Flyers

Flyers

It began in early March.
 
You could detect a discernable difference in Shayne Gostisbehere's ability to come off the wall quickly, recover in transition, and generate speed off the backcheck.
 
All of that had been missing most of the season because of Gostisbehere's offseason hip and abdominal surgery -- identical to Claude Giroux's -- that carried over far into this winter.
 
Unlike Giroux, who admitted this month that it took until March to feel completely healthy, Gostisbehere still refuses to acknowledge his surgery wreaked havoc this year.
 
One reason why Gostisbehere won't use his surgery as an issue is because he came into his rookie year off major ACL surgery to his left knee and ended up leading all rookie defensemen in points last season.
 
Ghost feels if he could survive losing nearly an entire season of hockey in the AHL and come back to become the best rookie D-man in the NHL the following season, his setback this season can't be all injury-related.
 
"I went through an ACL [tear]," he said. "That's one of the most debilitating injuries you could possibly have for an athlete and I thought I had a pretty good year last year ...
 
"I think it's a lot different. I mean, you could always say, 'Oh yeah, it's the injury. That's it.' For me, it's just looking in the mirror and go put the work in."
 
Instead, he blames it on defensive failure and a lack of confidence after a tremendous rookie season.
 
Ghost has just seven goals, 34 points (minus-20) in 70 games this season versus his rookie year when he finished runner-up in the Calder Trophy race with 17 goals and 46 points and was fifth overall among rookies in scoring.
 
He finally has more dip in his hip, so to speak?
 
"You could look at it like that," Gostisbehere said. "I look at it another way. I'm a no-excuse guy. I think it's more confidence. You have to have confidence to make plays like that and they're risky plays, but they're plays that can be effective.
 
"For me, it's more building of the confidence. It's huge and it's working for me right now and working for our team. We're a confident bunch and it's really showing."
 
Confidence with the puck. That also has been noticeable in his play.
 
"Absolutely," Gostisbehere said. "There's a confidence with the puck. There's also a confidence without it. When you step up on guys, that's a huge thing too. You take yourself out of the play and things like that. It definitely goes both ways."
 
He admitted being "stunned" when coach Dave Hakstol benched him for the first time last November citing "growth and development" issues. Translation: defensive play. He was benched three separate times, totaling five games.
 
Gostisbehere never denied he needed to focus on his defensive play. Here's proof: In his first 48 games, he was minus-19. In his last 21 games, he's minus-1.
 
"I used that [benching] very valuably," he said. "I got out there and worked on the defensive side of my game in good practice hours and I think it's really showing now."
 
Gostisbehere is plus-4 in the month of March and has had seven games of four shots or more, something he said is the result of feeling confident in getting his shot off quickly and accurately from the point.  
 
"Just letting it fly," he said. "Talking to Delly (Michael Del Zotto), just telling me I'm a good player and to go out and do my thing."
 
Hakstol sees a huge turnaround for Ghost in the second half and agrees his injury likely had a significant impact.
 
"When there's a nagging injury, I would say, absolutely," Hakstol said. "But you have to ask Ghost that question if that pertains to him. He's worked through a lot of things."
 
Better defensive positioning in front of the net, better defensive transition off the rush, better turnaround off the wall in one-on-one situations.
 
"It's never as simple as one or two things," Hakstol said. "His attention to detail has been good. His competitiveness. A lot of the game comes down to competitiveness on pucks and individual plays. Ghost has done a good job on that.
 
"What we're seeing now is that same competitiveness defensively and the biggest thing I have seen with Ghost here, of late, is a real high level of confidence with the puck. He's at his highest level now in terms of things he is doing with the puck and the confidence he has."
 
Cousins' status
Nick Cousins, who suffered his second concussion in two years with the Flyers, is day-to-day, the club announced.
 
Cousins took a hard practice with the scratches and is fully cleared to play.
 
"I feel good," he said. "I don't know if I'm 100 percent but I'm close to it. It's just a matter of getting back to game shape and getting my legs back."