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Flyers should stop worrying about the playoffs and make 'Ghost' reappear

The Flyers are stuck - not good enough to contend for the Stanley Cup, and not bad enough to be in the running for the No. 1 overall draft pick.

The Flyers are stuck - not good enough to contend for the Stanley Cup, and not bad enough to be in the running for the No. 1 overall draft pick.

They don't have much speed, lack size, and are one of the league's worst five-on-five teams.

And, yet, in today's parity-filled NHL, they are in the playoff hunt for the Eastern Conference's final wild-card spot.

That appears to be one of the reasons behind the recent benchings of young players Travis Konecny - who was injured Monday in his return to the lineup - and Shayne Gostisbehere.

Coach Dave Hakstol said that both players are important parts of the team's future, that the benchings were part of the learning process.

That said, it's fair to wonder if they would have been benched if the Flyers were hopelessly out of playoff contention.

From here, the Flyers should proceed as if the playoffs don't really matter. If this mediocre team gets there, does anyone really see it going beyond the first round?

Play the season for the future - find out about the young kids, including a player or two from the Phantoms - and give them some NHL experience they can use as a building block. And if the team happens to get into the playoffs, consider it a bonus.

The Flyers have tightened up their defense recently, and played conservatively in an effort to win games. It makes for boring hockey with little attack time - think the trap-happy New Jersey Devils of the past - but it keeps them in games.

Is this the identity the Orange and Black wants?

Ah, an identity. The Flyers have been searching for one, and, they started that process by recalling Gostisbehere early last season and wisely making room for fellow defenseman Ivan Provorov this season.

When all is said and done, the young, gifted guns on defense should finally give this team a characteristic to call their own.

Defensemen Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim, currently with the Phantoms, have a good chance to start next season with the Flyers. Phil Myers and Robert Hagg might not be far behind them.

Sprinkle in a high-scoring forward (preferably with size) in free agency - general manager Ron Hextall is overdue to hit a home run in the market - and the Flyers can take legitimate steps forward.

For now, though, they need to build their identity on defense. That includes putting Gostisbehere back in the lineup. Yes, he has struggled on defense, but so have many of the veterans, including stars like Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds.

Gostisbehere, 23, who has been a healthy scratch the last three games, deserves credit for being the last one on the ice at practice and working through things.

"It is what you make it," said the player who scored 17 goals last season, sparked the Flyers to a playoff berth, and finished second in the rookie-of-the-year voting. "I think if I go out there with a bad attitude and feel sorry for myself, it's not going to get any [better]. But if I go out there and learn and listen to my coaches and realize what they're doing for me, I think it'll benefit me in the long run, big time. I mean, when you're a healthy scratch, it's not the best thing in the world, but you make the best of it."

Veteran defenseman Mark Streit, who has replaced Gostisbehere as the power-play quarterback, said it took him a while to figure out the defensive side of the game.

"It definitely takes time, but you have to apply yourself," Gostisbehere said. "It doesn't just come. You have to go out there and put the work in."

While sitting in the press box, Gostisbehere said, he takes "bits and pieces" from what he observes and tries to put the beneficial parts into his game.

There's only so much a fast, gifted player like Gostisbehere can learn from watching. He showed last year he can be a game-changer if used in the right situations. He needs to be put back in the lineup before his confidence takes a hit.

The Flyers need to start building for the future.

Now.

scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull philly.com/flyersblog

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