Newcomers beef up Flyers' defense

The Flyers' Andrej Meszaros , upending the Hurricanes' Jeff Skinner on Thursday, has added depth to the defense.
The Flyers' Andrej Meszaros , upending the Hurricanes' Jeff Skinner on Thursday, has added depth to the defense.
Posted: November 13, 2010

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren retooled the defense in the off-season, trying to take some of the load - and minutes - from veterans Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen.

So far, his moves have worked better than anyone could have expected.

Not only have newcomers Andrej Meszaros and Sean O'Donnell given the Flyers' formidable defense some depth, but they have been among the most effective blue-liners in the NHL - at least based on their plus-minus figures.

O'Donnell, a 16-year veteran who was a teammate and close friend of Pronger's when they played in Anaheim, entered Friday tied for fourth in the NHL at plus-10. Meszaros, O'Donnell's defensive partner, was tied for ninth in the league at plus-9.

Not bad for two guys who compose the Flyers' third defensive duo.

"They're a good pair, and they can play against anybody," coach Peter Laviolette said Friday after practice in Voorhees.

Laviolette said the duo's plus-minus numbers were "a pretty fair indication of how their season has gone to this point; they've been very steady for us, very reliable."

The 6-foot-2, 218-pound Meszaros was acquired from Tampa Bay for a second-round draft pick in 2012. He had two underachieving years in Tampa, and the Flyers hoped he would return to the form he showed when he played in Ottawa.

Meszaros, 25, has done just that. He has been one of the Flyers' most physical players - he is third on the team in hits - and has found a comfort level playing alongside O'Donnell.

"Odie's a very experienced guy, obviously," Meszaros said. "He's very smart with the puck, and we just try to talk on the ice as much as we can and help each other out; it's been working so far, so hopefully it will continue."

O'Donnell said he and Meszaros have quickly developed a chemistry. O'Donnell said he had a couple of pucks hop over his stick in Thursday's 8-1 romp over Carolina "and he covered up for me. When you're playing with a guy who understands the little things in the game, it makes it a lot easier."

At 39, O'Donnell has showed no signs of slowing down. After Holmgren phoned him minutes into the July 1 free-agency period, O'Donnell didn't need much time to think about the one-year, $1.3 million offer. Still, he immediately called Pronger to get his perspective on the organization.

"I said, 'What do you think?' That's when he really kind of told me what was going on and kind of gave me the pitch," O'Donnell said. "It didn't take a lot of convincing, and within an hour or two of free agency, I was a Flyer."

Part of a defense that - combined with the Pronger-Matt Carle and Timonen-Braydon Coburn pairings - is arguably the NHL's best.

Leighton update

Goalie Michael Leighton, rehabbing his surgically repaired back, continues to make strides at practice and said he would not object if asked to go to the AHL Phantoms for a tune-up.

"Obviously, I have to get back to game shape and get used to playing games again," he said.

Leighton said he is trying to regain strength in one of his legs and ankles. "It seems like the movements I am doing, I'm doing very slow," he said. "I have to get that strength back, but I'm definitely making progress."

The goalie will visit a doctor Tuesday and hopes to be cleared "to do everything and start doing full practices."

Breakaways

On Saturday night, the surging Flyers host Florida, which is last in the Southeast Division and coming off Friday's game against Minnesota. . . . Sergei Bobrovsky, the Flyers' unflappable Russian goalie, is starting to pick up English. When Flyers public-relations manager Joe Siville asked him, "What's up?" Bobrovsky replied, "Not much. Just chillin'." Entering Friday, Bobrovsky was second in the NHL in wins (nine), sixth in save percentage (.931), and seventh in goals-against average (2.09). . . . Danny Briere and Jeff Carter were tied for 10th in the NHL with eight goals apiece. Carter was tied for first in the league with three game-winning goals. . . . Timonen entered Friday tied for third with 40 blocked shots, while Pronger was tied for 12th with 35, and Carle was 20th with 33. . . . The Flyers are 7-0-1 in their last eight games.


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at 215-854-5181 or scarchidi@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BroadStBull.

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