Flyers surviving without Pronger
TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency
|Philadelphia Flyers' Scott Hartnell texts on his phone as he sits with teammate Claude Giroux during their NHL All-Star hockey skills competition a few weeks ago in Ottawa. (REUTERS)
Chris Pronger made the rounds in the Philadelphia Flyers dressing room on Wednesday morning, letting his teammates know in a rare visit that he’s doing okay as he recovers from a concussion.
Truth be told, the Flyers have not missed a beat without their captain, who has not played since Nov. 19. Though a loss against the Maple Leafs on Thursday would give the Flyers their first four-game losing streak of 2011-12, by no means is this a team in a heap of trouble like, say, the Ottawa Senators.
With 67 points, the Flyers are in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and are on their way to a fifth consecutive playoff appearance.
Filling the gap created by Pronger’s absence has been done by several players, and remember, this is a group that also doesn’t have last season’s captain, Mike Richards, who was traded to the Los Angeles Kings last summer.
“He looked a little down, I’m not going to lie,” forward Scott Hartnell said of Pronger, who did not speak to reporters. “But seeing him at the rink was good, and for him to be here lifted his spirits.
“We miss him, but everyone leads in different ways and we have a great room. (Claude) Giroux is a big catalyst, (Danny) Briere is a veteran guy and Kimmo (Timonen) is one of the steadiest defencemen in the league. Those three guys along with everyone else is getting it done the right way.”
Hartnell is as much an influential player as the others. Get past his shaggy do and it’s worth noting that with 25 goals, Hartnell, playing on a line with Giroux and Jaromir Jagr, is close to eclipsing his NHL high of 30.
“With the change we have had in our room this year, you can really count on his veteran leadership,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. “He’s a good teammate and a good friend to a lot of guys in here.”
Every team has a bugaboo through the course of the regular season, and for the Flyers, it’s the shootout. They’re 1-5 in games decided after overtime and goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, has allowed eight goals on 10 shootout breakaways. The latest setback came on Tuesday against the New York Islanders, when John Tavares and Frans Nielsen beat Bryzgalov in a 1-0 Isles shootout victory.
“In the shootout, it feels like it is a soccer net behind me,” Bryzgalov said. “(Otherwise) I feel very comfortable, very concentrated on the game right now. Nothing bothers me on the outside.”
The Flyers didn’t have much time to dwell on it, though they spent a significant chunk of practice on Wednesday on shootout drills. The Leafs are back for their first visit since Mikhail Grabovski’s accidental high stick in October apparently got Pronger going on the path to a season-ending concussion.
“(Joffrey) Lupul is coming off back surgeries, and he was probably almost thinking of retirement,” Hartnell said. “For him to have an all-star year, it’s great to see.
“This is tight hockey at this time of year. We just want to keep those guys off the power play and play hard five-on-five on them.”