It’s easy to tell when Shayne Gostisbehere plays his best hockey: He plays with a self-assuredness that reminds you of his spectacular rookie season.
That was way back nearly six seasons ago when he finished runner-up for the Calder Trophy (NHL rookie of the year).
Since then, there have been some highs and lows – more lows of recent vintage due to a pair of knee surgeries and then a two-week layoff because of a case of COVID in January.
But now, paired with former partner Ivan Provorov, the “Ghost’’ is playing with that old confidence. In a 3-2 overtime win over the Islanders on Saturday night, he posted his 200th NHL point as a Flyer.
With Gostisbehere’s knees back at full speed, coach Alain Vigneault is expecting big things from the 27-year-old Pembroke Pines, Florida native.
And Gostisbehere is expecting equally prodigious results himself.
It starts with the presence of Provorov, the team’s No. 1 backliner, on his flank. It’s a demanding spot, namely because you’re going against the NHL’s elite.
“When you play with Provy it’s a big role, a big opportunity,’’ Gostisbehere said during a late Sunday afternoon media Zoom call from the Wells Fargo Center. “I think playing with him, it gets my level of confidence and level of play up.
“I’m being on my toes every shift. You can’t take a shift off. When you’re playing with him, you’re playing against the top lines. You definitely want to do well and get the job done.’’
>Konecny returns to lineup
After sitting out one game as a healthy scratch, Travis Konecny returned to the lineup for Sunday night’s game against the Islanders.
If Vigneault was trying to send a message to the rest of the team, he got the attention of all his players.
“It just shows he’s going to hold every player accountable no matter who you are,’’ Gostisbehere said. “I’ve been in TK’s situation before and I think he’s been in this situation before.
“He’s going to respond, we know he is. He’s a great player, he’s one of the top forwards on our team. For him to sit back and watch, take that in, it definitely didn’t sit well with him. For us to go far, we need everyone playing on a high level. Coach knows TK has that, and he just needs to light a fire under his butt a little bit.’’
Added Vigneault: “I just want him to bring his energy, his speed, his quickness to the game. I want him to have that shooting mentality. He’s a good team player.’’
Vigneault wants his forwards to do a better job of supporting the defensemen when the opponent transitions from defense to offense. When the attackers get the jump, the defense can be outmanned and makes it tough to regain puck possession.
“It’s tough (for a defenseman) to make a pass when you’re facing the board and getting hit,’’ Vigneault said. “So forwards have to realize that, they have to buy our ‘D’ a little bit of time, come down low for support.
“If the opposition is two, we need to be three. If the opposition is three, we need to be four. And that’s how you’re capable of breaking hard pressure.’’
Defenseman Robert Hagg returned to the lineup after sitting out two games. Erik Gustafsson came out but Vigneault made it clear the move was not a reflection of Gustafsson’s play. . .In this compressed schedule, there are a number of back-to-back situations. Vigneault said the second game sometimes has a different feel than the first. “It seems that in the second game, there’s even a little extra sense of urgency. Especially for the team that’s lost that first game. Playing an opponent back to back looks a lot like when you start a playoff series . . . those first two games whether you’re at home or on the road. It’s been intense, it’s been physical, there’s been some bad blood. I like the emotion.’’