December 04, 2015
The Flyers have been a much improved hockey team since November 14th. That is not an accident, either: Shayne Gostisbehere was called up to the big club for his first game that night, promptly picking up an assist in a win over Carolina.
Since then, Gostisbehere has added a couple of very similar game-winning overtime goals (4-on-3 PP, pass from Claude Giroux, one-timer from the high slot) in the span of four days. Not a bad week for the kid.
Overall, the Orange and Black are 5-2-2 since Ghost’s call-up. A major reason for the recent success has been strong play in the neutral zone. For those who aren’t that familiar with basic zone entry concepts (and I’m a newcomer), in general you don’t want teams entering your offensive zone… but you especially don’t want them entering with control of the puck. Pretty common sense stuff.
As Charlie O’Connor writes at Broad Street Hockey (and he has the numbers to back it up), Gostisbehere has been really good in the neutral zone. Specifically, he is preventing those controlled zone entries:
Gostisbehere may have came with a reputation of being poor defensively, but so far in his NHL career, that has been limited to play in his own zone. In the neutral zone, however, Ghost has delivered stellar results. Teams are only entering the offensive zone with control of the puck 29.53 percent of the time, and are losing the overall entries battle as well.
Over at Pattison Avenue, Scott T. (aka @NHLFlyera) does note that Ghost is on the ice when the Flyers are down two goals or more (34.56% of the available ice time) as opposed to up one goal (25.15%). So it seems like Dave Hakstol doesn’t quite trust Ghost to protect a lead yet, especially because the Flyers play a less aggressive style in those situations:
Shayne Gostisbehere only has a handful of games under his belt, but it’s already clear that Hakstol wants him out there more with the Flyers behind. This definitely makes sense given Ghost’s offensive ability. As time goes on, I’d like to see him out there more in general, but he’s been used just about perfectly so far.
What do you do with Gostisbehere once Mark Streit gets healthy? Because the Flyers’ cap situation is still so difficult, they would probably have to make a trade to keep Ghost in the NHL. The Courier-Post’s Dave Isaac says Streit might be the best candidate to move:
Obviously it has to include a defenseman just for roster space alone. Streit is 37 years old and has one more year left on his deal. He may be the best candidate. He wouldn't be a "rental" for a team, which might actually work against the Flyers because a potential trade partner would have to have $5.25 million in space next year and most of the low-market teams aren't in the market for that missing offensive blueliner tor a postseason push. Because he didn't come to the NHL until age 28, he doesn't have the wear and tear most defensemen his age do. He can run a power play and still play today's high-paced game.
Streit wasn’t all that impressive before going on the shelf, so Ron Hextall may have his work cut out. For now, though, Ghost has been exactly what the Flyers needed. And the O.G. hockey journalist, Uncle Bob McKenzie, sure has taken notice:
Gostisbehere is still feeling his way. He's listed as 5-11, 160 pounds on his nhl.com profile page. He claims he's closer to 5-11 1/2 and 185 pounds. In any case, by NHL defencemen standards, he's considered "light." All the better, I suppose, for The Ghost to float at warp speed by his opponents. He's a marvellous skater who has incredible pop in his stride, but being "light" doesn't in any way diminish how "heavy" his shot is. Whether it's the high wind-up clapper or the less showy wrister/snapper, they all mean business.
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann