Dave Hakstol sent his first true shot across the bow, or in this case the locker room, last week.
The Flyers second-year coach lit the fuse when he announced the shocking news that defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere would sit out last Thursday’s game against the Jets as a healthy scratch.
Hakstol, who mostly downplayed the move, said Gostisbehere’s defensive performance had dipped the last few weeks and could benefit by watching a game from the press box. Even Gostisbehere took the high road, adding how much he learned while watching from the press box for most of the season two years ago while sitting out with an injury.
However, make no mistake. The benching was a stern message to Gostisbehere but also a subtle one to the entire team.
Using a star player like Gostisbehere, who was a finalist for the Rookie of the Year Award last year, as an example, Hakstol let his players know that if their play is not up to snuff, they will be removed from the lineup — regardless of what is written on the back of the jersey.
Consider it delivered.
“Honestly, it doesn’t matter what your name is. You have to perform,” said Flyers goalie Steve Mason, who has found himself on the bench this season following a poor game, following Thursday’s win. “Hak makes the decisions here as to who’s in the lineup. I don’t think Ghost is going to be feeling sorry for himself and nobody is going to be sorry for him. When you are in the lineup, you have to perform. If you don’t, Hak’s going to take you out.
“It just goes to show you, Ghost is obviously an important player on the team, but everybody has to perform. There are no free rides so to speak here.”
Gostisbehere said all of the right things when it was announced and then responded on the ice 48 hours later. He played a had a team-high 23:32, had three shots, 11 attempts and was a minus-1 during Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the Lightning.
“I thought he played a good hockey game today,” Hakstol said Saturday. “We knew he’d come out and play well and he came out and played with confidence and, overall, did a good job.”
Statistically, Gostisbehere is having a fine sophomore season offensively. One year after taking the NHL by storm with 17 goals and 29 assists in 64 games, he has three goals and seven assists through the first 18 games.
Defensively, though, Gostisbehere has made mistakes and carries a minus-5 into Tuesday’s game with the Panthers.
“I just went out there and played my game,” Gostisbere said Saturday. “I was just trying to get pucks in the net and play offensively, but also trying to be sound defensively as well.”
Consider the message heard loud and clear.