The Flyers began this season without the goalie they finished the last one with, and without their 30-minute-a-game bigbodied defenseman. The goalie never made it back, the defenseman did, but then Pronger took a puck off his foot in mid-December and he went AWOL once again.
Those are two reasons why the first half of this Flyers hockey season could have resembled the first half of the last one, not a good thing. They are also examples of why it hasn't, of why this season, now 47 games old, has that feeling that special years around these parts have.
I know, I know.
But think about 2008, when the Phillies won it all, and think about how this season has evolved thus far. In Sergei Bobrovsky, who won his 19th game last night, there was a feeling for a while that the next Bernie Parent had been found.
In the well-traveled Brian Boucher, there is a sense that the next Chico Resch has emerged.
This time last year, Ville Leino was languishing on Detroit's bench. He has the fifth highest point total on the club now, which is another characteristic of this team has that suggests a long run, maybe its first championship in 4 decades.
I know, I know.
But you win championships not only because of what your stars do, but because you get big moments from guys like Matt Stairs and Geoff Jenkins and Jamie Moyer.
The Flyers do not have one player among the top 20 scorers. Three of them though are among the NHL's top dozen in plus-minus. And when James van Riemsdyk banged in a rebound for the fifth goal in last night's pummeling of the Senators, he became the ninth Flyer this season with 10 or more goals.
The Flyers have scored the most goals in the NHL and have a better goal differential than any team but Boston. They haven't been in first place overall in the NHL this late in the season since 1984-85, when they finished the season with the best point total and lost in the Stanley Cup finals to Edmonton.
They have "swagger," said Pronger, that "confidence that you can win every night.
"There are a lot of teams of which you can say that they don't. Maybe we can keep it close. Maybe we can squeak one out."
Pronger came back to the lineup last night, playing a regular shift against the Sens, playing to shake off the noticeable rust. The game moved too quickly for him, he took an early tripping penalty, but the big picture there too is rosy. Including exhibition games and the Olympics, the big man played about 120 games last season, and at the very end, it finally showed. Assuming no further injury, he should be . . .
"Fresher?" he said with that smirk. "I expect to be."
Meaner, too, if that's possible.
He also may not be as crucial to this team advancing as he was a year ago. You know those three players with high plus-minuses? Two were not Flyers at this point a year ago. Matt Carle, who was, has built on last year's breakout season.
"Guys should feel good about what we've done with probably our best D-man out," Boucher said the other day. "But with him coming back, it doesn't mean that we can take the foot off the gas."
If there's something to concern yourself with, it's that. Lately the Flyers have treated prosperity as if it was Sean Avery, surrendering hard-earned leads within a sloppy minute.
They surrendered a late two-goal lead to Washington Monday night before winning in overtime. They scored two goals in the first 5 minutes of last night's victory against the bottom-feeding Senators, then shifted into cruise control for the next 35 minutes of play before scoring three unanswered goals amid a fight-infested third period.
"But you don't want to be able to switch a switch and turn it on when we need to," Pronger said.
He knows. He's been on eighth-seeded teams that have won Cups and top-seeded teams that were bounced early. Identities can be rooted in the winter, he has learned, but a lot of bad things can still happen that will quickly wash away what has happened so far.
"You never really do know," said Pronger. "Things can happen, whether it's one game, a slide, injuries. You never really know it's special until you're looking back at it."
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