VOORHEES, N.J. — Ever since Shayne Gostisbehere took the Flyers by storm in 2015-16, pushing them into the playoffs behind 17 goals in 64 games as a rookie, the defenseman’s success has more often than not been associated with numbers.
Point production is an easy, sometimes lazy, way to determine if Gostisbehere is on top of his game. He fueled that narrative in 2017-18 when he scored the fourth-most points among all NHL defensemen with 65.
Eleven games into 2019-20, following a season in which he scored 37 points, was a minus-20 and some trade buzz floated around, Gostisbehere hasn’t put up the offensive statistics many cry for when judging his game. He had four points on one goal and three assists through the Flyers’ 5-5-1 October.
But a lower point total doesn’t mean Gostisbehere’s dynamic ability isn’t there. It doesn’t mean he’s no longer a threat to the opposition’s defense. It doesn’t mean he’s not pushing the puck up ice to augment the Flyers’ attack-oriented style.
And it doesn’t mean he’s done evolving as a 26-year-old.
What was different when he was 22 and ripping off goal after goal?
“No one knew who the hell I was,” Gostisbehere said Thursday. “A lot easier, man, they don’t think a little 5-11 guy is going to have a shot like that. So I was little more open, but it’s a little different, you’ve got to roll with it. That’s what makes you a good player — when players know what you’re going to do but you can still do it.
“Look at [Alex Ovechkin], everyone knows he’s going to one-T, but he’s still doing it. I think that’s growing as a player and making yourself better, more skilled.”
The Flyers need Gostisbehere to continue to adjust, transition the puck and create offense. Points aren’t everything but they are something, and the Flyers are better when Gostisbehere is scoring. He didn’t do it nearly enough last season and 2019-20 hasn’t started better.
The Flyers are also deeper this season on the blue line. Ivan Provorov, Matt Niskanen and Travis Sanheim are all playing 20-plus minutes a game. Provorov handles No. 1-like responsibilities, Niskanen plays on both special teams units and the offensive-minded Sanheim is coming off a promising year. The Flyers also added 32-year-old veteran Justin Braun to help lighten the burden on the young defense.
The points might not come as much for Gostisbehere. He might not ever score 65 again.
Is that a huge deal?
“Everyone is going to have some good years — that was one of my better years obviously,” Gostisbehere said. “We have a different supporting cast this year, we have a lot of good guys who can put up some numbers and help our team contribute. It’s a different league where every defenseman has a little offensive instincts. For us, it’s good. The more, the merrier.”
The Flyers’ coaching staff is sticking with Gostisbehere and his power-play role. This season, he is new to head coach Alain Vigneault and assistants Michel Therrien (power play, forwards) and Mike Yeo (penalty kill, defensemen). Vigneault knew of Gostisbehere, though, and is aware of the ability. He would like to see it more.
“I think points are a reward for doing the right things,” Vigneault said. “I’ve seen him come here, have a great camp, really well prepared. A little inconsistency, but a lot of times you see that vision and that passing and that shooting ability — if we could just see it on a more consistent basis, we’d be a better team for it. I know he knows that and he’s trying his best. It’s the same thing with our best players. It’s time to step up and lead the way. In Ghost’s case, he’s one of our top offensive players and he needs to lead the way, also.”
As the coaching staff has worked with Gostisbehere, keeping faith in the power play quarterback, he has noticed.
“I think their communication is such a big thing, you always know where you stand,” Gostisbehere said. “The scheduling, the communication is so clear. We know our system, any guy in here will have the same answer if you asked anything about the system. I think that’s a good part. It’s up to us and finding that chemistry and putting the product out there.”
Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.