With the season officially 10 games old for the Flyers, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the state of the team. Fortunately, the Flyers are 7-2-1 in their first 10 and have won four straight. While I have definitely been critical in my previous posts, it cannot go without mention that at the end of the day, they are winning games and that is something to be excited about. One way or another, they have found themselves in the win column more often than not, and I think there’s one reason for that isn’t being talked about enough right now. That is the play of Shayne Gostisbehere.
Before the season started, Ghost was put on the COVID list. As a player coming off a season that saw him in and out of the lineup due to injury and a down year, hearing that had to be difficult to deal with mentally. Sure, he’s a young, elite level athlete, so risk of serious problems from the disease were low. That being said, it’s still something you don’t want to hear, especially after a strong training camp leading into a hopeful rebound season. I can only imagine what was going through his head. After all he went through last year and all the work he put in to come back, it had to be deflating.
The reason I put such an emphasis on how he had to feel mentally has a lot to do with the player Flyers fans expected Ghost to be. For those of you who need a reminder, Ghost burst onto the scene in 2015-16 with 17 goals and 46 points in 64 games, making him a finalist for the Calder. Flyers fans thought we had the next Erik Karlsson at a time where the blue line was the team’s biggest weak point. A career high 65 points in the 2017-18 season restored hopes after a sophomore slump. And then, things seemed to drop off dramatically. I mentioned earlier the knee injury, and Ghost’s game as a whole just wasn’t where it was supposed to be. That had to be difficult enough to deal with given how hard Philadelphia fans and media tend to be on players. But to add COVID to it? That had to hurt.
Well, recently Ghost has made his return to the lineup, and boy, has it been noticed. In the games he missed, the Flyers went 3-2-1, and it was painfully obvious that defense was the number one issue. The Flyers gave up six goals on two separate occasions, and one was against a lesser Sabres team. Then Ghost came back and the team immediately improved defensively. Are they great? Not by any means, you can look at my weekly recaps. However, they have gradually improved and have given up no more than three goals in the last four games, one being a garbage time goal and the other being some other defenseman who doesn’t belong in the NHL (you know the one).
While Ghost only has one point in the four games he’s played, he looks more sound defensively and more dynamic. He reminds me of his younger self, to be honest. His agility and ability to fake out players at the blue line to get a shot off is back and he makes more sound decisions on the breakout. Hell, the Scott Laughton OT goal against the Islanders on Saturday doesn’t happen without Ghost stopping the opposing rush dead at his own blue line and making a perfect outlet pass.
What I’m trying to say in far too many words is: at a time where the Flyers needed defensive help more than anything, for Ghost to come in and play the 20+ minutes a night at the level he’s done has been nothing short of exactly what the team needs. He fills the empty spot on the top pair well, and I’m hopeful that he’ll continue to improve and give the Flyers a dynamic 1-2 punch on the back end. We’ll see how he plays against a strong offensive team like Boston this week, but I expect him to do well.