Flyers defense will be even bigger this season

Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov embraces Kimmo Timonen, who, at 5-foot-10 and 194 pounds, is one of the smaller Flyers defensemen.
Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov embraces Kimmo Timonen, who, at 5-foot-10 and 194 pounds, is one of the smaller Flyers defensemen. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff)
Posted: January 15, 2013

To Paul Holmgren, size does matter.

The Flyers general manager has assembled a defensive corps that is one of the biggest in the NHL.

The eight defensemen in training camp, on the average, are 6-foot-21/2 and 219 pounds - and that average is reduced because of the smallish Kimmo Timonen (5-10, 194).

Since last February, Holmgren has added bulk by acquiring Nick Grossmann (6-4, 230) and Luke Schenn (6-2, 229) in trades, and signing Kurtis Foster (6-5, 225).

Braydon Coburn (6-5, 220), Andrej Meszaros (6-2, 223) Andreas Lilja (6-3, 220) and newcomer Bruno Gervais (6-1, 200) round out the group.

"Coming in here with Toronto and playing against Philadelphia, the D corps is always one thing that always stood out," Schenn said after the second day of training camp Monday in Voorhees. "They have a lot of puck-moving guys and guys that are hard to play against. I'm excited to be a part of it."

Schenn, 23, was paired with the 37-year-old Timonen on Tuesday, and they likely will start the season together.

"He's so smart out there and such a calm presence," said Schenn, who led NHL defensemen with 270 hits while playing for the Maple Leafs last year. "He's an all-star in the league and a veteran presence - and to get the chance to practice beside him has been awesome."

Flyers assistant Kevin McCarthy, whose team played most of last year without bruising defenseman Chris Pronger (concussion) and lost puck-moving defenseman Matt Carle to free agency in the offseason, thinks Timonen can help Schenn blossom.

"We thought playing with Kimmo would help him the most," McCarthy said. "Kimmo's a patient guy. He's not a guy who comes back to the bench between shifts and gets upset at his partner. He'll talk to him, and he's even-keel. You saw what a great job he did with [Coburn], and we're hoping he can impart his wisdom with Schenner."

In addition to size, Holmgren has added three righthanded shooters on defense - Schenn, Gervais, and Foster - and the Flyers will match a righty with a lefthander when possible.

"We've never had that situation since I've been here," said McCarthy, who handles the defense. "We've had seven, eight lefties at a time, and now all of a sudden we have three righties, and it makes a big difference."

In Monday's practice, the pairings looked like this: Timonen and Schenn; Grossmann and Gervais; Meszaros and Coburn; and Foster and Lilja.

Meszaros, who is battling back from Achilles ligament surgery, is lefthanded but is used to playing on the right side. Coburn and Gervais also can capably play on the right.

"Obviously, you like to keep them on their comfortable side, but we have that luxury to move them around if we have to," McCarthy said. "But the fact we have three righties, we'd like to take advantage of that."

Training camp will last only six days before the team begins the season Saturday afternoon against visiting Pittsburgh.

"Keeping it simple is probably the best thing to do," Schenn said. "Try to move the puck into the forwards' hands and play solid defensively and be difficult to play against. The simpler, the better, I think, especially at the start."

Coburn, Grossmann, Meszaros, and Timonen are probably the most mobile players on defense, though injured blue liner Erik Gustafsson is the fastest when healthy.

"We've got not just big guys, but guys that can play the game and make good decisions with the puck," McCarthy said. "I like our mobility, and I like our group a lot."


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