Improving Gostisbehere says injuries didn't cause slow start, even if they seemed to

Improving Gostisbehere says injuries didn't cause slow start, even if they seemed to

It began in early March.
 
You could detect a discernable difference in Shayne Gostisbehere's ability to come off the wall quickly, recover in transition, and generate speed off the backcheck.
 
All of that had been missing most of the season because of Gostisbehere's offseason hip and abdominal surgery -- identical to Claude Giroux's -- that carried over far into this winter.
 
Unlike Giroux, who admitted this month that it took until March to feel completely healthy, Gostisbehere still refuses to acknowledge his surgery wreaked havoc this year.
 
One reason why Gostisbehere won't use his surgery as an issue is because he came into his rookie year off major ACL surgery to his left knee and ended up leading all rookie defensemen in points last season.
 
Ghost feels if he could survive losing nearly an entire season of hockey in the AHL and come back to become the best rookie D-man in the NHL the following season, his setback this season can't be all injury-related.
 
"I went through an ACL [tear]," he said. "That's one of the most debilitating injuries you could possibly have for an athlete and I thought I had a pretty good year last year ...
 
"I think it's a lot different. I mean, you could always say, 'Oh yeah, it's the injury. That's it.' For me, it's just looking in the mirror and go put the work in."
 
Instead, he blames it on defensive failure and a lack of confidence after a tremendous rookie season.
 
Ghost has just seven goals, 34 points (minus-20) in 70 games this season versus his rookie year when he finished runner-up in the Calder Trophy race with 17 goals and 46 points and was fifth overall among rookies in scoring.
 
He finally has more dip in his hip, so to speak?
 
"You could look at it like that," Gostisbehere said. "I look at it another way. I'm a no-excuse guy. I think it's more confidence. You have to have confidence to make plays like that and they're risky plays, but they're plays that can be effective.
 
"For me, it's more building of the confidence. It's huge and it's working for me right now and working for our team. We're a confident bunch and it's really showing."
 
Confidence with the puck. That also has been noticeable in his play.
 
"Absolutely," Gostisbehere said. "There's a confidence with the puck. There's also a confidence without it. When you step up on guys, that's a huge thing too. You take yourself out of the play and things like that. It definitely goes both ways."
 
He admitted being "stunned" when coach Dave Hakstol benched him for the first time last November citing "growth and development" issues. Translation: defensive play. He was benched three separate times, totaling five games.
 
Gostisbehere never denied he needed to focus on his defensive play. Here's proof: In his first 48 games, he was minus-19. In his last 21 games, he's minus-1.
 
"I used that [benching] very valuably," he said. "I got out there and worked on the defensive side of my game in good practice hours and I think it's really showing now."
 
Gostisbehere is plus-4 in the month of March and has had seven games of four shots or more, something he said is the result of feeling confident in getting his shot off quickly and accurately from the point.  
 
"Just letting it fly," he said. "Talking to Delly (Michael Del Zotto), just telling me I'm a good player and to go out and do my thing."
 
Hakstol sees a huge turnaround for Ghost in the second half and agrees his injury likely had a significant impact.
 
"When there's a nagging injury, I would say, absolutely," Hakstol said. "But you have to ask Ghost that question if that pertains to him. He's worked through a lot of things."
 
Better defensive positioning in front of the net, better defensive transition off the rush, better turnaround off the wall in one-on-one situations.
 
"It's never as simple as one or two things," Hakstol said. "His attention to detail has been good. His competitiveness. A lot of the game comes down to competitiveness on pucks and individual plays. Ghost has done a good job on that.
 
"What we're seeing now is that same competitiveness defensively and the biggest thing I have seen with Ghost here, of late, is a real high level of confidence with the puck. He's at his highest level now in terms of things he is doing with the puck and the confidence he has."
 
Cousins' status
Nick Cousins, who suffered his second concussion in two years with the Flyers, is day-to-day, the club announced.
 
Cousins took a hard practice with the scratches and is fully cleared to play.
 
"I feel good," he said. "I don't know if I'm 100 percent but I'm close to it. It's just a matter of getting back to game shape and getting my legs back."

Flyers Injury Update: Jordan Weal in, Nick Cousins out

Flyers Injury Update: Jordan Weal in, Nick Cousins out

NEWARK, N.J. -- In comes one forward, out goes the other.

That was the case for the Flyers on Thursday as they took on the Devils at the Prudential Center, trying to keep their heart beating in the playoff race.

Jordan Weal, who missed Wednesday's 4-0 win over the Penguins because of lower-body injury, returned to the lineup and rejoined the team's top line.

The 24-year-old has played well since being called up from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley on Feb. 10. Entering Thursday, he had three goals and an assist in 11 games.

"Did some testing and stuff like that [Wednesday] to see if everything was all good and it was good news," Weal said pregame Thursday. "I'm ready to go now."

Weal has added much-needed speed and playmaking to the Flyers.

"He's proven so far he’s ready to take advantage of this opportunity and help our team, and that's what a player needs to do to be in the lineup," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. "He's done that from the first day he came in.

"He's continued to earn his way, game by game. He's a hungry player, and that's the way he's played every day."

Weal would not say he was 100 percent healthy.

"It is what it is, but we’re going to keep on moving forward," he said. "It will be good." 

Clearly good enough to give it a go for the Flyers, who were without Nick Cousins because of an upper-body injury. It's uncertain when Cousins suffered the injury but he is day to day. Playing limited minutes of late, Cousins totaled 8:52 of ice time in Wednesday's game.

Meanwhile, defenseman Brandon Manning missed a third straight game. He's recovering from an upper-body injury.

