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December 05, 2023

Anatomy of a play: How a quick read from Travis Sanheim set up the Flyers' OT winner over the Penguins

Travis Sanheim saw an opening ahead of a crucial defensive zone faceoff against the Penguins and made good on it, springing Travis Konecny and Sean Couturier down the ice for the Flyers' overtime winner.

Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny had been hounding the Penguins all night. 

Couturier, in a vintage performance, was on top of every defensive assignment, using his strong checking and positioning to constantly strip the puck away and send the Flyers back down the ice on the rush. 

Konecny, meanwhile, had the jump on Pittsburgh's defense seemingly all game, using a mix of his speed and great anticipation to take off through the neutral zone on a breakaway several times – even while shorthanded. 

But outside of Tyson Foerster's laser of a tying goal in the second period, the Flyers had no answer to Penguins goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic. Not yet, at least. 

The game went into overtime. The ice opened up at 3-on-3. And after a bit of a back and forth, a couple of golden chances stopped short, and with a crucial defensive zone faceoff coming up, Travis Sanheim saw an opening and made good on it.

Suddenly, Konecny was racing down the ice with the puck. Couturier followed to leave Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang stranded in a 2-on-1 situation, and when Konecny lofted the puck over, Couturier already had the shot to the near post loaded up. There was nothing Nedeljkovic could do.

The Flyers won, 2-1, completing the home-and-home sweep of the Penguins and improving to a 13-10-2 record that, for now, has them holding third place in an oddly vulnerable Metro division. 

And Sanheim knew it was checkmate as soon as Couturier won that pivotal draw. 

"I saw how they were lined up," Sanheim said postgame. "Their D was up against the wall for the faceoff, and I had [Jake Guentzel] right next to me. So I yelled back at TK, I said 'If we win this here, I'm gonna rim it around, and you should be able to beat him.'"

The play went almost exactly as he drew it up. 

With the faceoff in the Flyers' zone left of goaltender Carter Hart, Guentzel lined up in the slot to take a direct path to the net once the puck dropped, and to counter that, Sanheim took his spot right next to Konecny on the inside wing. 

Letang took his defensive position by the boards, so that if Sidney Crosby won the faceoff back to the blue line, he would have the option to either skate in toward the middle to try and get a shot off or stay put and work it up the wall to begin a cycle. 

The risk here for the Penguins, however, was that the space behind Couturier in the corner would be tough for either of their forwards to get to quickly enough if he won instead, and that the ice to the weak side (right) if the Flyers got the puck would be left wide open. 

Sanheim banked on all of that. 

As soon as the puck dropped, the defenseman immediately took a step behind his center, and it fell right to his stick, with the bonus of Crosby and Guentzel both overcommitting to chasing the puck. 

On cue, Sanheim threw it behind the net and around the right-side boards, with Konecny already there skating along the neutral zone wall to recover it with nobody else home. 

It was off to the races. All he and Couturier had to do was complete the sequence and get a good enough shot off to end it, and they did. 


"Yeah, it was just a read," Sanheim said. "Seeing how they were lined up and what we could do coming off of that, I thought we could catch them if we could win the draw. Credit to Coots. He did a great job."

"I think everything just worked out perfectly from the faceoff clean," Couturier added. "Then TK's saucer pass there, just lined it perfectly."

Just like they drew it up. 

Thorn in the side

Crosby scored Monday night's opening goal on an odd-man rush the other way, and with that tally, registered his 125th point against the Flyers to surpass Penguins Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux for the most all-time against the franchise. 

Fitting, for sure, though hardly with any Philly fan being happy about it. 

But maybe just as fitting was that it was Couturier who put home the overtime winner at the end of the night. 

Crosby already stands as one of the sport's greatest ever – definitely as the greatest ever of the post-lockout generation of the NHL – but since arriving as a plucky 18-year old way back in 2011, Couturier, when healthy, has been a massive thorn in the side of Crosby and Evgeni Malkin defensively for years. 

A lot has happened in the past decade, and the Flyers and Penguins are both in way different places as respective organizations. 

But some things don't ever change, like No. 14 in orange skating around and causing all kinds of headaches for two of the best. 

MORE: Flyers winger Tyson Foerster is finally piling up goals

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