Black and Blueline: Gostisbehere, Braun Out Through All Star Break; Roster Changes in the Bottom-Six
The Flyers most recent road trip was a nightmare for a bunch of reasons. Their special teams were trash. Brian Elliott and Carter Hart couldn't stop a beach ball. The team allowed thirteen first period goals over the final five games. And the Flyers managed a poor 1-4-1 record despite playing three teams in the bottom-seven of the league.
But the bad news didn't stop there. I mentioned this in Tuesday's FFR, but Justin Braun is out three weeks with a groin injury. Braun has been solid if not spectacular for the Flyers so far this season. His 53.81% Corsi leads all Flyers defensemen, and his 52.20% Expected Goals For is third behind Matt Niskanen and Ivan Provorov. Braun has also provided invaluable work on the penalty kill, which has improved by leaps and bounds. He isn't a very flashy player, but fans will likely realize just how important Braun has been to the Flyers in his absence.
One defensemen going down is rough. But do you know what's rougher? TWO defenseman going down! Shayne Gostisbehere underwent an MRI prior to Wednesday's game against the Washington Capitals, which he did not play in because of a knee injury. The MRI revealed that Gostisbehere will get an arthroscopic surgery on his left knee (the same knee he tore his ACL in back in 2014) on January 14, sidelining him for the next three weeks. That would put Ghost on track to return for the Flyers January 31 contest against the Penguins, meaning he would miss seven games (including Wednesday's contest).
This has been a rough season for Shayne Gostisbehere to say the least. Ghost has not only failed to bounce back to the elite form he showed in 2015-16 (Calder runner-up) and 2017-18 (10th in Norris voting) when he was one of the best offensive-defenseman in the entire NHL. Gostisbehere is on pace for 25 points in a full 82 games (he obviously won't play all 82 now), easily a career-low. He hasn't looked like his usual dynamic, electric self for most of the season. Hopefully, this surgery can make Ghost feel better on the ice and give him a boost for the second half, one he and the Flyers could certainly use.
To fill in for these injured defensemen, the Flyers called up defenseman Mark Freidman from the Phantoms. Friedman was taken 86th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft by the Flyers, turning pro in 2018 after playing three years at Bowling Green University. Friedman had a very solid 18-19 season with the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and was promoted to play the in the Flyers final game last season. This year, Friedman has 10 points in 28 AHL games, posting a strong 52.01% Corsi at 5-on-5, per Brad Keffer's work at Phancystats.com. To my eyes, he had a decent second NHL game Wednesday against the Capitals, though the analytics weren't very kind.
In addition, the Flyers made a minor shake-up to their bottom-six forwards. Andy Andreoff was sent down Wednesday to clear cap space for Friedman's promotion, and on Thursday, the Flyers made another move. David Kase returned to the NHL for the second time this year, with Mikhail Vorobyev getting about his seventh one-way ticket to Lehigh Valley.
If you remember, Kase had a solid first NHL stint when the Flyers were dealing with a plethora of injuries in mid-December. In five games, "Timba" showed good puck skills and was tenacious on the forecheck and board battles, developing some nice chemistry with fellow Czech Jake Voracek. The highlight of his call-up was scoring his first NHL goal against his brother Ondrej's team, the Anaheim Ducks, which turned out to be the game-winner in the Flyers first home game following Oskar Lindblom's cancer diagnosis, earning Kase the Player of the Game helmet for his performance. Kase may not be ready to be a full-time legit NHLer just yet, but he's certainly got the skills to be one in the near future, and with the Flyers playing the long-game with Morgan Frost, Kase's promotion makes sense.
Mikhail Vorobyev's demotion is also a logical one. Vorobyev has been ineffective in each of his FIVE stints in the NHL this season, scoring just 1 goal and 2 assists in 20 games. Misha's 35.73% Expected Goals For is second to last among Flyers with at least 15 games played, leading only Chris Stewart. Vorobyev has been criticized for a lack of effort and hustle often, dating back to the 18-19 season, when he made the big club out of camp but did not stick. Vorobyev is just 23, and does have 14 points in 19 AHL games - there's a decent player in there somewhere. But if Vorobyev is ever going to last at the NHL level, he has to dig deeper.