In Pronger's absence, Carle is Mr. Consistent for Flyers

Boston's Patrice Bergeron goes airborne over Flyers' Ville Leino.
Boston's Patrice Bergeron goes airborne over Flyers' Ville Leino.
Posted: January 14, 2011

BOSTON - Since his arrival in Philadelphia prior to last season, Chris Pronger has helped no one on the Flyers' roster more than partner Matt Carle.

And at the same time, Pronger has hurt no one more than Carle.

Pronger, who has missed the last 10 games with a foot injury but will join the Flyers today in Atlanta for practice, has helped Carle become a more poised, well-rounded player as well as post his best all-around statistical season.

Carle went from 24 points and a plus-2 rating in 2008-09, his first with the Flyers, to 35 points and a plus-19 rating last season alongside Pronger.

Yet cynics around the league chalk up Carle's success to playing with Pronger, as if Pronger holds Carle's hand when they skate.

"The thing about Matt is that he's consistent," coach Peter Laviolette said. "It's not like there's been an offensive barrage out of Matt Carle since Pronger's been out of the lineup. He just continues to go about his business. It's more of just a steady influence of doing the right things.

"Sometimes when you're on defense there's a lot of noise that's made because of things that are going wrong. And yet he consistently goes out there and does good things and quietly gets his job done."

In the 12 games without Pronger this season, Carle has carried the Flyers' defense corps with five assists and a plus-5 rating. He also logs the second-most minutes without Pronger in the lineup, behind only Kimmo Timonen. Even though last night's loss to Boston was a bumpy one for Carle, who was a -3 in 19:12 of ice time, it doesn't diminish his overall body of work so far this season.

And most of his teammates named Carle as one of the deserving players snubbed by this week's All-Star selections, a point not surprising to Laviolette.

Carle would be the No. 1 defenseman on at least half of the NHL's teams.

"I think guys like Matt do fly under the radar sometimes. There are some big names back on that blue line with 'Prongs' and Kimmo," Laviolette said. "When you talk about All-Star Games, a lot of times, it is statistical. You don't see a lot of good, defensive defensemen being called."

Carle, though, was stunned to receive so much respect from his teammates.

"It's been a different season with 'Prongs' being out," Carle said. "I'm certainly surprised about hearing that people included my name for the All-Star selection. It's something that you don't really think about during the season, you reflect on and evaluate after the season's done."

He then paused for 3 seconds, thinking about his ride with the Flyers to the top of the Eastern Conference. But there was no shameless self-promotion or boasting, the same quiet player off the ice.

"Looking back on it, I think I've had a good first half," Carle said. "I'm just trying to build on it."

Walker debuts

Flyers defenseman Matt Walker surprisingly made his season debut last night after general manager Paul Holmgren activated him from the long-term injured reserve and Peter Laviolette inserted him in the lineup in favor of healthy scratch Oskars Bartulis.

Walker had yet to play this season because of back-to-back hip surgeries on Oct. 20 and Dec. 16.

"He hasn't played since last April," Holmgren said. "But at some point, we wanted to get him back in the lineup. I know he's feeling real good, probably the best he's felt in a long time.

"I talked to [Laviolette] about it and he slept on it. I don't think he likes changing the lineup when we're winning, but sometimes you've got to do what you've got to do."

With his sudden return to the lineup, just 4 weeks after his Dec. 16 surgery that supposedly required 6 weeks of rehab, some wondered whether Holmgren might be showcasing Walker for a trade. Walker, after all, was wearing a noncontact jersey just last week in practice.

But Holmgren said the difference between Walker now and in training camp - regarding how he is moving on the ice - is like "night and day." So, the Flyers activated Walker's $1.7 million salary, leaving them approximately $1.9 million in acquisition space, according to assistant general manager Barry Hanrahan.

Bartulis played the last nine games since Chris Pronger went down with a foot injury on Dec. 15 in Montreal but did not pick up any points. He is a minus-4 this season.

Walker was acquired from Tampa Bay in the offseason, along with a fifth-round pick, for Simon Gagne. The truth is that Walker, 30, would likely be a top four defenseman on most NHL teams but has been hindered in Philly by his injuries and the Flyers' depth at defense.

"His physicality and presence are going to help us," Holmgren said. "Two years ago, he played 17 games in the playoffs with Chicago. I'm excited to see how he does in our lineup."

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