The biggest problem with benching one of your better players may not be about what it does to the player internally but rather externally. Each shift becomes scrutinized, not only for evidence that the lesson took, but for evidence of the type of play that placed him in the press box in the first place.
The Flyers lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning, 3-0, in a Saturday matinee at the Wells Fargo Center, ending a four-game homestand marked by promising stretches of play and missed opportunities. Facing a Lightning team without its top defenseman and now once again without future Hall of Famer Steven Stamkos, the Flyers outshot Tampa Bay, 32-18, and outplayed the Lightning for stretches, but failed to score on three first-period power plays while surrendering quick-strike goals, one in each period, from Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Jonathan Drouin.
Late-November losses, especially for an 8-8-3 team whose second-year coach readily admits to be sorting out the pieces, are hardly crushing. The subplot in this one, defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere's return after a one-game benching, was at least as intriguing and as relevant as the final score, especially given Hakstol's accompanying comment that, "Sometimes you make the right decision, coaching-wise, and sometimes it's not the right decision. But when you base it on good solid thought, usually it turns out good for the player.''
Gostisbehere pledged that it would be, but phenoms are not always rebuilt in a day. So there he was on the game's second shift, almost immediately caught trying to trap a puck along the boards at the Lightning blue line, resulting in Brayden Schenn's defending a muted odd-man rush. There he was after three periods of play and five fruitless power plays, only three of his 11 shots reaching Tampa Bay's goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Vasilevskiy was a big reason the Lightning won for the fourth time in their last five games. "Ghost" was hardly the reason the Flyers lost: They had 21 of their shots blocked, many during those power plays. But he was also not the difference maker who marked his arrival around this time last season: Six of those 21 were shot attempts by Gostisbehere, who began his NHL career with an uncanny knack of finding the net from his perch inside the blue line.
Hakstol, who said Gostisbehere "played a good hockey game. . . with confidence," was asked if teams were playing Gostisbehere differently this season.
"I don't think so,'' he answered. "I think other than the first 15 games last year where people didn't have a book on him. . . . Beyond that I don't see anything different happening from the end of last year until now.''
Here's what's alarming about that. Of Gostisbehere's 17 goals last season, three were scored over the final 23 games, and he scored just once in the Flyers' six-game first-round loss to Washington. At the time it was attributed to the long season and playing with injuries to his hip and abdomen that eventually required surgery. But last week's benching, Saturday's blocked shots, all suggest that book on him needs a good edit.
Asked about this, Gostisbehere said, "I don't know. I don't really focus on them, I just focus on myself. I'm just trying to get the puck to the net. I'm not trying to massage it or anything. . ."
Again, to be fair, he was not the lone reason the Flyers lost Saturday, or the reason they garnered just five points over the four straight games at home.
He just wasn't the reason, as he was at this time last year, that they didn't.
Notes: The Flyers' power play, which entered as the league's second best, has not scored in its last 10 attempts, a span of three games.