Shayne Gostisbehere a better player after taste of playoffs


Shayne Gostisbehere a better player after taste of playoffs

The NHL playoffs continue, but Shayne Gostisbehere won't be watching. He's had enough hockey for a while and needs a little time to reflect. Who can blame him?

“Right now, there's still a sour taste in our mouth,” Gostisbehere said at the Flyers' locker cleanout day earlier this week. “Not happy about it. Gotta move on, take the positives from it.”

He'll be able to do that soon enough, because for the rookie nicknamed “Ghost,” there were a heck of a lot of positives to be gleaned from his team's short postseason run. As any player who's had a chance to appear in a playoff game knows, the second season is an entirely different animal. On the lengthy list of reasons the Washington Capitals were so heavily favored over the Flyers was this note: Only two players on their roster (and they weren't exactly key contributors) had no playoff experience. A third of the Flyers' skaters hadn't yet had a taste of the postseason.

Experience matters. From the first puck drop against the Caps just over two weeks ago, Gostisbehere was a target. Suddenly, another team was game-planning for him night after night. You saw it throughout all six games of the series; he fared a bit better as the week wore on, but made some uncharacteristic defensive mistakes and, simply put, didn't look like the Gostisbehere of much of the regular season.

“I think that was the toughest part for me,” he said. “The first 30 games that I played was a lot different than the last 30. Of course as people know you a little bit more, they're going to key on you a bit more. It's finding that adjustment period, realizing you can't do as much with limited time and space. You gotta make your plays and trust your teammates and keep pushing.”

It's the kind of thing a young player knows in theory, but doesn't truly understand until it happens. Game 1 against the Capitals was a “shock,” Gostisbehere admitted. But now he's been through it, and he's equipped for the next time.

“It makes you a better player for having experienced it,” he said, “and it prepares you for the future.”

And looking at this team and what lies ahead for it, that's important. The Flyers as a whole might not be ahead of schedule (see story), but in his personal development, Shayne Gostisbehere sure is.

Now he knows what to expect when the Flyers of the future reach the playoffs. He's no longer as green, and knows firsthand how to manage his emotions when so much is on the line. Add that to the team and league records he set over the course of the year and the case he's made for the Calder Trophy, and it's almost difficult to wait to see what he'll follow it all up with in 2017.

All that said, as with any young player, there are areas of his game that could use some improvement — both defensively and offensively. Yes, even though he finished the regular season with 46 points, good enough for fifth on the team and first among all defensemen.

“He’s got to grow in both areas,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “There’s no magic formula to that. In his case, he has to continue doing exactly what he’s doing. He’s got to be a worker day in and day out. He’s got to keep his feet on the ground, and he’s got to do all these things very intelligently. He’s not a secret anymore.”

Even if he doesn't beat the odds to win Rookie of the Year honors, Gostisbehere will be far from a secret when the first puck drops next fall. Sophomore seasons are tricky, but he's set up to succeed, in great part because of what he learned during the Flyers' unexpected playoff appearance.

“It didn't end too well, but we gained a lot of experience,” Gostisbehere said. “We realize we have a very good team. We're going to keep pushing forward. We have a really bright future.”

Flyers trade Taylor Leier to Sabres for Justin Bailey

Flyers trade Taylor Leier to Sabres for Justin Bailey

General manager Chuck Fletcher isn't exactly blowing fans away with blockbusters.

However, he is starting to make an imprint.

Fletcher on Thursday night made his second trade by sending forward Taylor Leier to the Sabres in exchange for forward Justin Bailey. The move comes less than a week after he dealt forward Jordan Weal to the Coyotes.

Leier, 24, did not play a game for the Flyers this season after playing 39 in 2017-18. The 2012 fourth-round pick surprised many by making the club's opening night roster last season but Leier slowly lost his role as a fourth-line, penalty-kill guy, playing just nine games after the calendar flipped to 2018.

