PHILADELPHIA – Shayne Gostisbehere is known mostly for his offensive skills but now he’s even making headlines with his defense.
It was there for all to see on Sunday when Gostisbehere executed a steal, leading to a goal which ignited the slow-starting Flyers on a comeback to an eventual 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
Down 1-0 early in the second period, the Sabres were attempting to break out of their end when Scott Wilson tried a pass to teammate Jason Pominville.
But an alert Gostisbehere stepped up, intercepted the pass and later wound up with the puck on a tic-tac-toe play for a goal at 3:42 to tie the score at 1-1.
It was a momentum-changer and the rest of the Flyers took it from there, earning their third straight win (in four days, it should be noted) to head into their bye week on an up note.
Michal Neuvirth started his first game in goal since Nov. 28 and turned in a good performance, stopping all but one of 31 shots.
Meanwhile, Sean Couturier scored a pair of goals against Robin Lehner, including the game-winner during a power play at 7:17 of the second to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead. It stayed that way until Philadelphia added a pair of empty-netters in the closing minutes.
Gostisbehere’s ninth goal gives him 32 points. He’s second among NHL defensemen in both categories.
Teammates have noticed an improvement in Gostisbehere’s game, perhaps dating back to when he was paired with Ivan Provorov in the Columbus road game just before Christmas.
“He definitely more assertive,’’ defenseman Brandon Manning pointed out. “Obviously he’s really confident when he has the puck and he’s making plays out there.
“You know, his game isn’t physical and running guys over. You can see today when he’s reading the opposition, jumping up in the play and picking off pucks, that’s his game. When he’s doing that, he’s really playing well defensively for us.’’
Gostisbehere will acknowledge he’s been working on playing a more complete game. Last year he was playing after undergoing abdominal surgery. This year he looks completely healthy.
And it shows in his confidence level.
“I am just trying to have a good stick,’’ he said. “Just eliminate time and space. I think that’s the biggest thing for myself. Don’t let forwards, obviously to have room to make plays. If I close that down it is going to be harder for them.”
Having a steady defense-first partner like Provorov helps.
“I mean we are puck movers,’’ he said. “Obviously I think for us as a pair I think one of us is jumping up at all times. So it pushes. Teams are aware of that and it pushes their defense back a little bit but the second wave comes in. It’s either Ivan or myself and I think it’s pushing teams back and giving some teams some hard times.”
Communication between the two players is a key.
“Yeah, if I see him I am not going to run up there unless it’s a pivotal point in the game and we are down a goal or something or vice versa,’’ Gostisbehere said. “If I am up there he isn’t going to run up there. It’s not smart puck.”
While the Flyers would like to keep this momentum going, they know they can use this break to rest and recover. They won’t get much time off in the last 40 games down the stretch.
It was nice to close out the homestand with three straight wins and head into the bye on a positive note.
“Yeah, it was important for us to go into the break with a little momentum and you know that’s a big win,’’ Claude Giroux said. “We haven’t been successful against Buffalo this year and being able to get the win is huge for us.’’
Coach Dave Hakstol isn’t sure his team needs a break but it is what it is.
“I don’t know if we need any recovery time to be honest with you,’’ he said. “We’ve got it now in front of us and we’ll try and take advantage of it and come back. We have one good hard work day (practice this Friday before a game in New Jersey on Saturday) and right back into games. That’s going to be a quick turnaround. We’ll take the advantage of a few days of rest here and hopefully be able to turn that into a good return when we come back.”