(Kate Frese/Sports Talk Philly)
As the Flyers have struggled to find the success that put them on a 10-game winning streak in December and provided a path to the playoffs, the saga of Shayne Gostisbehere and the Flyers lineup had really taken center stage of late.
The Flyers sat the Calder runner-up for three games after a 5-1 drubbing to the Hurricanes in their first game back from the All-Star break. For eight days, Gostisbehere got extra time to work on things in practice and observe games. While that doesn't necessarily make sense for a team who regards the 23-year-old as their top power-play defenseman, Gostisbehere's mature approach to the situation has things back on track so to speak.
Gostisbehere was very open about the benching at practice last Wednesday.
"I never take it personally," Gostisbehere said. "I look at it as my coaches are doing what is best for me as a young player. I know we have 19-year-olds on this team. I’m turning 24 in April, but I still look at myself as a young guy, my second year in the league.
"I know what my coaches are doing and they wouldn’t do this to punish me. They’re doing what’s best for me, for the team and in the future. Some coaches don’t even give a s*** about you. That’s the big thing. I look at it as what they are doing is best for me. They’re teaching me a lot right now. I respect them for that. It’s easy to sit back and be mad at people and have a bad attitude. I don’t think that’s who I am and who I am as a teammate."
For a 23-year-old who had everything come easily in his rookie season, that's a very mature way to look at things.
Gostisbehere has since returned to the lineup, starting with Thursday's game against the Islanders and returned to his usual role. He played the last two games alongside Mark Streit and returned to the top power play unit.
Gostisbehere's mature approach may come from influence of others. He called his family and spoke to his grandfather about it. He spoke with former college teammates and coaches. He looked to teammates on the Flyers as well, including Jake Voracek, who similarly had gone through benchings and slumps early in his career, and even last season.
But what a way for a player to approach the situation. There is always speculation when things are going wrong and a player with Gostisbehere's potential and skill set are out of the lineup that tensions are building. That couldn't be further from the truth in this case.
For one, Gostisbehere viewed it as a way to better his future with the Flyers, not as a punishment and not with a sense he was not wanted. He used it as motivation.
"It’s definitely motivating," Gostisbehere said. "Not the best thing in the world. It actually sucks. You take positives from it. Be a good teammate about it. Can’t just feel bad for yourself."
The thing about Gostisbehere is that he so quickly endeared himself to the fan base. He picked up his first career point in his first game at the NHL level last season, the third overall in his career. His first goal came in the next game. He scored 17 goals and had 46 points in 64 games, sometimes single-handedly turning the Flyers around.
So in 50 games this season, only four goals and 22 points is a bit of a step backwards, a sophomore slump. At the same time, the best players find a way to get out of that.
It may not happen this year, now that the season is 56 games old for the Flyers and just 26 remain. But Gostisbehere has shown a dedication to the Flyers by keeping a level of maturity that many players wouldn't have at his age. That's a start for turning things around for the young defenseman who is such a fan favorite.