Gostisbehere a dependable defenseman

Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere is playing a different role as the Flyers fill the void on the blue line. The Flyers are 5-1-1 in Gostisbehere’s first seven games since entering the lineup. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

The T-shirts, the nickname and the red-hot scoring streak were all a lot of fun.

It sure seems like a long time ago when Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere was the talk of the town as a scorching-hot fan favorite rookie, perhaps a little ahead of schedule, fresh out of Union College and making a big splash on the ice at the Wells Fargo Center. .

Then there was the sophomore slump, and the resurgent 65-point third season, followed by a drop off the proverbial cliff the last few years, often sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch.

But perhaps there is a Shayne Gostisbehere who lives somewhere between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And perhaps we finally found him.

Now in his sixth season, Gostisbehere has been perfectly fine in the seven games he has played for the Flyers this year after he experienced a delayed start due to being placed on the COVID-19 protocol list. And his dependable service is coming at a time when his team needs it most. The Flyers have struggled with injuries on the back end, which has become very noticeable during Philippe Myers’ four-game absence last month and when Travis Sanheim was forced to miss Sunday’s game against the Washington Capitals. Matt Niskanen’s sudden retirement prior to the season has amplified all of the above.

Gostisbehere has held onto his spot since he entered the lineup on Jan. 26, partly due to other injuries, but mostly due to playing some good hockey. He hasn’t done it by flexing his offensive flash and scoring at a 65-point pace. Instead, he’s played a more basic game with more defensive responsibility, while sprinkling in the occasional dazzling move.

He has a plus-4 rating in those games while adding an assist, and more importantly, the Flyers are 5-1-1 in those games.

The Flyers haven’t hidden him, either.

Gostisbehere has hit the 20-minute mark in five of those seven games and has played on the top line with Ivan Provorov for many of those minutes. Yes, there have been a few scary turnovers, and he was beaten pretty badly by David Pastrnak on the opening goal just 12 seconds into the game on Feb. 3. But overall, Gostisbehere has played well for a team that was running a three-ring circus in its own end early in the season.

If you play to his strengths, and with careful management, you could even increase Gostisbehere’s power play time to serve an area he is most productive and subtract a few shifts that start in the defensive zone. It could spell Provorov from 26-plus minutes he is often asked to play as one of the league’s leaders in ice time.

Forget for a minute about increasing his trade value or making Gostisbehere a more attractable selection for the Seattle Expansion Draft this summer. The hope is that he can continue to be an everyday player in Philadelphia this season.

It’s unlikely we’ll ever see the 65-point Gostisbehere again. But we could see a suitable player filling an important role. And right now, that’s what the Flyers need.

Running Hot

Through the weekend, James van Riemsdyk sat in fourth place in the scoring race with 18 points behind only Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Mitch Marner who all play in the high-scoring North Division. That’s pretty impressive company.

Joel Farabee recorded his third three-point game of the season against Washington on Sunday as he assisted on all three of Scott Laughton’s goals.

Laughton’s hat trick was the first of his career and the third by a Flyers this season, following Farabee and Travis Konecny.

The Flyers’ 7-4 victory over Washington on Feb. 7 came almost one year exactly after the Flyers put up seven on the Caps on Feb. 8 last year in a 7-2 rout. ••