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Practice update: The case for the defense

Competition remains as Flyers continue on with eight healthy defensemen

by Brian Smith | PhiladelphiaFlyers.com @NHLFlyers / http://www.philadelphiaflyers.com

Twenty-four hours after The Scratch Heard Round Flyers Nation, things appeared to be trending Friday towards Shayne Gostisbehere returning to the Flyers lineup on Saturday afternoon when the Tampa Bay Lightning come to town. Gostisbehere watched Thursday's win over Winnipeg from the press box, and wanted to turn the evening into a positive.
 
"The game just slows down a bit when you're up there," Gostisbehere said. "You see things develop. I'm not always watching the puck up there either, I'm watching other guys. Obviously it was a different vantage point up in the sky, but I was most happy about the two points our team had. We played a great defensive game and Mase really stood on his head and helped us out there. It was a great team win."

The move generated more armchair analysis than perhaps anything else Dave Hakstol has done in the time he's been with the Flyers. From the coach's perspective, he's hoping that the one game away pays dividends both short-term and long-term for Gostisbehere.
 
"It's easy to take some of the moves that we make in a negative way, but that's not the case," Hakstol said. "For young players, it's a learning process. I used the word yesterday, accountability. And most importantly, just taking positive steps forward as you become a more consistent and more effective player on a daily basis at this level. That's not an easy step for young players to make."
 
The reason Hakstol has the option to do what he did Thursday night is the Flyers now have eight healthy defensemen, all of whom are capable of contributing to the team's success. Video: Hakstol on development of young players

Andrew MacDonald returned from injury Thursday, so the Flyers will be picking two healthy defensemen to leave out of the lineup until further notice.
 
"I thought [MacDonald] did a good job, in a couple of factors - for the amount of time he's been out, and for the type and style of play of the team we were playing against, that's not an easy team to play against," Hakstol said. "I thought he did a pretty good job and got more and more comfortable throughout the game."
 
One of the keys for Hakstol in managing that situation is the professionalism of those who do sit.
 
"It's difficult to have a great veteran like Nick Schultz out of the lineup for an extended period of time," Hakstol said. "But that's part of the team atmosphere. The guys that we have out of the lineup right now are great pros. They go out and do their work and they do it to a high level. In that way they keep themselves ready when they do come back in the lineup, and they continue to make the team better by doing their job at a high level."
 
Of course, it's no secret the Flyers have let too many goals in as a team this season. As they continue to work at it, the outlook now is simply starting fresh and moving forward - they could average a goal and a half allowed per game through Christmas and still be in the middle of the pack as far as a full season average. Their hope is that Thursday's game is the start of a renaissance as far as defensive play.
 
"We've addressed it a bunch of times now as far as keeping our foot on the gas, not sitting back and allowing teams to gain momentum and gain opportunities, and we did a good job of that," said defenseman Michael Del Zotto. "It's one game though, and it's one thing we've stressed all year is consistency. We just have to continue doing that moving forward. We can't settle or get complacent on one third period or one big win. We have a big test tomorrow against a great hockey club, and we just have to keep carrying momentum and keep getting better as a team each day."

The next test for the Flyers is a Saturday matinee when they face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning at 1 p.m. to close out their four-game homestand. The Lightning are winners of three straight, but will play without star center Steven Stamkos, who is out indefinitely with a knee injury.Video: Gostisbehere on sitting out last night's game

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