Flyers still looking for stability on defense

Rasmus Ristolainen
      Even after two months, the Flyers’ defense pairings are still a work in progress.
      Once Rasmus Ristolainen returned from a preseason injury, it was widely speculated that the projected tandems of Ivan Provorov-Tony DeAngelo, Travis Sanheim-Ristolainen and Nick Seeler-Justin Braun would be in place, barring any further unforeseen developments.
      Yet here we are in late December and head coach John Tortorella is still looking for the right mix on his backline corps.
      Those unforeseen developments are now in plain sight.
      Cam York was recently called up from the Phantoms and has played well enough to stay with the big team. DeAngelo was benched for one game (sub-par play) and sat out three more on bereavement leave for the death of his grandmother. In the meantime, Ristolainen was moved up to play with Provorov.
      For Tuesday night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Tortorella made several other moves.
      York was scheduled to move back to his natural left shooting side for the first time this season and play with Braun. Sanheim and DeAngelo might form a third unit with Seeler the odd man out.
      As for generating offense from the rear guard, not much is happening. For instance, Ristolainen has yet to register a single point this season and Provorov has just one assist in his last nine games.
      Tortorella isn’t thrilled with those stats but at least the twosome is doing well in preventing other teams from scoring.
      “I think as far as our hardness on coverages, closing people out, they’ve been good at it,’’ the coach said after Tuesday morning’s pre-game skate at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees, N.J. “I’m trying to get Provy’s game back as far as moving the puck a little bit – I think he’s holding onto it a little bit too much.
      “It ebbs and flows. I just like the pairing. When we’re in the game, I don’t pay too much attention to the pairs. I’ll let (assistant coach) Brad (Shaw) make the calls as far as who’s going and who isn’t. But they’ve been pretty consistent in stopping plays.’’
      Goaltender Carter Hart has done his part to thwart opponent attacks. Twice already this season he’s put together career-high 48-save games. The rest is up to five-man defense and, more specifically, the last line of defense with the aforementioned gentlemen.
      “It’s been a big part of our philosophy here, stopping plays defensively,’’ Tortorella explained. “Those two (Provorov-Ristolainen) have done a pretty good job against some top lines.’’
      >Keeping an eye on Gaudreau
      Many Flyers fans were hoping to see Johnny Gaudreau skating around the Wells Fargo Center ice this year.
      Well, he was scheduled to be doing that on Tuesday night, but just not in an orange and black jersey. Gaudreau, who said he wanted to come to the Flyers as a free agent last summer, wound up with the Blue Jackets.
      Gaudreau had an outstanding game against the Flyers when the teams met back on Nov. 10 in Columbus, a 5-2 win for the Blue Jackets.
      “Johnny Hockey’’ is still a handful even though the Blue Jackets currently reside at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division standings.
      “One of the biggest things with Johnny is the way he utilizes other players on his line,’’ Tortorella said, mindful of a trio which could include Patrik Laine and rookie Kent Johnson.
      “Which is why he (Gaudreau) is such a good player. You have to be concentrating on him for just his speed and quickness as far as beating you one-on-one. But when he gets in the offensive zone, you have to worry not only about him but the other guys he can utilize.’’
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About Wayne Fish 2437 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.