Flyers

After battling himself, Shayne Gostisbehere grasps mental side of NHL

After battling himself, Shayne Gostisbehere grasps mental side of NHL

Shayne Gostisbehere wasn't up against anything physical.

He didn't fight injuries or lingering effects from offseason hip/abdominal surgeries.

In reality, he fought himself.

Gostisbehere entered his sophomore season with expectations that were "probably not fair," according to general manager Ron Hextall in early February. That was because the precocious defenseman spoiled fans with a nearly unblemished rookie performance, finishing second in the 2015-16 Calder Memorial Trophy race.

He spoiled fans with history and heroics. His offense and ability at the point were captivating.

"My rookie season was sort of a dream season for anyone," Gostisbehere said.

Then came Year 2.

Gostisbehere was benched a total of fives times. Playing in 12 more games than his first year, he scored 10 fewer goals. He went from a plus-8 to a minus-21.

At Flyers cleanout day last Tuesday, Gostisbehere refused to make excuses.

"My hip didn't bother me once this season," he said. "I haven't gotten treatment on it once this year. I took care of it, did what I had to do. It's definitely a tough pill to swallow this season. Obviously, it wasn't the season I wanted but I learned a lot about myself, not only as a player on the ice but off the ice, too, just getting through hard times."

When asked about his hip again, Gostisebehere expanded with some conviction. He opened up about the mental aspect of the game and all that comes with it. This season, it was his biggest hurdle.

"I know you guys want me to admit it's my surgeries, my injuries, but it's honestly not," he said. "You can tell who doesn't have confidence on the ice when they have the puck -- you can tell. If it's a guy who's bringing it up and he's looking everywhere and he doesn't have confidence, then you can tell it's confidence. 

"I make plays on the blue line, there are plays that I have to do quick, I have to react and I have to have the confidence to do them. I can't do them if I'm thinking like, 'Oh, what if his stick goes there,' I can't. You just have to have a free mind and you have to go out there and play and let your abilities take over. That's what I was learning more and more as the season went on, realizing I had the skills, I just have to trust my abilities."

When Gostisbehere was benched three straight games in early February, he vowed to focus on defensive principles. But Gostisbehere's offense is what totally changes a game. It's what put the Flyers over the top and into the playoffs last season.

In his first 40 games of 2015-16, he started fast and never stopped, erupting for 34 points on 12 goals and 22 assists. This season, Gostisbehere had 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) through 44 games -- a true confidence blow for a 23-year-old.

"I wasn't questioning myself, I honestly thought, 'I'm hitting a lot of posts here, some things aren't going in,'" he said. "My confidence on the ice comes through my offensive ability, when I make plays, when I jump up there and make a good breakout pass. I like blocking a shot every once in a while, but the offensive part of my game is what drives my confidence and when I don't see pucks going in the net or offense isn't there, it's hard for me to stick with it and it's something I just have to realize."

Gostisbehere rediscovered himself by being himself.

"It's pretty cliché but I just said I'm going to go out there and have fun. I'm going to make plays and I don't care if I get yelled at," he said with a smile, "but I'm going to play my game and make my plays. People can look at is as risky but most of the time it works out for me."

Playing stress-free, Gostisebehere finished the season with eight points (one goal, seven assists) over his last eight games, a stretch in which he was a plus-3. In his final 24 games, he recorded 17 points.

To set up a Wayne Simmonds goal in the season finale, Gostisbehere made a play at the blue line that was reminiscent of the rookie "Ghost."

"I'm definitely going to take pride in that," Gostisbehere said of his positive finish. "In January, not being where I wanted to be as a player, obviously I went through a tough patch there, a healthy scratch for three games in a row and it was a good reflection period. Valuable workdays and practice days for myself. I think I really just learned a lot about myself."

Gostisbehere, who turns 24 years old on Thursday, can become a restricted free agent this offseason. The Flyers will undoubtedly get something done.

