The strength of Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere always will be his offensive play.
But he’s shown marked improvement in his defensive play this season and regularly plays against opponents’ best forwards.
“When you get trusted to do something, it instills more confidence and makes you want to play better,” Gostisbehere said. “Last year, I wasn’t playing against the top lines, and this year I am. Just shows the confidence they’ve instilled in me and the trust they put in me. For me to go out there and do it, it’s going to make me want to play harder and do my best.”
Good health has helped Gostisbehere this season. He had surgery to repair hip and abdominal muscle injuries May 17, 2016, and although he played 76 games last season, he never was at full strength and was scratched five times.
Gostisbehere’s quick one-timer
00:51 • February 2nd, 2018
This season, he’s healthy and looks more like the player who finished second in Calder Trophy voting and set an NHL record for rookie defensemen with a 15-game point streak in 2015-16. Entering their game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVAS, NHL.TV), he’s tied for fourth among NHL defensemen with 50 points (10 goals, 40 assists), six behind John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars.
The Flyers (34-21-11) are third in the Metropolitan Division, two points behind the first-place Washington Capitals and one behind the Penguins.
And Gostisbehere isn’t just skating better in the offensive zone; he’s combined his speed with a better understanding of what’s necessary to be successful in the defensive zone.
“He sees plays that are developing and coming up ice, and he’s a guy that is able to break up plays before they get going,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “When he’s playing on his toes and with a ton of confidence, you see that in his game.”
The big shift for Gostisbehere came Dec. 23 when he was paired with Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia’s ice-time leader (24:20 per game) and the player used most against opponents’ best players
Gostisbehere has been equal to the upgrade in competition. In 30 games paired with Provorov, he is plus-13 and has been on the ice for 12 5-on-5 goals-against, tied with Patrik Nemeth of the Colorado Avalanche for the fewest among the 68 NHL defensemen who have played at least 500 minutes at 5-on-5 since Dec. 23, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
Although Provorov doesn’t have Gostisbehere’s offensive flair, he leads Flyers defensemen with 12 goals and can be just as effective in the offensive zone.
Provorov scores early in the 3rd
00:48 • March 4th, 2018
That’s a change for Gostisbehere, who previously has had defensive-minded partners: Andrew MacDonald, Brandon Manning and Robert Hagg.
“I’ve just got to be careful,” Gostisbehere said. “I jump up in the play a lot and so does he. If I see him going up there, I can’t be too excited to get there too. We’ve got to have one guy back. That’s the biggest adjustment. When I was with [Hagg], I was the first guy jumping. When I know [Provorov] can, that also conserves my energy a little bit. I can play both ends just as well.”
Gostisbehere’s teammates have noticed his development in all areas.
“He’s just really smart positionally,” forward Wayne Simmonds said. “Might not be the biggest guy, but he’s probably got one of the best sticks in the League. Not much gets through him. And he usually stops the play before it even gets into the defensive zone. That’s pretty good defense, if you ask me.”
Gostisbehere never will be a physical force in the defensive zone, but he has been more aggressive. He has 43 hits through 62 games, matching his NHL best set in 76 games last season. He also has 84 blocked shots, putting him on pace for 106, which would be a new personal best, topping the 94 he had last season.
He’s breaking up more plays in the neutral zone and using his speed, smarts and quick stick to contain opponents.
“I try to play it like if I was on the other side of that puck, what I wouldn’t want a defender to do to me and that’s (take away) time and space,” Gostisbehere said. “I’m more lethal with time and space. I can have time to crank up and get some speed. If I don’t allow other guys to do that it’s going to be tough for them to play better offense against me.”