You may not have expected the defensive performance you got Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center. One of your vocal leaders on the ice, your biggest defensive presence and perhaps the league’s most despised player was not out there.
In fact, the Flyers will be without Chris Pronger for the foreseeable future. The towering defenseman underwent surgery on Friday and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. That means it will be up to the surrounding corps to step it up, which is something they said they could do and then proved they could do Saturday afternoon.
“Obviously we missed him out there. He is a great guy to have on the back end and have a consistent guy on the ice,” Flyers captain Mike Richards said after Saturday’s game. “But, I thought everyone did a good job stepping up and playing extra minutes and keeping the game simple.”
This year, the Flyers defense is a lot deeper than it’s been in years past. Andrej Mezsaros and Sean O’Donnell, who were both acquired back on July 1, via a trade and free agency respectively, have stepped up and proven to be huge off-season acquisitions.
Meszaros, a 6’5” 25-year-old, is leading the league in plus/minus and establishing himself as a reliable contributor. In Pronger’s absence, Meszaros has been given the nod of confidence by his head coach to move up to the top defensive pairing.
“The Rangers are playing pretty well lately, and we just wanted to make sure we came out strong,” Meszaros said at practice Sunday. “We wanted to play our game, even if we were missing Prongs. He’s a huge part of our team, but I think we responded pretty well. And hopefully we can keep it up.”
O’Donnell, who came in as a highly touted veteran free agent, has not been getting a ton of attention this season. But sometimes, that’s the best thing that can be said about a defenseman. O’Donnell’s game can be summed up with one word — consistent. He’s not an in your face type player, not a big talker or a huge score, he’s a guy who plays a fundamentally sound game and day-in and day-out is there when you need him.
“All together our defense has been really good, and our forwards help out too, they do a good job and they help out,” said goalie Brian Boucher. “[Oskars Bartulis] did a nice job stepping in today, and the other guys like Meszaros and O’Donnell are up in the league lead in plus/minus so obviously they are doing their job this year. All together everyone has been good all year, it’s good to see guys do it without the big guy today.”
Although Bartulis has been active for just four games this year, he has stayed and practiced with the big-club, rather than heading down to Adirondack where he could see more playing time. That is a decision he hopes will put him in a better position to seamlessly be inserted into the lineup.
The Flyers defense certainly has their work cut out for them for the next month or so. However it’s something that the team seems confident they can handle. “If you’re asking me if we’d rather have Chris Pronger healthy, then the answer is yes, we would,” Laviolette said. “He’s an elite defenseman. But he’s not here, and I thought our guys played really well.”
The Flyers look to continue their current streak when they take on the Florida Panthers at the Wells Fargo Center tomorrow night. After that they are off until the 28th, when they begin a long, five-game road trip in Vancouver.