"Free agency, I can't answer that question right now," Hextall said last Thursday. "We've got the expansion draft, we've got preparation, we've got to sign a goalie, we've got Ghost to sign."

After that, Gostisbehere will be ready for anything in Year 3. He'll also use his experiences to help the Flyers' new youth on the blue line.

"If they want to bounce some ideas off me," he said, "I'll let them know because I've got some wisdom now."

Flyers Weekly Observations: Claude Giroux's redemption tour beats on

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Flyers Weekly Observations: Claude Giroux's redemption tour beats on

It was a busy week on the ice for the team that calls South Philadelphia home.

And that busy week ended with plenty of positive vibes for the Flyers after a 2-1-0 showing.

They kicked things off with a commanding 5-1 victory over the visiting Florida Panthers on Tuesday night, followed that up with a tough 1-0 loss to the Nashville Predators on Thursday evening and wrapped up the week with a hard-earned 2-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday afternoon as the five-game homestand rolled on.

There’s plenty to get to, so, now that the ink is dry, let’s dive right into the week that was for the Flyers.

• In the days and weeks leading up to this season, there were a plethora of questions surrounding the Flyers, and to some extents, there still are as the season is still in its infancy, just eight games in. But the captain is already answering all the questions about him, and there were a lot of them. Claude Giroux played a key role again this week for the Flyers, scoring two goals — a breakaway snipe Tuesday past Roberto Luongo and a power-play slam dunk past Cam Talbot to open the scoring Saturday.

Giroux's tally against the Oilers was his fifth of the season. For comparison’s sake, Giroux didn’t record his fifth goal last season until Nov. 29, the 24th game of the season. Two things are noticeable when it comes to Giroux. Yes, the move to left wing alongside Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek is paying dividends and providing energy, not just for Giroux, but also as a whole for the line, which continues to produce. Couturier scored his fourth of the season Tuesday and Voracek, while still scoreless, is tied for third in the league with 10 assists.

But much more importantly for Giroux, he’s clearly healthy again, which wasn’t the case most of the last season as the effects from hip surgery lingered and anchored him. The fact of the matter is, in many ways, Giroux is still the engine of the Flyers’ offense and the cog that makes it go. The puck is still on his stick a ton and opposing teams still key in on him. It comes as no surprise a healthy, producing Giroux is igniting a Flyers offense that is averaging 3.50 goals. As the captain goes, so do the Flyers. So far, better than so good.

• You can say what you want about Andrew MacDonald and his play and his contract. But that’s a different conversation for a different day. There’s no doubting MacDonald is one tough hombre after blocking a debilitating slap shot off the knee Saturday and fighting through it to continue killing a penalty in the third period. If you’re still wondering why MacDonald wears an “A” on his sweater during road games, wonder no more. He’s a tough, valued veteran who has the respect of the locker room thanks to plays like that. The Flyers announced Sunday he will miss 4-6 weeks with a lower-body injury, presumably from that play. If you’re one of the ones behind a keyboard celebrating his injury on Twitter, grow up.

• There’s really not much shame in the loss to Nashville on Thursday. The defending Western Conference champion Predators, just as good as they were last year when they came within two wins of the Stanley Cup, just smothered the Flyers. And when the Flyers did have chances, Pekka Rinne was there between the pipes to snuff them out. His third-period pad save on Couturier, who had just pulled off a nifty maneuver in the slot, was a dandy that kept the Preds on top. A loss is a loss and it’s frustrating, but the Flyers hung with one of the most complete teams in the league twice in the span of nine days.

• Wayne Simmonds just continues to do Wayne Simmonds things. On Thursday against the Preds, Simmonds took an errant stick to the mouth as he was observing the action on the bench. He left but later returned to the game. Of course, he was right back in the lineup Saturday afternoon, albeit with a mouth protector attached to his helmet.

