Erik Gustafsson was awarded for his patience.
Gustfasson was one of the Flyers’ best defensemen during the latter part of last season, and he then excelled in the IIHF World Championships in May, playing on the top pairing and helping Sweden win the title.
And then he was a healthy scratch in the Flyers’ first five games this season.
“Obviously you want to play all the games, but I don’t think I played as well as I should have in camp,” Gustafsson said after Monday’s practice in Voorhees.”…I know I have a lot of improvements to make in my game.’’.
Gustfasson, 24, replaced veteran Andrej Meszaros and made his season debut Saturday in Detroit on Saturday, scoring a goal in the Flyers’ closer-than-it-looks 5-2 loss.
“I thought he played well,” coach Craig Berube said. “He adds speed back there, puck moving and he’s a competitive guy and kind of all-around player.”
Meszaros, 27, coming off an injury-plagued season, is an expensive healthy scratch as he earns $4 million this season.
“He’s a good player, but I just didn’t see enough from him and I wanted to get Gus in there,” Berube said. “It’s a long year. Mez is working. He worked hard today, skated hard. That’s great. He’s a good pro.”
When Gustafsson wasn’t playing, he stayed on the ice longer than most teammates during practices, working on his shooting and skating. He also spent extra time in the gym with Ryan Podell, the team’s assistant strength and condition coach.
Gustafsson watched the first five games from the press box, and he focused on defensemen Kimmo Timonen and Mark Streit.
“Try to pick up little things,” Gustafsson said.
Gustafsson and Timonen, two similar players, were paired together toward the end of last season and seemed to have a good chemistry. They were together again Saturday.
“I just try to play my game, no matter who I play with,” said Gustafsson, who was not on the ice for an even-strength goal against Sweden and averaged a team-high 24 minutes a game during its championship run. “Sometimes it’s an advantage to have two small, puck-moving guys, sometimes it’s not. You have to try to make quick passes, get out of your end as quickly as possible.’’
Gustafsson, a compact 5-foot-10, 180-pounder, tries to compensate for his small size in other manners.
“Faster decision-making is a huge part of it,” he said. “Also positioning….Maybe stay a little closer (to an opponent), get on the inside. I try to read the play and be there when the puck arrives. Don’t give the forward time to protect it or put it away.’’
Gustafsson said he liked the style used by former coach Peter Laviolette, calling it a “good offensive system. But I think this system suits me as a player better. I really like what Chief is doing _ high, hard forecheck, a lot of skating. He wants to turn around the play real quick, which suits me as a player. Also gives the D a little more chance to join the rush, which I like as well.’’
Asked about his aspirations of making Sweden’s Olympic team, Gustafsson said “all my focus is here with the Flyers. This is my job and this is where I want to play, to be in the top 6 regularly. If I make the Olympics, that would be a huge bonus. If you had asked me a year ago, I probably would have laughed. I think winning the Worlds opened their eyes a little bit, which helped me get the invitation to the Olympic camp this summer. It’s a huge bonus, but my focus is with the Flyers.’’
PP woes. The Flyers are just 2 for 27 (7.4 percent) on the power play, and 0 for their last 15. And their confidence is missing.
“I think right now, we’re just a little nervous sometimes during the game. If one power play goes wrong, we say, ‘Oh (bleep), here we go again,’ ” winger Jake Voracek said, adding that the Flyers have a veteran group and are close to turning it around. “I’m sure if we get a couple lucky bounces, we’re going to get better.”
Breakaways. Emerging Steve Mason (2.02 GAA, .935 save percentage) is expected to face the Canucks’ fading Roberto Luongo (2.99, .898) on Tuesday…..Jack Chevalier, who coined the term Broad Street Bullies for the old Bulletin, and his grandson, Alex, watched practice Monday.
Follow Sam Carchidi on Twitter @BroadStBull.