This season, he had 19 points (10 goals, nine assists) in 34 games with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. Before being traded, he was starting to turn himself into a call-up candidate, scoring 10 points (six goals, four assists) in his last 10 games with the Phantoms.

For obvious reasons, though, Fletcher had no ties to Leier, who is set to become a restricted free agent in the offseason and is making just $720,000 in 2018-19.

It's as simple as Fletcher probably liked Bailey's size and prospects more than he did with Leier. Bailey, a 23-year-old right winger, is 6-foot-4, 214 pounds and will also be a restricted free agent in the summer. In 37 games this season with the Sabres' AHL affiliate Rochester, Bailey, a 2013 second-round pick, had nine goals and 11 assists.

Over the previous three seasons, he has put up five goals and three assists in 52 games with the Sabres. He also owns a pair of 20-goal seasons with Rochester and, interestingly, his father Carlton Bailey played 10 seasons in the NFL.

While fans' patience may be growing a bit thin with Fletcher, wanting the GM to make more notable moves, it's important to remember the trade deadline isn't until Feb. 25. There's no real rush, especially when dealing with franchise-changing calls.

Bigger decisions, principally with Wayne Simmonds, will ultimately come. Meanwhile, the Flyers have won three of their last four games and face the Canadiens Saturday before not playing again until Jan. 28 because of the bye week.

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Flyers goalie Anthony Stolarz activated off injured reserve, loaned to Phantoms

Flyers goalie Anthony Stolarz activated off injured reserve, loaned to Phantoms

Updated: 9:54 p.m.

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers activated goaltender Anthony Stolarz off injured reserve Thursday and loaned him to Lehigh Valley for conditioning purposes. Stolarz suffered a lower-body injury in the first period of a 5-1 loss to the Canucks on Dec. 15 in Vancouver when he allowed two goals on four shots.

With injuries to Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth and Alex Lyon, Stolarz was pressed into duty in the early part of December, making six starts over a 10-day stretch. With a 3.90 goals-against average and an .880 save percentage, Stolarz actually played better than the numbers he posted.

“In the games that I did watch, I don’t think he was given a lot of help for stretches and he kept the team close, and whether they won or lost the game, I don’t think you could point the finger at him,” Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon said.

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if the Flyers recall Stolarz, who can stay for 14 days without clearing waivers. Considering how well he played in wins at Pittsburgh and in Buffalo, there may be a team willing to take a chance on Stolarz as an inexpensive backup looking ahead to next season. 

With such limited playing time over the past two seasons in his recovery from meniscus surgery in September 2017, Stolarz is better served as the No. 1 in Lehigh Valley, where he can improve his game and regain his confidence. If Stolarz can build upon his small body of work this season, it will be interesting to see if the Flyers view him as a viable backup option for next season.      

No hearing for Lehtera

Flyers forward Jori Lehtera will not receive supplemental discipline from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety following his reckless hit into the back of Bruins forward Ryan Donato. Lehtera received a five-minute board major and a game misconduct. 

Lehtera likely avoided a suspension because Donato wasn’t injured on that play. The Bruins' winger was bleeding as a result of the hit, but never missed a shift in the third period.

Lehtera spent 17 minutes in the box compared to just 5:40 on the ice. At this point, Gordon has two highly ineffective veterans in Lehtera and Dale Weise, who cleared waivers on Wednesday but will remain on the team’s active roster. 

Will a third trick be a charm?

Sean Couturier’s three goals against the Bruins marked the first time since October 2002 that the Flyers registered hat tricks in consecutive games. Mark Recchi ripped home three goals in a 5-4 win over the Calgary Flames, while John LeClair potted four goals three nights later in a 6-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.

It also marked the eighth time in Flyers franchise history that the team had a hat trick in back-to-back games, but that feat has never occurred in three straight games.

So, who could be the likely candidate to put three on the board at the Bell Centre Saturday and make franchise history?

I’m leaning on Claude Giroux, who has 10 goals in 30 career games against the Montreal Canadiens, with a two-goal effort against the Habs in 2011.

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