"When we lost 'Prongs' this year, people couldn't use that as an excuse anymore. Matt's game really stepped it up. He took the bull by the horns and took on some big minutes."
Even though advanced statistics in the hockey world, as in any sport, can be mind-numbing, a glimpse at the basics paints a clear enough picture. No defenseman has meant more to the Flyers this season than Carle.
Coincidentally, the stats that we're using - as published on BehindTheNet.ca - were pioneered by the Buffalo Sabres and their goaltending coach, Jim Corsi.
Rather than use basic plus/minus statistics to explain a player's output, which rely on goals scored for and against and are subject to factors out of a player's control, the "Corsi number" is a shot differential while a player is on the ice.
This stat includes not only goals and shots on goal, but shots that miss the net and blocked shots - any attempt that is recorded. In a nutshell, it is a plus/minus-type ratio statistic that measures shots at five-on-five, per 60 minutes.
With Carle, the Flyers get an extra 6.0 shot attempts per 60 minutes when he is on the ice than when he is off. The Flyers' next best defenseman, Timonen, is at 3.2.
Carle, one of the Flyers' most well-read players with interests in politics and business, wasn't aware of the advanced statistics. The Alaska native also likes to hunt and fish in the offseason.
But his coaches are starting to take notice on the ice of what the statistics explain. Among defensemen who played at least 60 games this season, Carle is 33rd in the NHL in Corsi's rankings. And if you adjust that for the fact that he has a tendency to start his shift in the defensive zone, he moves up to 22nd.
No other Flyer is close.
Put simply, Carle starts in his own zone more often, limits his opponents' chances when on the ice, and starts to create offensive opportunities with strong breakouts and outlet passes.
That University of Denver-educated brain works well under pressure on the ice.
"He's such a smart player that he never really seems to get himself into trouble," said McCarthy, who handles the Flyers' defensive duties. "He's got great puck skills and he's a great skater, but he's got this ability to read plays. He's really good at figuring out that first pass to come out of the zone.
"Because he sees the play so well and makes such a good first pass, you tend to spend less time in your zone when that happens. The other thing that Matt brings is that innate ability to join the rush; that's why he creates a lot of chances."
Carle said his ability to read a play comes from more experience in the NHL. Carle, 26, already has played in 389 regular-season games and another 65 in the playoffs.
He already has three assists in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against Buffalo, which the Flyers lead, 2-1, heading into Game 4 tonight. Carle's points per 60 minutes led the Flyers' defense this season.
"When I first came into the league, things were happening so fast," Carle said. "You're just worried about getting to the puck. Now, I've been able to slow things down a little bit and read where guys are coming from. I try to do a good job of reading forechecks and being aware."
His awareness has allowed McCarthy to stick Carle with whomever is ready on the bench, which includes not just Meszaros but Danny Syvret or Nick Boynton, depending on the lineup.
Despite what Carle has said feels like "a revolving door" of partners, the fluctuation hasn't negatively impacted his statistics.
"He's a smart player," Syvret said yesterday. "He's never really out of position. I think anyone who plays with him will find it's easy, because he's consistent. He's in the right spot and always making the smart play. He's pretty calm back there."
Numbers, in the end, are just numbers. Results are what matter. But studies show that the Corsi numbers have the highest predictive value for goal differential. They correlate exactly with zone time, puck possession and goal-scoring.
Carle does not have the veteran reputation of Timonen, the speed of Coburn or the Barry Ashbee Trophy for best defenseman, like Meszaros. But he is the Flyers' best-kept secret.
"He's turned himself into an all-around defenseman," McCarthy said. "I think sometimes where you're in the position with the five defensemen that we have, you get lost in the shuffle. But if you look at his stats, and you look at what he's done, he's certainly a lot better player than people think."
For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at
www.philly.com/FrequentFlyers. Follow him on Twitter at