How Andrew MacDonald got his confidence, game back

NEW YORK — Andrew MacDonald won’t contest that last season’s campaign was a rather awful way to start a contract extension.

His six-year, $30 million deal kicked in and his game was way off. Part of that was due to the fact that the Flyers were carrying eight defensemen for a good portion of the year and they were waiting to see if Kimmo Timonen would make a comeback.

In other words, everyone was on a short leash.

“I think when I signed I never really anticipated being in that type of situation, but that’s the way things worked out,” MacDonald said. “Obviously your play dictates that and it is tough. You think if you’re gonna make a mistake and you might come out and I think everyone’s had to deal with that at some point in their lives. It was tough to recover from last year.”

To start this season, the Flyers sent him down to the American Hockey League because, once again, they had too many blueliners. He was put on waivers and no one claimed him because his contract was too expensive.

MacDonald is now back with the Flyers, recalled for the foreseeable future as Michael Del Zotto is hurt and out indefinitely. Instead of sulking in the minors, he got his game back on track.

“I feel much better about where my game’s at now than I have at any point over the last two years,” said MacDonald, who has 14 assists in his nine game point streak with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. “It’s nice to have that confidence and that feeling coming back up.”

He was here for one game this season, a shootout loss to the Islanders on Dec. 8, but played well. His game had already improved even at that point. General manager Ron Hextall said that MacDonald’s game is vastly different to that of last year.

“I was impressed with his play when he came up for one game with us,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “I thought he did a great job and stepped in and played like a confident veteran and he added to our team that day, I’m confident he will come in and do the exact same thing. He’s a good player.”

When he was sent down, even MacDonald wasn’t so sure he felt like a good player. He tried to channel his inner Mark Wotton, his first captain in the AHL with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, who taught him how to react to things.

“He played some NHL games, but predominately he was in the American League,” MacDonald said of Wotton, who played 896 AHL games and 43 NHL games. “He was an older guy and just the way he carried himself and the way he was able to command the room without being a rah-rah guy at all, I gained so much respect for him. The way he respected everyone, there’s no reason to treat anyone poorly or react negatively in any way. That goes a long way.”

It also helped that Phantoms coach Scott Gordon would bring MacDonald in early this season and go over game film with him.

“Sometimes you might just be told you’re not playing and not know why,” MacDonald said. “I think for a lot of those guys (on the Phantoms) they’re fortunate because he’s explaining to them, showing them video all the time about things that they can do better.”

There’s also confidence for MacDonald in playing with Shayne Gostisbehere, the Flyers’ rookie phenom. The two were a pair for the 14 games Gostisbehere played with the Phantoms this season before being recalled.

Now MacDonald feels comfortable, at least enough to play through the feeling that he might not be safe in the lineup.

“At times last year I felt as if I couldn’t make the right play ever,” he said. “It’s just always in your head. I think now I’m just able to go out there and trust my instincts and get my feet moving when I get the puck and little things like that instead of kind of thinking too much about what you want to do with it.”

Not looking ahead

The Flyers went into Sunday’s game against the Rangers still five points out of a playoff spot, having not picked up too much ground. With more games approaching against Eastern Conference teams and thus an opportunity to make up ground, the Flyers are trying to live in the moment.

“A little bit of mental focus and mental toughness, whatever you want to call it,” Hakstol said. “You have to focus on the job at hand. It’s no different than any other day. You take care of little things. The details. The big picture has a way of taking care of itself. We just have to apply that type of focus.”

Loose Pucks

After two games as healthy scratches, Matt Read and Scott Laughton went back into the lineup for Jordan Weal and Sam Gagner. … Defenseman Evgeny Medvedev returned to the lineup in place of Brandon Manning.

Dave Isaac; (856) 486-2479; disaac@gannettnj.com

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