VOORHEES, N.J. >> Entering the second half of an increasingly interesting season, the Flyers will receive a welcome blue-line and power-play boost Saturday.
Shayne Gostisbehere, who has missed the past two games with a lower-body situation, was among a seven-defenseman rotation at practice Friday at the Skate Zone, then proclaimed himself ready to face the visiting New York Rangers Saturday at 1 p.m.
While predictably vague about the possibility at first, coach Dave Hakstol warmed to the idea, eventually admitting that the point-producing defenseman would return to the No. 1 power play unit in a meaningful game for many reasons, even with literally half of the season still to play.
“You want to have a healthy roster,” Hakstol said, after practice. “We’ve played well the last couple of games with ‘Ghost’ out. We’ll look to play well when he gets back in. He brings an offensive-attack mentality. But at baseline, it’s like any one of our defensemen. He’s got to defend well. He’s got to move the puck out of the zone well. And for him, he can bring an offensive element that is very valuable to the game.”
In 23 games since being promoted to the Flyers, the 22-year-old defenseman has scored seven goals. Four have come on the power play. Even as the Flyers have won their last four, they have struggled on the power play, going 1-for-13, including 0-for-3 in a 3-2 victory over the Bruins on Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center.
“I don’t think it’s specific to him,” Hakstol said. “I think we’ve been sporadic over the last couple of games. I think we have to be, maybe, a little more single-minded in terms of getting pucks to the net. And that’s not about one guy. We have two power-play units, five guys on each unit. I think we can be a little bit better.”
Thursday, Ron Hextall expressed optimism that Gostisbehere would be ready to play Saturday. And while the defenseman was not necessarily skating in any one pairing at practice Friday, his game-speed activity was an indication that he would dress against the Rangers.
“I mean, I haven’t really been told yet, but I feel good out there,” said Gostisbehere, roundly believed to have been dealing with a groin issue. “I feel like I am ready to go.”
The practice was neither long nor revealing, with Gostisbehere blending in among the seven defensemen. Hakstol maintained the option to use all seven against the Rangers, though he sounded more likely to scratch one in order to accommodate Gostisbehere’s return.
“We have seven ‘D’ and we rotate,” Gostisbehere said. “They haven’t told us any set pairs yet. I was just rolling with it out there.”
Gostisbehere stressed that he had not suffered any setback, and that he was feeling 100 percent healthy.
“Yeah, I feel great,” he said. “I feel I am ready to go out there. So whatever happens, happens.
“I think the time off would have done anyone well,” he added. “I feel great out there.”
With that, he was ready to help the Flyers in the second half of the season, beginning with a game with deep Metro Division meaning. Benefitting from the lift they’ve received from Gostisbehere, the Flyers have closed within six points of the Rangers, with two games in hand.
“Obviously, it’s a huge two points for us,” Gostisbehere said. “We are going through a real nice streak, too. That’s important to us, too. We’re not going to worry about anyone else. We are going to worry about us and winning games.”