The NHL playoffs continue, but Shayne Gostisbehere won't be watching. He's had enough hockey for a while and needs a little time to reflect. Who can blame him?
"Right now, there's still a sour taste in our mouth," Gostisbehere said at the Flyers' locker cleanout day earlier this week. "Not happy about it. Gotta move on, take the positives from it."
He'll be able to do that soon enough, because for the rookie nicknamed "Ghost," there were a heck of a lot of positives to be gleaned from his team's short postseason run. As any player who's had a chance to appear in a playoff game knows, the second season is an entirely different animal. On the lengthy list of reasons the Washington Capitals were so heavily favored over the Flyers was this note: Only two players on their roster (and they weren't exactly key contributors) had no playoff experience. A third of the Flyers' skaters hadn't yet had a taste of the postseason.
Experience matters. From the first puck drop against the Caps just over two weeks ago, Gostisbehere was a target. Suddenly, another team was game-planning for him night after night. You saw it throughout all six games of the series; he fared a bit better as the week wore on, but made some uncharacteristic defensive mistakes and, simply put, didn't look like the Gostisbehere of much of the regular season.
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"I think that was the toughest part for me," he said. "The first 30 games that I played was a lot different than the last 30. Of course as people know you a little bit more, they're going to key on you a bit more. It's finding that adjustment period, realizing you can't do as much with limited time and space. You gotta make your plays and trust your teammates and keep pushing."
It's the kind of thing a young player knows in theory, but doesn't truly understand until it happens. Game 1 against the Capitals was a "shock," Gostisbehere admitted. But now he's been through it, and he's equipped for the next time.
"It makes you a better player for having experienced it," he said, "and it prepares you for the future."
And looking at this team and what lies ahead for it, that's important. The Flyers as a whole might not be ahead of schedule (see story), but in his personal development, Shayne Gostisbehere sure is.
Now he knows what to expect when the Flyers of the future reach the playoffs. He's no longer as green, and knows firsthand how to manage his emotions when so much is on the line. Add that to the team and league records he set over the course of the year and the case he's made for the Calder Trophy, and it's almost difficult to wait to see what he'll follow it all up with in 2017.
All that said, as with any young player, there are areas of his game that could use some improvement - both defensively and offensively. Yes, even though he finished the regular season with 46 points, good enough for fifth on the team and first among all defensemen.
"He's got to grow in both areas," coach Dave Hakstol said. "There's no magic formula to that. In his case, he has to continue doing exactly what he's doing. He's got to be a worker day in and day out. He's got to keep his feet on the ground, and he's got to do all these things very intelligently. He's not a secret anymore."
Even if he doesn't beat the odds to win Rookie of the Year honors, Gostisbehere will be far from a secret when the first puck drops next fall. Sophomore seasons are tricky, but he's set up to succeed, in great part because of what he learned during the Flyers' unexpected playoff appearance.
"It didn't end too well, but we gained a lot of experience," Gostisbehere said. "We realize we have a very good team. We're going to keep pushing forward. We have a really bright future."