A little less than five months ago, Shayne Gostisbehere was runner-up for the Calder Memorial Trophy awarded to the NHL’s top rookie.
On Thursday night, he’ll be a healthy scratch for the first time in his young career.
Call it growing pains, call it a sophomore slump, but Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol labeled the benching as an opportunity for growth, development and accountability.
“There’s no wake-up call needed,” Hakstol said after morning skate at the Wells Fargo Center. “It’s accountability within our group. It’s an opportunity for him to address some things within his game, an opportunity to watch the game from above, which can help a young player. Beyond that, he’s got to work day to day, go do the work and be ready to play two days from now.”
Gostisbehere partook in morning skate but was not available afterwards for comment. Hakstol would not confirm any other lineup changes but said Andrew MacDonald, cleared to play after missing five games with a lower-body injury, is a healthy option for the Flyers tonight. The much-maligned defenseman seems likely to fill Gostisbehere’s unexpected void (see skate update).
Gostisbehere’s boot from the lineup comes as a surprise considering the instant impact he provided last season, quickly becoming the team’s most dynamic and offensively gifted blueliner. The 23-year-old transformed the Flyers with 17 goals and 29 assists for 46 points in 64 regular-season games.
Furthermore, he reeled off the longest-ever point streak by an NHL rookie defenseman at 15 games, scored four overtime winners — also a league rookie record — and finished with a plus-8 rating.
This season, however, Gostisbehere has shown lapses in his own end with struggles in defensive coverage. He’s a minus-4, has committed 19 giveaways — tied for most on the Flyers — while the orange and black are permitting an NHL-worst 3.53 goals per game.
“It’s also part of our group in terms of accountability in our play overall,” Hakstol said. “You can’t make too much out of it. It’s not a small thing to have Shayne out of our lineup, yet I think it’s a good thing for him, in his growth, in his development and in a few things that we’re asking him to concentrate on.”
Are those areas defensively?
“I’m not going to get into any specifics, I think it’s really important those stay between us as a staff and our player,” Hakstol said. “I don’t want to cross that line.
“Ghost is a guy that we ask to produce offensively, so he’s got to push the envelope a little bit. I want him to do that, so there are going to be mistakes there that are out of aggressiveness and out of an effort to make some plays. Those mistakes are going to be there. Those aren’t the things that we’re addressing in his game at this point in time.”
Why Gostisbehere and not one of the other d-men is a valid question. But the Flyers’ expectations are certainly greater for a player in such a prominent role as Gostisbehere.
When asked about rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov’s growth, Hakstol praised the 19-year-old’s preparation. Provorov has one point in his last nine games, has 19 giveaways himself and is a minus-9 thus far.
“He’s just beyond his years in terms of maturity and the way he studies the game,” Hakstol said. “He’s a young guy that I can probably ask him about a play that happened two weeks ago in a game and he would immediately have recall on that play. A very intelligent player, he’s handled the ups and the downs pretty well. Quite honestly, his last four or five games here have been quietly really solid.”
Hakstol has routinely promoted competition and is an advocate of learning opportunities no matter the player’s stature.
Consider this Gostisbehere’s time to learn.
“Part of being continually successful at this level is studying the game a little bit,” Hakstol said. “Hey, that’s all part of growing, that’s all part of maturity. There’s no question that it’s a little tougher the second time around [in the NHL] with the amount of video and pre-scout that teams do — they’re prepared. In saying that, Ghost will be fine, he’s got all the abilities and more importantly, he’s got the mentality necessary to deal with those things.”
Most notably, Hakstol isn't worried about his foundation piece. The second-year head coach spent most of the morning downplaying the magnitude of sitting his second-year star in Game 18 of the regular season.
“This is not a young man that’s going to be out of our lineup for a long time, I’ll put it that way,” he said. “Now I’m going to be real careful because we’ve got a group of defensemen, and it’s about the group and it’s about the team.
“His effort is there. I believe his intelligence is at a high level. To be able to take a step back, watch things, address some things by coming out of the lineup has a way of moving a player past some of those things.”