February 07, 2017
One of the most bizarre stories through the first month of the new year is that of Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who was once again a healthy scratch on Monday night when the Flyers were shut out at home, 2-0, by the St Louis Blues.
For those counting, the Flyers have not scored a goal at home in their past two games, and Gostisbehere has not played in the past three games. It is a situation that is not sitting well with fans who watched him tear up the league as a rookie last season.
Indeed, last season was a magic carpet ride for The Ghost. Every move he made was correct. He could do nothing wrong, and he earned the status of The Future, a guy who could be counted upon to deliver the team back to prominence.
Almost from the day he was elevated to the varsity Gostisbehere was almost a fictional character. He would dive across the blue line to keep a puck in the zone like shortstop leaping deep into the hole to stop a base hit. All of his shots hit the net, and his status as quarterback on the power play was in Tom Brady territory.
This season has been a long drop-off in terms of production, but it is still difficult to fathom the Flyers lineup is better night after night after night without Ghost as a scoring threat. It is understandable that Coach Dave Hakstol would sit Ghost out of a game or two to impress upon him the value of defense, but the recent stretch of games was difficult to fathom – especially with the Flyers having so much trouble scoring goals.
In addition to all of this, there is another aspect to the equation involving Ghost’s status with the fans – and that may be an even bigger issue. Hakstol has to deal with a difficult equation of benching a player who is both young and popular.
On a nightly basis, Hakstol’s job is to put the players on the ice that give the Flyers the best chance to win. The NHL is not a developmental league and even if players such as Gostisbehere, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov are huge parts of the bright future, you cannot turn out the lights on this season.
The brutal truth of the matter is that Gostisbehere was more than just struggling from the start of this season. There is much truth to the theory that it is not fair to compare Ghost’s stats this year to last year, but there really is no comparison beyond the stats.
The key to Gostisbehere’s game last season was his ability to defend with his angle play and the use of his stick to block lanes. He arrived on the ice with a body filled with confidence, and even when he made a mistake he could wheel back and break up the play, often coming back the other way to start an offensive threat.
This season, Ghost’s defensive play has been well below acceptable, and even worse, he appears to have lost his offensive instincts. The power-play combination of Gostisbehere to Giroux has been erased by pre-scouting and too many times Gostisbehere’s shots are off the mark.
There is also the very real possibility that the benchings have caused a pause in Gostisbehere’s approach. Things have gone wrong so often it appears at times he is hesitant to jump in to make a play.
The result is a sort of betwixt and between situation, and it is made worse because the explosive first step he had last season to get back into a play appears to have been temporarily neutralized by his post season surgery of last summer. Not so ironically, captain Claude Giroux had similar surgery for abdomen/hip, and he appears to have lost some jump – especially when it takes an initial burst to get back defensively.
Hakstol has used benching to motivate players, and there is a benefit to keep a team on edge with lineup changes. However, with the Flyers struggling to score goals as Giroux, Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds having gone cold it just seems illogical to have Ghost disappear for so long.