Meszaros makes solid strides in preseason opener

ASSOCIATED PRESS Leafs' Nazem Kadri hits Flyers' Nick Cousins in the back during preseason game in London, Ontario.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Leafs' Nazem Kadri hits Flyers' Nick Cousins in the back during preseason game in London, Ontario.
Posted: September 17, 2013

LONDON, Ontario - Andrej Meszaros has heard the whispers.

They have grown louder with each surgery, each game missed. They wonder if the Flyers can depend on Meszaros anymore, if at the age of 27, his body can handle the daily rigors of life in the NHL.

"I try not to pay attention," he said. "It's all in your head."

For most highly paid veterans, the exhibition schedule is little more than a dog-and-pony show set up to line the owners' pockets. The Stanley Cup playoffs are more than 7 months away.

If it weren't for a rule forcing teams to dress a minimum of eight veterans a game, most players would sit out. A while back, the defenseman probably would have volunteered to sit out. Preseason games are an unnecessary risk of injury.

That's not true for Meszaros anymore. Last night's first preseason contest, which ended as a 4-3 loss to Toronto, was Meszaros' first step toward putting his once-bright NHL career back on track.

"It's been a long, tough road for him," coach Peter Laviolette said. "Just to get back and play a game - and play a decent game - it was probably a good confidence [boost] for him to move forward."

Last night was just the 12th game Meszaros has played since March 1, 2012 - a span of 563 days. On a night filled with defensive mishaps, as his teammates shook off the rust, Meszaros was the Flyers' one bright spot.

He looked like the Meszaros of old, active and involved in the offensive zone, skating and not playing tentative. He blasted at least four shots on Toronto's net and he quarterbacked the power play (0-for-4) with Matt Read.

"I thought he did a good job," Laviolette said. "He brought a lot of pucks to the net. Defending, I thought he did a pretty good job for us. I thought he got better as the game went on and he stayed strong for most of the game."

If Meszaros played tentative in the past, it is hard to blame him. Look at his injury history. In March 2012, he underwent back surgery. He returned to play one playoff game on May 8, 2012, the Flyers' elimination game against New Jersey. That August, while training in his native Slovakia, he tore his Achilles'. It was a miracle he was ready for the lockout-shortened season when it began on Jan. 19. He played just four games before going down with a shoulder injury. He returned on March 9, 2013, and played seven games before requiring reconstructive surgery on the shoulder.

He wasn't cleared to play until late July.

All the while, many counted him out of the Flyers' plan. After all, the Flyers' defense corps is filled with eight other players on one-way contracts. Some simply thought Meszaros would play out the final year of his deal at $4 million on the injury list. Some viewed him as fragile mentally as he has been physically.

"I'm not really big in the media, I don't read a lot or pay attention to a lot of what is going on," Meszaros said. "I've just tried to stay to myself and get better everyday."

For the first time in a long time, it was apparent Meszaros was playing with a free mind. Even so, he wasn't thrilled with his performance in a throwaway preseason game. He is his own harshest critic.

"I thought I could have done a lot of things better," Meszaros. said "I tried to move a little bit out there, get into the play. I just want to go out and play. I did some good things. There's a lot of time left in the preseason to get better and I'll go from there."

The Flyers have five more mostly meaningless preseason games left - except they aren't meaningless for Meszaros. That's why Laviolette plans to play him in each of the last four, since he'll sit out Monday in Toronto, to have his forgotten weapon ready for Oct. 2.

"He's going to play a lot," Laviolette said. "[Three] years ago, he was voted our top defenseman. To get him back and healthy would be a real nice addition for us. We've missed him."

Slap shots

Forward Zac Rinaldo left in the third period with an upper-body injury and did not return. Rinaldo's injury is not considered serious and, according to Paul Holmgren, he is "day-to-day" . . . Both starter Steve Mason (12 saves on 15 shots) and Anthony Stolarz (14 saves on 15 shots) called the Budweiser Gardens home as members of the London Knights . . . Brayden Schenn and Nick Cousins each netted a goal and an assist . . . Forward Ben Holmstrom played in his first game since Dec. 8, when he tore his ACL with the Phantoms, ending his season . . . Moorestown native T.J. Brennan was scratched for Toronto . . . Notable scratches expected to play tonight in Toronto: Max Talbot, Bruno Gervais, Adam Hall and Cal Heeter . . . Half of the Flyers will be back in Philadelphia for a split-squad game against Washington . . . Winger Wayne Simmonds, who was the subject of a racial taunt in London on Sept. 22, 2011, did not make the trip.

Quotable

"There was definitely some rusty mistakes. I think they can be corrected fairly quickly, just basic things you need to do to be successful. It is the first game, but we've got to be cleaner than that and better than that."

- Peter Laviolette, on the Flyers' brutal first period, in which they allowed three goals on five shots.


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