Injuries give Gustafsson another chance to impress Flyers

Injuries give Gustafsson another chance to impress Flyers

March 29, 2013, 11:30 am
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When he was sent down to the Phantoms earlier this month, Flyers defenseman Erik Gustafsson wasn’t sure why things went so poorly.
 
At the time, however, he was minus-6 in his previous four games. That gave him a clue.
 
“They said they felt I kinda lost confidence and didn’t make the same plays I did my first weeks up here,” Gustafsson recalled. “Felt I lost that in my last two or three games. ... They thought I played great the first games up here.”
 
Gustafsson was recalled from the Phantoms this week because Andrej Meszaros is out indefinitely with another left shoulder injury and likely is done for the season.
 
The Swede logged 20:54 in Thursday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Islanders (see story). On the ice, he was minus-2 -- one goal was a deflection. The other? An open shot in the slot.
 
Young players -– he is just 24 -– often give a club a lift, then level off. Gustafsson is still not an everyday NHL player, having played only 45 career games.
 
When he was here earlier, he was coming off a hairline fracture injury in his right leg suffered while playing with the Phantoms. But, he said, that wasn't the reason for his struggles.
 
“It wasn’t really the injury,” Gustafsson said. “Sometimes, when teams are not winning, you start thinking too much. When you should go out and play the game and keep it simple.”
 
He has talent. He can move the puck. He showed flashes of speed, agility and puck-movement skills last season. What the Flyers want from Gustafsson is better decisions. They want him to hang onto the puck a little more when he can and get rid of it before pressure mounts. They hope he can use his mobility to avoid getting himself into jams.
 
“In our meeting with the defensemen, we want to see them not necessarily hang onto it longer but to continue to make plays and look for plays and sometimes that means hanging onto it longer,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “Sometimes it means moving it right away because that pass is available. He’s a young player and good player. When players move up and down in the organization, it’s not always a reflection completely of them playing poorly or us not wanting them.
 
“There is a development part to it. You get guys back from injuries, decisions are made who is the seventh defenseman. You talk through the organization. Decisions are made to keep players playing. It’s not always being unhappy with the player or things they did wrong. It’s about continuing to let them play and develop.”
 
When he returned to the Phantoms, Gustafsson said he didn’t agree with everything the team said in its critique. Only that he wasn’t playing the same as he was earlier.
 
“I wouldn’t say I lost my confidence, but I agree I didn’t play as well the last few games as I did maybe my first seven or eight,” he said. “You've got to try to learn from it and be better and try to be more consistent. They told me they want me to be the type of player I am in the American League. Try to be a playmaker and puck-moving defenseman, skate the puck and try to open up some ice for the forwards. That’s what they told me they want me to do, what I’m going to try to do.”
 
The Flyers lost another defenseman on Thursday when Braydon Coburn suffered an upper-body injury.
 
That, and Meszaros' injury, figure to keep Gustafsson up here through the remainder of the season and allow him to continue working on his game at the NHL level.