Though the Flyers’ 3-2 overtime win in Tuesday’s exhibition over the Penguins didn’t officially count as anything more than that — an exhibition — it did serve as a building block for a player hoping to make his way into the opening night playoff lineup.
That player would of course be Shayne Gostisbehere, who is on a short list of Flyers looking to play their way into a starting spot that they didn’t occupy before the regular season was paused. Though you could also throw Nate Thompson into that mix as well, it’s safe to say that the veteran doesn’t have quite anywhere near the impact on a lineup that Gostisbehere could have. As for Gostisbehere, he’s looking to prove to head coach Alain Vigneault and the coaching staff that he can play a mistake-free and consistent game — something that hasn’t been the case for him over the last season-plus.
Though Tuesday was merely an exhibition, Gostisbehere did just those things in the eventual overtime win. As Brad noted in his postgame report, it wasn’t the flashy “Ghost” of old, but one playing a simple and controlled game built from his own zone out.
It doesn’t sound like the sexy howlitzers from the point, the pinpoint breakout passes, or the creative rushes up ice, but Gostisbehere played a sound game while avoiding being a focus for the wrong reasons. And given some of the struggles we’ve seen from No. 53 in the past season or so, that’s a good sign.
For starters, this isn’t your garden variety preseason game as both the Flyers and Penguins have just the one tune-up prior to jumping into their next phase of meaningful competition. For the Penguins, that’s a play-in series against the Montreal Canadiens while the Flyers will play important round-robin games for seeding purposes in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Both teams played their horses, the usual suspects were there for both as names like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang opposed Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, and Ivan Provorov.
So it wasn’t nothing, and Vigneault and his staff thought enough of the opportunity to give Gostisbehere a nod while sitting Robert Hagg — the man who effectively took Ghost’s job and ran with it during the regular season. Sure Justin Braun also sat, but Braun’s job is far from available while Hagg is very clearly the Flyers’ sixth defenseman heading into the restart.
Gostisbehere took 23 shifts in all, racking up 18:20 of ice time in the game. He averaged 47 seconds per shift in the process while accruing 1:17 of power play as the Flyers were limited to just the lone chance on the day, though it was a decent one with a couple shots and extended zone time. He was the third man on the ice for Scott Laughton’s overtime beauty, but watched as Travis Konecny and Laughton did the work.
And for playing with guys like Mark Friedman and Yegor Zamula — who made his professional debut — the numbers were pretty on par from what we’ve come to expect from Gostisbehere. NaturalStatTrick had him pegged at 11 shot attempts for on ice and 12 against in total at even strength. Given the dynamic that Ghost provides on both the power play and in the offensive zone, breaking even at 5-on-5 is just fine for a guy you won’t mistake for Rod Langway anytime soon.
An interesting note inside of his game was where the coaching staff deployed Ghost, giving him six defensive zone face offs against three offensive and two in the neutral zone. While Vigneault and his staff won’t totally limit the chances he has to impact a game offensively, they clearly wanted to get a look at him in his own zone a bit more and see what the results were as it was an area Ghost struggled this season and needs to clean up.
Even though it’s an exhibition, that’s good coaching from the Flyers’ veteran staff —and a good use of the tune-up game. There’s a lot more unanswered questions for the Flyers ahead of the playoffs getting underway, and a myriad of lineup decisions to come, but Gostisbehere certainly helped his case with a solid outing in the exhibition.
There’s also an important nugget to anything Ghost related: he’s finally healthy, like actually.
“Yeah, I’m definitely 100 percent right now,” Gostisbehere said following the exhibition. “I feel good. Probably the healthiest I’ve felt in a couple years.”
With no idea what’s on the horizon there are a whole lot worse things than a step in the right direction for Gostisbehere, a player the Flyers could very well need sooner rather than later.