Shayne Gostisbehere is back.
The Philadelphia Flyers defenseman returned to the lineup for just the second time since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Unfortunately, it was due to an injury to Philippe Myers, who suffered a fractured patella on his right knee in Saturday night’s game.
Myers will likely miss the rest of the regular season with the injury, giving Gostisbehere a permanent spot in the lineup. He’ll be able to play with freedom and without any real thought of a healthy scratch coming his way.
While the Flyers saw their nine-game winning streak snapped at the hands of the Boston Bruins, it wasn’t a bad loss by any means. The Flyers were the better team for the first two periods and simply ran into a hot goalie. Sometimes things just don’t go your way. Furthermore, another positive to come out of the game was the play of Gostisbehere.
Gostisbehere was on the third pair with Robert Hagg, but saw nearly a minute of ice time at 5-on-5 play with all five of the other defensemen: 6:55 with Hagg, 2:46 with Sanheim, 1:24 with Provorov, 1:13 with Niskanen, and 0:52 with Braun, for a total of 13:13.
The Sanheim-Gostisbehere pairing was put together in the third period with the Flyers looking for the game-tying goal. It’s nice to have a pair that can be a go-to duo if the Flyers need some offense.
In his first game back after the injury, the 5-0 loss to the Devils, the affects of the injury were there. Gostisbehere didn’t look like himself and that turned out to be because, well, he wasn’t himself. He was dealing with scar tissue from his surgery that required some more time to rest.
Now, with Myers injured and Gostisbehere raring to go, the blueliner got back in there and looked like the Ghost of old.
Gostisbehere played 16:13 on the night (2:30 on the power play) and was credited with one blocked shot. He had a Corsi-For of 42.31 percent for the game, but his Expected Goals-For of 56.34% was the highest among Flyers defensemen.
Now, let’s go to the videotape.
Gostisbehere said that he tried to have an aggressive mentality from puck drop, and it showed. On his first shift of the game, Gostisbehere made a confident play to keep the puck in the offensive zone. With the puck – and a Bruin – flying toward him, he calmly held his ground at the blue line and sent it back in deep. Well, the puck actually deflected off of a Bruin and into the bench, but the result was an offensive zone faceoff.
On his next shift, Gostisbehere made a play at his own blue line. He gloved down the Bruins’ chip and sent the puck back up ice.
Neither of those first two clips were extraordinary plays, but it was good to see early on and it helped set the tone for what to expect from Gostisbehere.
On his third shift of the game, Gostisbehere reminded everyone what he can do. He collected a cross-ice pass, drew a penalty on a vintage Ghost move at the top of the circle, and still got a shot off from his knees.
That was the moment everyone thought “OK, maybe Ghost is back.”
Gostisbehere was eager to join the rush all game long. Here, he starts to leave the zone, waits as the puck gets caught along the wall, then continues up ice once Kevin Hayes connects with Travis Konecny.
Konecny drops the puck back to Gostisbehere, who is one Bruins stick away from completing the pass back to Konecny for a scoring chance.
One of the few questionable plays that Gostisbehere made throughout the game came a few minutes later.
With the puck in the corner, he pinches all the way up to almost the faceoff dot along the wall. Once there, he is boxed out and forced to chase behind the play. Joel Farabee dropped back to cover for Gostisbehere once he saw the pinch, negating an odd-man rush.
Also, Gostisbehere’s pinch could be seen as a calculated one. When he begins to pinch, all five Bruins are below the faceoff dot. Whether that factored into Gostisbehere’s decision or not, it definitely minimized the chance of a dangerous rush going the other way.
A few moments later, after Carter Hart easily handled the shot from the top of the circle, Gostisbehere joined the rush again. This time, both he and Robert Hagg rushed up ice.
He threaded a nice pass toward Hagg, who unfortunately couldn’t get his stick on the puck to direct it on net.
Gostisbehere had a very good first period after only playing in one game in the past two months, and that continued the rest of the way.
In the second period, Gostisbehere showed that his knees felt just fine by jumping up to bat the puck out of midair in the neutral zone.
He also flashed some of his ability on the power play. Playing on the second unit, he kept the puck in at the line a few times, got the puck toward the net from the point, and ended his shift by going to his knees, spinning and diving to get the puck in deep.
Gostisbehere’s ability to keep the puck in the zone at the blue line has been something that has been missed on the power play. He adds another dimension to the man advantage, whether it be on the first or second unit.
The third period was the roughest for the Flyers, and Gostisbehere saw a bit of that as well. Early in the period, after the Bruins already had a few great chances, Charlie Coyle weaved his way into the offensive zone and got around Gostisbehere.
It’s not an egregious misplay by Gostisbehere – and a bit nitpicky –, as he still forced Coyle to the outside, but I wanted to look at his whole game, and that includes this. Gostisbehere redeemed himself after the point shot was turned away by digging the puck out of a few skates and clearing the zone.
Gostisbehere’s best defensive play – and perhaps the best defensive play by anyone in the game – came midway through the third period.
He took away the shooting lane from David Pastrnak, but Patrice Bergeron got a shot off anyway after a drop pass. With the puck somewhere around Hart in the crease, Gostisbehere went to his knees behind the netminder and ended up making a kick save on Brad Marchand.
Then, if there were worries about Gostisbehere’s knees or conditioning, he sped up the ice with Konecny and then backchecked just as quickly after the rush failed.
Here’s a closer look at the save.
That kept the Flyers down by one late in the latter stages of the third period.
Gostisbehere was solid defensively throughout the game. He was tasked with defending an odd-man rush on his next shift, and he took away the passing lane while the shot went wide.
Finally, if you didn’t watch the game and were worried that Gostisbehere was on the ice for the only even-strength goal of the game, here is the Bruins’ second goal.
Besides the fact that plus/minus is the worst stat in hockey, Gostisbehere did nothing wrong on the play and it was a deceptive shot by Bergeron that fluttered in off of Travis Sanheim’s stick.
With the precursor that it was only one game, Shayne Gostisbehere looked pretty damn good. It was a tremendous effort given the situation that he was thrown into: short-term notice that he was playing, team on a nine-game winning streak, playing against the best team in the league, and his first game in a month and second in the last two months after having knee surgery.
Alain Vigneault was certainly happy with his performance.
“I think he played real well, that’s a real tough position to put somebody in, haven’t played in a while, I thought his energy level, I though his execution, his battle level was real good,” Vigneault said. “With Phil being out until the end of the year, he’s going to get an opportunity to continue to play and I’m sure we’re going to get the same effort on his part.”
If Gostisbehere can bounce back this month and play well, that will give the Flyers the luxury of having seven healthy and effective defensemen in the playoffs. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves just yet, but that thought is enticing.
The first half of the season was abysmal for Gostisbehere. He was one of the team’s worst defensemen, fans started to turn on him, and there were thoughts that the Flyers should sell low at the trade deadline.
Now, after two months (essentially) off, he has a chance to endear himself to the Philadelphia faithful once again with a permanent spot in the lineup after Philippe Myers’ injury.
It was only one game, but it was a hell of a start.