Shayne Gostisbehere, defense much improved, returning to Flyers lineup vs. Rangers

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Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere (53), skating after the puck in a recent game, will return to the lineup Tuesday against the Rangers.

The Flyers have a Ghost back in their house.

Shayne Gostisbehere, one of the league’s highest-scoring defensemen, returned to practice Monday in Voorhees after the flu caused him to miss Saturday’s 5-3 win in New Jersey.

“Of course, I get it right at the end of the bye week and not at the beginning,” said Gostisbehere, who will return to the lineup Tuesday against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. “Just happy to be back, and good to see the boys get a couple points without me.”

The Flyers (20-15-8) have won four straight and will be facing a 22-17-5 Rangers team that has just three wins in its last 10 games (3-5-2) and doesn’t have a regulation victory since Dec. 19.

The Flyers are one point behind the Rangers, who held the Eastern Conference’s last wild-card spot heading into  Monday’s games.

Since ending their 10-game losing streak, the Flyers are on a 12-4-1 run.

“The biggest thing for our team is finding that consistency now,” Gostisbehere said.

Gostisbehere, who said he was a “little winded” at practice but thinks he will be close to 100 percent after a morning skate Tuesday, entered Monday tied for fifth among NHL defensemen with 32 points (nine goals, 23 assists), and he had a plus-1 rating. He finished minus-21 last season.

The 24-year-old Florida native has added strong defense to his resume this season. He was moved to the top pairing, alongside Ivan Provorov, on Dec. 23, and the two have played well together.

“You just have to be careful,” Gostisbehere said about the differences between playing next to Provorov and his previous partner, defensive-minded Robert Hagg. “I obviously jump up in the play a lot, and so does he [Provorov]. So if I see him going up there, I can’t be too excited to get up there, too. I mean, we have to have one guy back. That’s the biggest adjustment. When I was with Hagger, I was always the first guy that jumped in.”

The fact Provorov can jump into the offense “conserves my energy a little bit,” Gostisbehere said.

Gostisbehere’s defense has improved dramatically over the last year. That he has recovered totally from hip and abdominal surgery — and has more speed and confidence — has played a big role. So has the fact he has a better grasp of his defensive duties and has become proficient at reading plays.

“He’s just so smart positionally,” right winger Wayne Simmonds said. “He may not be the biggest guy, but he probably has one of the best sticks in the league. Not much gets through him, and he usually stops the play before it even gets into the defensive zone. That’s pretty good defense, if you ask me.”

The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Gostisbehere has developed a good understanding of  opponents’ tendencies, enabling him to take away time and space. “I try to play it like if I was on the other side of the puck and what I wouldn’t want a defender to do to me,” he said.

Experience has given Gostisbehere a better feel for when to take risks and jump into the offense.

“From my rookie year to now, I know when to do it and when not to do it,” he said, crediting defensive coach Gord Murphy and head coach Dave Hakstol for his development. “They give me the leeway to make those plays. They don’t want me sitting back and being a defensive defenseman. They want me to make those plays. That’s when I help the team the best. They say it before every period: Do what you do best to help the team. … I step up and make confident plays. Yeah, I have a little sizzle in my game or whatnot, but I think them giving me that leeway to be myself has really changed this year and helped me.”

Added Gostisbehere: “When you get trusted to do something, it instills more confidence and makes you want to play better. Obviously, last year I wasn’t playing against the top lines, and now this year I am.”

Breakaways

The Flyers’ power play has climbed to No. 6 in the NHL (21.9 percent success rate) and it will face a Rangers penalty kill that is tied for No. 2, clicking at 84.3 percent. … Brian Elliott is expected to make his 18th start in the last 19 games.