Flyers dodge bullet when puck hits Pronger

Posted: February 25, 2011

There is an old Italian proverb: "Non sputare in aria - che ti ricade in testa."

Translation: "Don't spit in the wind, it might land on your head."

Just a little more than a week ago, some were marveling at how healthy the Flyers have been all season. At that point, they had lost just 150 man games due to injury, and 55 of those belonged to Ian Laperriere, out all season with postconcussion symptoms.

That has all changed.

Last night, for the third game in a row, the Flyers limped to the final horn with just five healthy defensemen.

First they lost Sean O'Donnell, who tweaked a knee on Sunday in New York. He returned last night.

Tuesday it was Oskars Bartulis, who will have shoulder surgery and will miss 10 to 12 weeks after a nasty hit from Phoenix' Scottie Upshall.

Last night, the Flyers appeared to dodge the biggest bullet yet.

Chris Pronger left the game with 6:20 remaining after being hit in the right wrist with a slap shot from Islanders defenseman Ty Wishart.

Pronger did not return. According to general manager Paul Holmgren, X-rays were negative.

"He's fine," Holmgren said. "He was actually going to come back."

Holmgren undoubtedly breathed a huge sigh of relief that he won't be missing another defenseman - particularly Pronger - for a long period.

"Let's face it, there have been a lot of injuries from blocking shots," Holmgren said. "It's dangerous. Guys shoot the puck hard and guys try to block shots. So we're fortunate that he's OK."

Addressing the media, Pronger did not pull the usual "day-to-day with hurt feelings" routine. Instead, he called it an "upper-body contusion."

"It's a little tight," Pronger said. "But it feels good. I had my gear back on, but I chose the better part of valor and chose not to [return]. I couldn't grip my stick very well."

Pronger said he is "probable" for tomorrow's game in Ottawa.

Still, with the trade deadline just 3 days away, Holmgren has to feel that he won't remain this fortunate - the way a rash of bumps and bruises have come over his defense corps in the last week.

Since Bartulis requires a lengthy recovery, Holmgren can gain additional salary-cap space by placing him on the long-term injured reserve, which would provide a cushion for his $600,000 salary.

Multiple sources indicated to the Daily News yesterday that Holmgren has inquired about Colorado captain Adam Foote, who has won two Stanley Cups in his 17-season NHL career.

Foote, 39, returned to practice yesterday with the Avalanche after missing eight games with a quadriceps injury. Though he has a questionable injury history, Foote's low salary and expected low cost - at the price of a low-round, conditional pick - could make him an attractive option.

Foote would also need to waive his no-trade clause to take another run at a Cup.

Whether or not Holmgren pursues Foote, it's likely he will peruse the market for an inexpensive depth defenseman - though he said last night it's not an absolute necessity. "Will I explore it? We'll probably listen, see what's around," Holmgren said. "That's about it. We don't feel like trading anything off our team, nothing like that. You can only play six at a time, anyway."

Zherdev clears waivers

Forward Nik Zherdev officially cleared waivers, as the other 29 NHL teams passed on the aloof Russian. Atlanta and Nashville reportedly had interest but decided against claiming him.

Zherdev participated in the Flyers' optional morning skate yesterday and was available to play in last night's game. Instead, he was scratched for the seventh straight game. The Flyers have 10 games or 30 days to assign Zherdev to AHL Adirondack before having to send him through waivers again.

A team source said the Flyers will likely keep him on the active roster until a potential move at Monday's trade deadline, in which they would take on salary, requiring them to move Zherdev off the active roster (and salary cap) and to the AHL.

Holmgren said on Wednesday that he "still liked the idea" of keeping Zherdev as an insurance policy in case "one of your skill players goes down with an injury."

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