Inside the Flyers: For Flyers, Pronger's presence is being missed

The Flyers have slumped since captain Chris Pronger (right), with Claude Giroux and Danny Briere, was declared out for the season . The team misses his fiery leadership and physicality.
The Flyers have slumped since captain Chris Pronger (right), with Claude Giroux and Danny Briere, was declared out for the season . The team misses his fiery leadership and physicality. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 26, 2012

CALGARY, Alberta - When star defenseman Chris Pronger went down with a season-ending concussion in November, it seemed logical that the Flyers would not replace him with an interim captain. "Leadership by committee" became their mantra.

By not handing the "C" to anyone else, it was a way to honor Pronger, insinuating he was irreplaceable. The Flyers would play the season for their injured captain and, besides, there were enough veterans who could band together and help keep the team in step.

Whenever general manager Paul Holmgren was asked about having someone else wear the "C," he downplayed the idea and said it wasn't necessary. Understandably.

Three-plus months later, however, it's fair to ask if the Flyers might be better-served by naming someone - Kimmo Timonen, Danny Briere, Jaromir Jagr, Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, and Max Talbot would all be solid choices - as their captain down the stretch and into the playoffs.

No offense to any of those six players, but none would ever carry the presence of Pronger, a fiery, in-your-face leader who was the Flyers' unofficial captain even before he was given the "C" this season.

Still, when you consider how the Flyers have struggled over the last six weeks - a 7-8-3 record and zero winning streaks - one wonders if having a main voice in the locker room would be beneficial.

Briere politely disagreed.

"I've said it from the beginning, it's overstated," Briere said when asked if naming a captain was needed. "It doesn't matter who has a letter on his shirt."

That makes sense, but the Flyers skid doesn't support the theory.

"It seems we're inconsistent right now," winger Wayne Simmonds said. "We play one good game and then don't play good the next."

At this time of the season, with playoff spots at stake, there is no excuse for taking periods off - as the Flyers did in the second period of their 2-0 loss in Edmonton on Thursday.

If Pronger had been around, there would have been a between-periods outburst that would have peeled the paint off the locker-room walls.

Do the Flyers need someone to read them the riot act and keep them focused?

"A lot of us have tried," Briere said. "But leadership is not an issue in this room. It's a matter of digging down and finding a way to get out of it."

Besides Pronger's leadership, the Flyers obviously miss his physicality on the ice. His teammates would feed off it. The recent acquisitions of mammoth defensemen Pavel Kubina and Nick Grossman will help the team greatly and restore some Prongerism to the lineup, but it figures to take the newcomers a couple of weeks before they are comfortable in their new team's system.

When they are in sync, the Flyers figure to make major strides in all situations - even strength, power play, and the penalty kill. That should make them a dangerous team in the playoffs, provided goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is on his "A" game.

Before the new defensemen are acclimated, the growing pains may continue a bit longer.

"I don't know how to explain it," Briere said. "It's been frustrating not playing for 60 minutes."

"It's up to the veteran guys to get everyone fired up and get everyone on the same page," said Hartnell, who is having a career season.

Entering Saturday, the Flyers had played 60 games. They had the league's best record in the first 30 games (20-7-3). They have been among the also-rans in the last 30 games (13-13-4).

It may not be a coincidence that the second 30-game span started right after the Flyers learned they would be without Pronger for the rest of the season.

Maybe, Giroux suggested, they have become "too comfortable" after their highly impressive start.

Again, Pronger would not have allowed that to happen. The tailspin has occurred on the leadership-by-committee's watch.

Perhaps it's time to go to Plan B.

There are no guarantees, of course, that an interim captain would improve things. But it seems the players need someone they can lean on. Maybe, just maybe, the new captain would give the Flyers more direction and help them get back the consistency that marked the first part of their season.

At this point, it might be worth a try.


Inside the Flyers: Peaking Too Soon?

For the Flyers, the first 60 games have been split into two vastly different seasons. In the first 30 games, they had the NHL's best record and were five points ahead of the New York Rangers. In the next 30, they had four more losses than wins - and had 13 fewer points than the Rangers in that span. Here are the numbers:

                        RECORD          GF         GA

First 30 games            20-7-3          3.7       2.8

Next 30 games          13-13-4          2.9       3.3

Key: GF - goals scored per game;

GA - goals allowed per game

- Sam Carchidi


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com or @BroadStBull on Twitter.

 

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