling nine-game winless streak.
“I think we’ve gotten better throughout the course of the year,’’ Sanheim said. “Our exits on plays, our breakouts. Maybe a lot of people wouldn’t see that stuff. I think as a group we’ve gotten better at using the middle and finding solutions.’’
>Loosen up a little?
In his pre-game comments, Tortorella said the Flyers were playing a little too tightly in the early stages of a 4-1 Friday loss to Pittsburgh. Does that mean the players should be a little looser with their play?
“We just looked uptight,’’ he said. “But then when basically the game is over (at 4-0), the way we played in the third period, we were as loose as can be. . .coming out of our end, making plays.
“It was a little bit of garbage time because the game is pretty much over. I think we need to approach it that way. I don’t know what we’re afraid of. I don’t know what we should be uptight about. It’s a hockey game. I think we just need to relax a little bit and not take ourselves too seriously.’’