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."

Panthers upset West-best Golden Knights in OT

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Panthers upset West-best Golden Knights in OT

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Aaron Ekblad scored 40 seconds into overtime to lift the Panthers to a 4-3 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday night, spoiling former coach Gerard Gallant's return to Florida.

Ekblad grabbed a rebound in the high slot and fired it past Malcolm Subban to give Florida its second win in six games this month.

Aleksander Barkov scored his league-leading fifth short-handed goal of the season and had two assists, and Evgenii Dadonov and Jamie McGinn also scored for the Panthers. James Reimer stopped 33 shots.

William Karlsson had a goal and an assist, and David Perron and James Neal also scored for Vegas. Subban finished with 22 saves (see full recap).

Pacioretty, Canadiens snap 3-game skid
WASHINGTON -- Max Pacioretty had two goals and an assist to help the Montreal Canadiens break a three-game losing streak with a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Friday night.

Paul Byron also scored for the Canadiens. Antii Niemi, playing in place of Carey Price, who had been in goal for eight consecutive games, stopped 24 shots.

John Carlson and Lars Eller scored for the Capitals, and Philipp Grubauer finished with 22 saves.

Pacioretty, who has six goals in the last six games, scored Montreal's first goal at 7:08 in the second period and added an empty-netter with 1:18 remaining in the game (see full recap).

Ducks get upper hand on rival Kings again
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ryan Kesler deflected home Francois Beauchemin's shot for the tiebreaking goal with 7:39 to play and the Anaheim Ducks won their second Freeway Faceoff in seven days, beating the struggling Los Angeles Kings 2-1 Friday night.

Adam Henrique scored early in the third period and John Gibson made 23 saves for the Ducks, who have won six of nine overall.

Rookie Alex Iafallo evened it for Los Angeles moments after Henrique's goal, but Kesler's long deflection sent the puck bouncing past Jonathan Quick. Anaheim then hung on in a frantic final minute to even the archrivals' season series at two games apiece.

Quick stopped 29 shots in the Kings' sixth consecutive loss, extending their longest skid of the season (see full recap).

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

It’s about to get real for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Real serious and potentially really hard. The Flyers have played the fewest divisional games of any team in the NHL.

That might be beneficial if the team located about 40 minutes off the shores of the Atlantic Ocean actually played in the Atlantic Division. The Flyers have hammered Atlantic teams this season: an 8-4-0 record including a win in Tampa and their most recent three-game series sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Whereas the Atlantic houses a collection of domesticated poodles and Pomeranians, the Metropolitan Division is more a breeding ground for vicious Dobermans and pit bulls.

And the Flyers are about to enter the teeth of that beast.

Dave Hakstol’s club plays 19 of their remaining 37 games against the rock-solid Metropolitan, the only 8-team division in hockey without a legitimate doormat or two. 

“It’s good or bad depending on whether you’re winning or not,” general manager Ron Hextall said.“It’s great taking points from other teams and adding to your total. It does put a higher importance on those games for sure. Every game is important, but certain games are just a little more important. Your lows can’t be too low. That’s the bottom line.

“They’re divisional games. They’re huge games for us, especially with how tight it is with that wild card spot,” center Sean Couturier said. “We’ve got to step up and be ready for the challenge.”

Unfortunately for the Flyers, their sore spot over their past two-plus seasons has been their play against the Metropolitan elites — the teams they’re typically chasing in the standings.

4-4-1 vs. Capitals
3-5-2 vs. Rangers
3-6-1 vs. Penguins
2-3-4 vs. Blue Jackets

Collectively, that’s a 12-18-8 record in the Dave Hakstol era with just a 4-9-6 mark on the road. Interestingly, defenseman Brandon Manning believes roster formation has been part of the reason behind the success of the Flyers' opponents.  

“Credit to them, I think they’ve done a good job of getting better every year,” Manning said. “You look at what Pittsburgh does with their turnover and still finding a way to win. Columbus is so much better and you look at Jersey, which hasn’t been the greatest team the past couple of years, but this year they have a really good hockey team. I think credit to those teams for finding a way to get better.” 

And if there’s a direct path to the postseason, then winning these crucial divisional games has to be the way to get there. Since the formation of the NHL’s current four-division alignment in 2013-14, the Metropolitan has sent 17 teams to the playoffs and only once has a team reached the postseason without a winning record within the division — the Pittsburgh Penguins finished 9-17-4 in the Metro in 2014-15. 

The Capitals, Rangers and Blue Jackets also have the luxury of rostering a Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender in crucial divisional games, whereas, Hakstol will rely more on a platoon based on Elliott’s first-half workload and Neuvirth attempting to regain his early season form.  

“I haven’t studied the schedule that much in depth, but considering Moose started a stretch of 25 out of 30 games, that’s a real heavy workload,” Hakstol said. “I would expect the workload to be more spread out than that. We’ll find the best rhythm to be able and have both of them help our team.

“You need two goalies. I don’t care who you are,” Hextall said. “Look around the league. I said it before, there’s no Marty Brodeurs.”

Maybe not, but Saturday it all starts with Brodeur’s former team and with a back-to-back against the Devils and the Capitals this weekend. The Flyers' position within the division can change very drastically one direction or the other.