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Sanheim looking to ‘lead by example' for Flyers' depleted defense

Sanheim looking to ‘lead by example' for Flyers' depleted defense originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

VOORHEES, N.J. — After sitting in his locker stall and removing the brace from his left knee, Travis Sanheim stood up and was happy to express relief.

The Flyers' defenseman had an injury scare last Saturday when Lightning center Luke Glendening fell into his left leg, causing it to bend awkwardly. Sanheim, visibly in pain as it happened, finished the Flyers' 7-0 loss with a game-high 28:49 minutes.

He missed Monday's practice for maintenance but was on the ice at Tuesday's morning skate. His presence on the back end is critical right now considering the Flyers have seen their defensive depth evaporate.

"Feel good, should be good to go tonight," Sanheim said ahead of his team's home game against the Sharks (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP). "Obviously scary incident but fortunate for it to not affect me."

Once Sean Walker was traded to the Avalanche last Wednesday, the Flyers lost a ton of offensive, puck-moving ability from their blue line. Nick Seeler, Walker's former defensive partner, was placed on injured reserve last Wednesday.

Just like that, in one day, the Flyers lost their second — and arguably most effective — defensive pair.

Factor in the absences of Jamie Drysdale (upper body) and Rasmus Ristolainen (upper body), and the Flyers are precariously thin on defense at the most pivotal time of the season.

Does that task the top pair of Sanheim and 23-year-old Cam York with significantly more responsibility? Can the two puck-movers be more aggressive?

"They are, they have been and they will be," head coach John Tortorella said Tuesday at morning skate. "It is what it is with our injuries, we're just going to keep on playing. We're not going to change or put an extra emphasis on two guys. They know. The locker room is so in-tuned to these type of things all year long as far as what's going on with our team, they know what they have to do.

"But if they feel they have to be wild as far as getting up the ice, it doesn't work. They've got to play their game, probably end up having more minutes, but just play their game and the other guys have got to kick in. There's nothing special we're going to do, we've just got to try to be the best we can be as an individual player and as a team."

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After an offseason full of uncertainty and now in his first season as the Flyers' No. 1 defenseman, Sanheim already has a career-high 38 points (eight goals, 30 assists). He has played a more physical brand of defense in 23:47 minutes per game.

With a bigger role, there has been some inconsistency. Sanheim is a minus-17 but has been even in 15 games following the extended break. Since then, the 27-year-old has put up 11 points (four goals, seven assists), 10 of which have come at even strength, the most on the club over that span.

As Tortorella said, Sanheim is aware that there will be more on his plate.

"Those are big minutes that Sean played and we're going to need guys to step up," Sanheim said. "I'm a part of that and I've got to lead by example and play the right way. I'm looking to do that."

This opportunity is good for him. Sanheim's confidence has always been evident when he's joining the rush and being a threat with the puck.

"You have to pick and choose your chances, especially right now, you don't want to make the wrong mistake," he said. "In saying that, it's a big part of my game and I want to be able to contribute at that end. I want to get up [the ice] as much as I can and hopefully the confidence stays with me throughout."

As long as Sanheim is playing a reliable game, the Flyers will like their chances. They'll need to be more connected down the stretch and Tortorella made it clear that doesn't fall squarely on the club's defensemen.

"When we're banged up as much on the back end as we are, the team defense comes into play," the head coach said. "Everybody needs to kick in there to solidify us a little bit with some inexperience back there. But this time of year, we're trying to work on that anyway because it's a big time of year as far as the grind and the defensive part of the game."

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