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Player Focus: Gostisbehere shines in season debut

After missing time due to Covid-19 protocol, the Flyers’ defenseman made his return to the lineup last night.

Philadelphia Flyers v New Jersey Devils Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Drawing into the lineup for the first time this season, Shayne Gostisbehere was put to the test. Immediately thrust onto the top pair, he would go on to play just under 22 minutes in his return — more than he had played in every game but one last season. While he was kept off of the scoresheet, Gostisbehere’s impact on the team’s transition game was extremely noticeable, and he finished the night with the best underlying numbers of any Flyers skater.

At 5-on-5 the Flyers won the shot battle 17-12, owned 71.46 percent of the expected goals, and out-scored the Devils 2-0 with Gostisbehere on the ice. Let’s take a look at what led to Gostisbehere’s strong numbers in his season debut.

Gostisbehere was up on the play from his very first shift, aiding the Flyers’ entry into the offensive zone and driving the net in search of a rebound. Soon after he did get caught in the Devils’ zone, and was unable to catch up to Pavel Zacha on the breakaway. In a world where Brian Elliott doesn’t make the save, concerns about Ghost would’ve been set ablaze.

Throughout his career, Gostisbehere has always played with an aggressive mentality at his own blue line, getting his stick on the puck to interrupt the opposition’s entries. Late in the first we see this play out as he disrupts Miles Wood just after he enters the Flyers’ zone.

Early in the second Gostisbehere would string together back-to-back dangerous looks off the rush. The shift really just speaks for itself.

After helping create a couple of chances with the second power play unit, Gostisbehere would have a really strong defensive shift that included a successful neutral zone step up, as well as a great pass block to stop the Devils’ rush.

As it goes with risk-takers, sometimes the puck winds up going the other way. Later in the second, Gostisbehere turns the puck over at the opponent’s blueline, however, he is able to get himself back in the play to disrupt the odd-man rush.

This was a key moment in the game, as the Devils had just recently cut the Flyers’ lead to one. While the mistake is not a pretty one, the communication with his partner Provorov and his ability to cancel out his own mishap was a huge moment as the Flyers were starting to sag after allowing the goal.

Gostisbehere was a key cog in the Flyers’ transition game last night, and with both him and Provorov on the ice, opponents have to respect both player’s ability to jump-start a rush. They also show the trust they have with each other on this back and forth, before Gostisbehere eventually skates the puck out and helps create an entry.

In the game, Gostisbehere had three successful zone entries, tied with Provorov for the most among Flyers’ defenders, and five zone exits. Three of his successful exits came with possession, once again a figure that ties for the most among Flyers’ defenders, this time with Travis Sanheim. He did fail on two exit attempts, both coming in the third period, and we’ll be discussing those momentarily. Gostisbehere also had a good night when it came to stopping the Devils from entering the zone, with two denials, once again putting him in a tie for the team lead. All things considered, Gostisbehere had a very positive impact in all three zones last night.

All entry, exit, and entry denial numbers are courtesy of Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine).

As the third period progressed, the minutes seemed to catch up to Gostisbehere a bit, as the decision making began to fall off from where it had been in the first two periods. An unforced icing following a faceoff win led to both Ghost and the team chasing the puck a bit, and Gostisbehere made things worse with a failed chip out of the zone. Luckily for the Flyers, the Devils couldn’t get too much out of the zone time, and eventually, Gostisbehere would clear the zone by hitting Voracek with a stretch pass.

His most egregious play of the game would come with just under eight minutes remaining in regulation, as he would fail to get enough on his pass attempt. The Flyers were once again lucky that this didn’t turn into something more for the Devils.

A confident Gostisbehere is a great counter-attacking rover, and his quick step up and pass on this shift leads to the Flyers re-entering the zone, and scoring the insurance marker after a fantastic effort on the forecheck from Scott Laughton, Joel Farabee, and Oskar Lindblom.

While the focus was placed on Gostisbehere, this was also one of Provorov’s best performances this season. Coming into the game, the Flyers were yet to out-shoot or out-chance the opponent with their number one defenseman on the ice. While he’s had solid outings (the second game of the Sabres series comes to mind) the pairing of him and Justin Braun has not worked. Even in last night’s contest, the two saw three and a half minutes together at five-on-five, and in that time the Flyers were out-shot 8-1 and conceded a goal. If not for those three and a half minutes, Provorov would have been on the right side of both the Corsi and Expected Goals battle the first time this season.

While it’d be a step too far to call Provorov a problem in the early-goings, he hasn’t been the same player that we saw in the 2019-2020 season. His best game of the season, at least statistically, coming alongside his old partner is an intriguing development.

Provorov and Gostisbehere were a dynamic force during the 2017-2018 campaign, and while they certainly weren’t to that level last night, the duo’s solid performance warrants hope that they may be able to find the magic once again. We’ve seen flashes of the old Ghost before, and we’ll need to see this continue before we get too excited. But there’s a chance — a chance — that this game was a sign of things to come.

Wouldn’t that be something?