And of course, he scored Saturday’s game-winner with 2:15 left in regulation off a lovely feed from Valtteri Filppula. Simmonds admitted afterward he was losing pucks in his feet due to the impaired vision from the mouth protector and he would have to get some dead teeth extracted soon. That last part sounds just awful, by the way.

But as far as toughness and results on the ice from Simmonds, it’s gotten to the point where we expect nothing less. No surprise, but he now leads the Flyers with six goals on the young season.

• It was the best and worst this week for prized rookie Nolan Patrick. On Tuesday, he wowed the Panthers, his Flyers teammates and the entire Wells Fargo Center with a dazzling, through-the-legs drop pass to Dale Weise, who then promptly deposited the Flyers’ fourth goal of the evening in the victory over the Panthers (see video). Seriously, what an unreal pass that was. That was uncanny awareness and hockey sense and incredible skill. And remember, he’s just 19 years old.

We got a reminder Saturday afternoon that he is just 19 and the lumps will come along with the highlight reel plays. During the second period against Edmonton, Patrick found himself with the puck in the corner in the defensive zone. He hesitated, perhaps mesmerized by the broken stick on the ice in front of him, and was quickly surrounded by the Oilers’ Patrick Maroon, who picked the rook’s pocket, drove toward the net and beat Brian Elliott to knot the game at 1-1.

A tough learning experience for Patrick, but the teenager will learn from it and get better. It’s the kind of thing you just naturally have to expect from a 19-year-old just eight games into his NHL career.

Coming up this week: Tuesday vs. Anaheim (7 p.m./NBCSP), Thursday at Ottawa (7:30 p.m./NBCSP), Saturday at Toronto (7 p.m./NBCSP+).

Injury to Andrew MacDonald could clear way for Flyers' top prospect

Injury to Andrew MacDonald could clear way for Flyers' top prospect

A roster spot for Samuel Morin appears to have opened up.

Andrew MacDonald will miss 4-6 weeks with a lower-body injury, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall announced Sunday. MacDonald will likely land on injured reserve.

The injury likely occurred midway through the third period against the Oilers on Saturday, when MacDonald blocked a Mark Letestu slap shot with 10:48 left in regulation and 1:44 left on an Edmonton power play.

MacDonald hobbled around on basically on one leg before being able to clear the puck and make it to the bench after 44 seconds. MacDonald blocked a game-high six shots Saturday.

“You just got to get up,” MacDonald said after the Flyers’ 2-1 win. “If you don’t get up, it’s 5-on-3. There are other opportunities that can arise from it. Do your best and try to hang in there. Wait for some help. Wait until you clear it. Everyone battles through it.

“You take a shot. You just get up, get back in there and help your guys.”

With MacDonald injured, the Flyers now have six defensemen. Brandon Manning has been a healthy scratch the past two games as Travis Sanheim drew back into the lineup.

The Flyers have yet to make a corresponding roster move, but considering Morin nearly made the team out of training camp and hung around for the four-game season-opening West Coast trip, it’s a safe assumption that Morin will find his way back to the NHL.

Morin had a goal and an assist for the Phantoms on Saturday night, an assist Friday night and points in all his three games in Lehigh Valley.

If Morin does come back up, the question is will he play?

The Flyers were reluctant to play three rookie defensemen on their season-opening trip and scratched both Sanheim and Morin for the season opener.

Things have changed now, though. MacDonald is third on the Flyers in ice time, averaging 19:36 while playing with Ivan Provorov, who will now find himself with a new partner.

Dave Hakstol could insert Manning into the lineup, which is a strong possibility. How Hakstol draws up his pairings remains to be seen, though it’s unlikely he’ll break up Shayne Gostisbehere and rookie Robert Hagg. It’s possible Provorov finds himself with Manning or Morin, or perhaps Radko Gudas. We’ll know more after Monday’s practice.

Calling up Morin is not Hextall’s only option. The Flyers also have T.J. Brennan in the AHL, who is a better fit as a seventh defenseman.