Better With Popcorn

Has Gus Earned A Spot? Laviolette Talks About The Rookie With Missanelli

On Monday afternoon, Philadelphia Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette conducted a phone interview with Mike Missanelli of Philadelphia’s 97.5 The Fanatic to discuss all things Flyers hockey.

The interview was a light one, which was undoubtedly due to the upbeat attitude of Laviolette who was only a day removed from coaching his team to a commanding 5-1 win in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, effectively eliminating the Pittsburgh Penguins from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The two discussed a varying degree of topics; the joy of eliminating the Penguins, the emergence of Claude Giroux and the prospects of who the Flyers second round opponent would be (Laviolette expressed that he didn’t care who it was, because he had no say over who it was going to be).

But the most interesting part of the interview was when the topic of Flyers rookie defenseman, Erik Gustafsson came up.

Fresh off only the second playoff game of his career, Gustafsson managed to open the eyes of many with an impressive performance in Game 6. Registering the team’s third goal of the game, he also managed to block seven shots and played over 22 minutes of ice-time, the second most minutes he’s ever played.

Obviously, Laviolette was just as impressed as everyone else was.

“Yea, it’s hard to talk about one person [because] it was such a great team win,” he said to Missanelli. “But certainly Gus had a real strong game. He used his quickness and body positioning to defend some great players out there.”

Laviolette noted that Gustafsson had bounced around between the minors and the main roster, but expressed that it was never due to his abilities. He feels that the 23-year old has made great strides in his development and stated out right that Sunday afternoon was his best game as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Which begs the question that everyone is asking; has Gus earned a permanent spot in the lineup?

Laviolette’s quote above was in response to that very question. Obviously, he never outright answered and sidestepped it with a wonderful compliment of his young defenseman. Considering that the team may have off until this weekend, it doesn’t make sense for the Flyers headman to box himself into a decision.

However, it has become clear that there is a spot on the defense that is up for grabs.

Pavel Kubina played a total of 4:31 in Sunday’s Game 6. He took four shifts in the first period and then two shifts in the rest of the game (one in each period). On the one shift he did play in the second, he was burned terribly and allowed the Penguins to develop a mini three-on-one attack within the Flyers zone. In Game 5, he only played 6:52.

It’s clear that Kubina is a liability in the defensive zone. While he brings the benefits of a defenseman with size who has won a Stanley Cup, the cons are heavily outweighing the pros at this time.

In terms of Gustafsson, it’s probably not likely that his performance in Game 6 is what Flyers fans should expect every game, but it displayed that he deserves a shot to play. At the very least, he could manage the five-to-seven minutes of ice time that Kubina played over the last two games (even with a poor effort in Game 5, Gus still played 11:51 almost double Kubina's total).

Assuming that Nicklas Grossmann is able to play in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, it shouldn’t be a surprise if Gustafsson is dressing in the place of Kubina. Even if Grossmann isn’t able to play, it should be expected that Gustafsson would at least have the opportunity to earn extended ice-time. If he proves that he can't handle either scenario, then they can replace him. Really can't hurt to give it a try.

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