"Manning, he was good [Wednesday]," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said. "Today, he's a little sore, so he's back to day to day."

Defenseman Nick Schultz replaced Manning for the third game in a row.

Forward Michael Raffl, who is expected to be out the remainder of the regular season with an upper-body injury, is on schedule in his recovery, according to Hextall.

Flyers Weekly Observations: Dismal start to critical Western Canada trip

Flyers Weekly Observations: Dismal start to critical Western Canada trip

Another week of Flyers hockey this season is behind us.
 
And it was another week that ended with not many positives to talk about involving the Flyers.
 
There were only two games this week and neither went well. On Wednesday, the Flyers dropped a 3-1 decision to the Flames in Calgary to kick off a crucial Western Canada road trip. Things didn’t get any better the next night in Edmonton, as the Flyers were blown away, 6-3, by the Oilers.
 
Let’s take a look back at what went wrong for the Flyers out in Alberta.
 
• It’s not just that the Flyers dropped the first two games of the road trip this past week. The Western Canada trip is always a tough one, especially for teams from the Eastern Conference that have to make the long trip out there. It’s the manner in which the Flyers lost both games that has to be the most disheartening factor. They were lethargic and you just didn’t see the kind of urgency you should see from a team, that as poor as it has played in recent weeks, is still in the thick of a playoff chase in the jam-packed Eastern Conference. In Calgary, the Flyers actually did come out of the gates hot with a goal by Nick Cousins 1:30 into the game, but it fell apart from there. They had 34 shots in that game, but not many testers on Flames goalie Brian Elliott. The next night in Edmonton, the Flyers were just overwhelmed and steamrolled from the second the puck dropped. It was all Oilers and the Flyers were just standing by. At the end of the day, the Flyers are still alive in this playoff race and you’d like to see the urgency that comes along with that.

• If there was one thing that summed up the Flyers’ lack of apparent urgency this past week, it had to be that ugly five-minute power play that included a two-minute two-man advantage Wednesday night in Calgary. Ugly would actually be quite the compliment. It was downright brutal. First off, the Flyers were handed a gift because Alex Chiasson’s spear on Cousins was not a major penalty. Chiasson shouldn’t be spearing anyone, but that was a love tap compared to some others around the league this season. But the Flyers fumbled that gift away with a power play that was basically a practice drill for the Calgary penalty killers. The Flyers slogged around in the neutral zone or unsuccessfully dumped the puck in or turned it over. It goes back again to urgency. The best power plays feel the urgency to score every time out on the ice. It just wasn’t there Wednesday night with the low-percentage cross-ice passes and inability to track down the puck. The Flames had 11 clears compared to two shots for the Flyers. It was as disappointing as a power play can be. Over the last six games, the Flyers’ power play is just 2 for 19. That is not helping with the scoring woes.
 
• Hopefully this Connor McDavid-Brandon Manning nonsense is now over after Manning answered the bell and fought the much larger Patrick Maroon on Thursday in Edmonton. The whole thing was dumbfounding to begin with. McDavid lost an edge while Manning was defending against him last season when he broke his collarbone. It should have ended right then and there because for someone to even insinuate intent on Manning’s part or anything other than that it was an unfortunate play would be asinine. It continued to be dumbfounding when McDavid stirred the pot during and after December’s meeting between the teams. For it to even reach the point it did Thursday was just stupefying. And Milan Lucic’s low blow on Manning behind the Flyers’ net Thursday was cheap, to say the least. But good for Manning to stand up to Maroon.

• If there was one positive to take from this past week, it had to be the play of Cousins in Calgary on Wednesday. He was all over the ice. He was making plays happen with five shots on net, bringing energy and being a pest. He’s at the top of his game and most effective when he brings that energy and pest behavior. The goal he scored was well-deserved and he should have had another one if not for the great save Elliott made at the end of that long, wretched Flyers power play. If Cousins can play that effective way more consistently, he can be a valuable piece going forward for the Flyers. Most of the good teams in the league have that one player other teams just hate to play against.

• I also like what Cousins had to say in the locker room after the loss Wednesday. “We’ve got to make it harder on them,” he said. “We’ve got to get more traffic. It’s the same excuse here it feels like after every game. We’ve got to score more goals — simple as that.” He didn’t massage his way around anything, He came out and stated bluntly what’s going on right now. The Flyers can talk about playing good hockey and not getting the results. But the results come when you earn them. Can we say that about the Flyers earning results the past few weeks? Against the Sharks last Saturday, sure. But any other games?

• Shame that Jordan Weal was injured in Thursday’s loss to the Oilers. He was doing everything he could to try and provide a spark. He was bringing some of that much-needed energy and, more importantly, trying to make things happen by firing the puck toward the net. He had a team-high six shots on goal Wednesday in Calgary. His combination of speed and skill makes him an intriguing player going forward. The Flyers have to hope he recovers sooner rather than later so they can get an extended look at him with the big club.

• Is the offside challenge working as effectively as it should? It sure looked like the Oilers were offside before the opening goal of Thursday’s contest. But the league still ruled it a good goal. And you may recall the eight-minute delay in the Chicago-Minnesota game a few weeks ago as officials reviewed an offside play before a goal. In essence, offside is a pretty cut-and-dry rule. The play is offside or it isn’t. I’m not crazy to say there shouldn’t be this much grey area on a pretty cut-and-dry rule, right?

Coming up this week: Sunday night at Vancouver (10 p.m./CSN), Wednesday vs. Washington (8 p.m./NBCSN), Saturday’s Stadium Series game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh (8 p.m./NBC10).