If the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs began before Thursday’s games, the Philadelphia Flyers would make it. The Flyers face a challenge in maintaining their grip, and that hill got steeper with Shayne Gostisbehere sidelined.
The team announced that Gostisbehere is expected to miss about three weeks thanks to arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. (The actual procedure is set to take place on Tuesday.)
The Flyers defense already started 2020 on a down note, as Justin Braun could be out through the All-Star break as he deals with a groin injury. Combine those defense injuries to Oskar Lindblom‘s battle with cancer and Nolan Patrick‘s continued migraine issues and the losses start to pile up.
Philly nonetheless stands as the East’s final wild card team thanks to a 23-15-6 record (52 points in 44 games played). The Flyers hold at least a two-point edge over teams underneath them, which isn’t a huge buffer, but it certainly could be worse.
What Flyers lose in Gostisbehere
Look, there’s no denying that Gostisbehere’s seen a significant drop in production.
Clearly, Gostisbehere played a little over his head when he reached 65 points in 2017-18. Otherwise, “Ghost Bear” fell in the 37-46 point range during recent seasons.
Unfortunately, his defensive lapses become tougher to stomach when that offense dries up. And, boy, did it ever dry up this season.
Gostisbehere managed just 12 points in 40 games so far in 2019-20. You can’t really blame puck luck, either; five of his points are goals, and his on-ice shooting percentage actually increased from 2018-19. Gostisbehere’s ice time follows similar patterns. He set an average he may never match in 2017-18 (21:27 TOI per game), settled down last season (19:40) and hit a new low as a full-timer this season (18:21).
Those stats are troubling, and honestly, a little bewildering … but the Flyers will miss even a struggling Ghost.
Without Gostisbehere, Flyers may need to lean on inexperienced players
Gostisbehere averaged 2:36 of his 18:21 TOI on the power play, so that stands out as the first riddle Alain Vigneault must solve.
Judging by Left Wing Lock’s combos, Ghost’s loss could be Travis Sanheim‘s gain. Sanheim only averaged 27 seconds of his 19:52 minutes on the power play, so it will be interesting to see if he plays a bit less in other situations, or merely carries a heavier burden.
In pondering the impact of Gostisbehere’s loss, NBC Sports Philly’s Jordan Hall noted the defense’s inexperience:
Including Wednesday night’s contest, [Matt] Niskanen has played 924 career games, while the other five healthy blueliners have combined to play 692 games — Ivan Provorov at 290, Hagg 178, Travis Sanheim 175, Philippe Myers 47 and [Mark] Friedman two.
It could have been worse
Honestly, when I hear “knee surgery” of any kind, I expect an absence of more than three weeks (or so). Tip your cap to modern medicine, in this case.
The damage seems less severe when you consider mitigating factors like off time, too.
With the bye week + All-Star break coming at the end of the month for the Flyers, a three-week timetable would have Gostisbehere back by the January 31 game against Pittsburgh. Only six actual games missed, again, if the projected timeline holds.
— Charlie O'Connor (@charlieo_conn) January 9, 2020
Of course, things are tight for the Flyers. They can’t merely shrug their shoulders at six games. All things considered, it could have been worse, though.
Also, if Gostisbehere has been slowed by a nagging knee issue, maybe he’ll bounce back? Expecting too big of a rebound in 2019-20 might be foolish, but … hey, modern medicine has come a long way.
This absence will test how far Sanheim, Vigneault, and other Flyers have come, too.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.