Healthy Andrej Meszaros would help Flyers' chances

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Ilya Bryzgalov has been a workhorse in goal for the Flyers, even when they played three games in 4 days in the past week.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Ilya Bryzgalov has been a workhorse in goal for the Flyers, even when they played three games in 4 days in the past week.
Posted: March 13, 2013

IN THE LAST calendar year, Andrej Meszaros has played only seven hockey games.

Yet, in many ways, a big part of the Flyers' playoff hopes hinge on his play - and his health - over the final 21 games of the season. When he can finally get adjusted and comfortable, Meszaros is a top-four defenseman with the ability to transform the Flyers' defense.

So far, the defense - easily the Flyers' biggest weakness - has been divided into two categories. There are the hulking, lumbering blueliners, such as Nick Grossmann and Luke Schenn. And then there are the mobile puck movers, such as Braydon Coburn, Erik Gustafsson and Bruno Gervais.

Why is Meszaros important? He provides size without sacrificing mobility, which is something only Coburn can say.

The problem has been staying on the ice. He played in 298 straight games to start his career, but has hit a rash of bad luck - including shoulder, back and Achilles' injuries - to become somewhat of a forgotten asset. Since he's missed more than 41 games over the last season and a half, it's easy to forget that Meszaros won the team's Barry Ashbee Trophy as top defenseman in 2010-11.

Meszaros, still only 27, can be the closest the Flyers come to acquiring a guy without actually shipping out anyone if he can get comfortable in a hurry. He seemed to adjust well in his second game back on Sunday, playing about 2 minutes more than he did on Saturday.

All Bryzness

With the Flyers reeling after a lifeless loss on Saturday in Boston, and goaltender Michael Leighton fresh after a strong performance on Friday in the minors, there was some thought Peter Laviolette would have given Ilya Bryzgalov a rest on Sunday against Buffalo.

It didn't happen, despite the fact that Sunday marked the Flyers' third game in 4 days.

"I think you roll through all your options, with the personnel that's available to you," Laviolette said when asked about his decision. " 'Bryz' is the guy that needs to be in there. We need a win, and he's the guy to dig you out of it."

Bryzgalov made his league-leading 25th start of the season against the Sabres. He's played more minutes (1,409:58) than any player in the NHL this season, but he still outplayed the Sabres' Ryan Miller.

Looking at the calendar, it's hard to figure when Bryzgalov may get a night off again. Laviolette's been managing his workload with a lighter practice schedule. Even with this crazy, shortened season, the Flyers are in the middle of a stretch in which they will play only three games in 13 days.

Bryzgalov could use the break. His stats have ballooned (2.20 goals-against average to 2.77 and .923 save percentage to .899) over the last month.

Nonetheless, Bryzgalov helped the Flyers improve to 3-4 in the second of back-to-back games this season. They have three more sets, but not until March 30 and April 1. That may be the next time we see Leighton make a start, which would be his second of the season.

Sick feeling

That's what the Flyers will have if they don't gather at least four or five points in their next three games, before going 5 days in between games next week.

The Flyers have played 27 games, more than any other NHL team, and the rest of the league will catch up while they're off from March 19 through 23. While the Wells Fargo Center hosts the second- and third-round games of the NCAA Tournament, the idle Flyers will be able only to watch teams pass them in the standings.

Quotable

"We need to work and we need to work hard. You can't just play with your skill. It seems that the last two games, we did play really well with our skill, but we got outworked. We need to understand that if we want to win in this league now that we need to work before your skills. maybe we put the work first instead of trying to make some fancy move."

- Flyers forward Simon Gagne on his team's struggles in a fruitless "rivalry week" last week.

STAT WATCH

26th: Flyers' most likely finish in the NHL standings if they continue to win at their current pace through the remaining 21 games of the season. That could give the Flyers a 10.2 percent chance of landing the No. 1 draft pick under the NHL's new lottery rules.

14.2: Percent probability the Flyers have of qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs, according to sportsclubstats.com. The figure is based on strength of schedule.

5.1: Percent chance the Flyers have of making the playoffs if they fail to acquire 50 points this season. Getting to 53 points (or grabbing 28 of the remaining 42 points) would bring that probability up to 73 percent.

51: Projected points for Jake Voracek this season (1.07 points per game), which would break his career high set in 2009-10 with Columbus in 81 games.

104:39: Time between goals for the Flyers, from the first period against Pittsburgh last Thursday until the first period on Sunday vs. Buffalo.

22: Days until the NHL's trade deadline on April 3 at 3 p.m.

46: Days until the Flyers' final game of the regular season, April 27 at Ottawa.

100: Hits for Zac Rinaldo, three fewer than Luke Schenn for the team lead. Rinaldo has played 358 fewer minutes than Schenn this season.

.982: Save percentage for former Flyer Sergei Bobrovsky during the Blue Jackets' five-game winning streak (107 out of 109 shots).

17: Number of years since all of the NHL's Original Six (Maple Leafs, Canadiens, Rangers, Red Wings, Blackhawks and Bruins) have made the playoffs in the same season. All are in a position to do so this year.

17,625: Average leaguewide attendance in February, the highest recorded for that calendar month in league history.

1: Arenas in which the Flyers have played this season that were not sold out - their Feb. 18 romp at Nassau Coliseum against the Islanders (16,170). The Flyers' average attendance at home this season is 19,764.


Email: seravaf@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @DNFlyers

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