VOORHEES, N.J. – Confidence can be a tricky thing.
It’s sort of a chicken or the egg thing – you have to play better to be confident but you have to be confident to play better.
Which comes first?
Well, in the case of Shayne Gostisbehere, it was sort of both.
Last year, the Flyer defenseman’s second in the NHL, he pretty much hit bottom midway through the campaign, just months after he was named runnerup for Calder Trophy/NHL Rookie of the Year honors.
He was coming off an off-season abdominal surgery procedure and maybe wasn’t a hundred percent health-wise. His plus-minus dropped to negative double digits.
But after watching some games from the press box, Ghost’s game seemed to do an about-face.
He finished the season on a strong note and this season has picked up where he left off.
Gostisbehere has been among the NHL defense scoring leaders but more importantly, the defensive side of his game has continued to improve.
Wayne Simmonds has noticed the difference.
“Sometimes I think you see things upstairs (in the press box) that’s a little bit different,’’ Simmonds said after Monday’s practice at the Skate Zone. “You get to see the whole overall game, you’re not just seeing the small little things.
“Maybe that did help him. He wasn’t a hundred percent last year and that might have had something to do with it. And confidence as well. I think when you have confidence and you’re riding high, you feel like you can do no wrong.
“He’s a great player so if he has high confidence, he’s going to be one of the best in the league.’’
Pending Monday night action, Gostisbehere’s 32 points stood tied for fifth in the NHL.
Gostisbehere knows that confidence is a big part of his game and it starts by having a strong two-way game which builds trust with his teammates and his coaches.
“It’s a small sample size but the play against Buffalo (where he stole a pass at center ice, leading to a Flyer goal), I stepped up and broke up a couple plays,’’ he said.
“It gives me some confidence. For an offensive guy, confidence is one of the biggest things. You can definitely tell when you aren’t playing with it.’’
He contracted a case of the flu on Friday and had to miss Saturday’s 5-3 win at New Jersey. He skated for the first time on Monday and said he was winded but should be ready to go for Tuesday night’s game against the Rangers at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Now paired with Ivan Provorov, it’s an exciting tandem, capable of excelling at either end of the rink.
Having Provorov at his side can only help in the confidence department.
“Going back to the confidence thing, to step up and make a play like that (like the one against Buffalo), you have to have the confidence to do it,’’ Gostisbehere said. “The moment you hesitate, it’s not going to go your way. It will be a two on one the other way.
“So I think it’s the confidence to step up and do those plays and it’s something I’ve always been doing as a player. Try to anticipate plays and break them up, sooner rather than later. I think it’s come full circle now.’’
Coach Dave Hakstol says Gostisbehere’s ups and downs are simply part of being a young and growing NHL defenseman.
“It’s a process,’’ Hakstol said, “and everybody does it a little bit differently.
“Right now, when Shayne and ‘Provy’ are paired together, they’re defending well together. As importantly, they’re moving those first pucks out of the zone so that they don’t have to defend second plays.’’
Some people believe this could be a defense tandem that you might see for the next 10 years.
“It’s a combination we thought had a chance to work,’’ Hakstol said. “They look good on paper or they don’t look good on paper. . .and then on the ice it’s the exact opposite.
“We discussed that pair. We thought that pair had a chance to be effective for our team. If you break it down, you have one heavy defender with a puck mover. What led to ultimately moving to that pair was Ghost was defending well. The two of them make sense, how they defend and how they move the puck.’’
Slumping Rangers await
The Flyers will face a Rangers team which hasn’t won a game in regulation time since Dec. 19.
Philadelphia has won four games in a row but haven’t fared all that well at the Garden of late so this will be a bit of a challenge.
“They’re still a good team,’’ Claude Giroux said of the Rangers. “They haven’t been winning as much as early in the season. Especially at home, they find ways to win.’’
Over the weekend, the Rangers were outscored 12-4 by the Islanders and Penguins.
“It’s a good test for us,’’ Giroux said. “You look at the standings, it’s a pretty big game.’’