Inside the Flyers: Meszaros a force on Flyers defense

Andrej Meszaros is "confident with the puck," coach Craig Berube said. "He's . . . jumping up on the play."
Andrej Meszaros is "confident with the puck," coach Craig Berube said. "He's . . . jumping up on the play." (Staff)
Posted: January 21, 2014

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren believes defense wins championships, especially blue lines anchored by big, physical players who play with an edge.

That explains why he acquired Chris Pronger in 2009 and signed an offer sheet for Shea Weber in 2012.

Holmgren also thought Luke Schenn had the potential to be a first-pair defenseman, so he dealt the gifted James van Riemsdyk to Toronto 19 months ago.

Pronger helped will the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010, but he suffered a career-ending concussion in 2011. Weber went back to Nashville after it matched the Flyers' 14-year, $110 million offer for the restricted free agent, and Schenn has been serviceable but far from a top-pair defenseman.

Bottom line: The Flyers do not have a game-changing defensive player; they are going with a slow, aging defense that defines mediocrity.

News bulletin: We interrupt this dismal report on the Flyers' defense to give you a ray of hope.

The Flyers' much-maligned defensive corps has received an unexpected boost in recent weeks from a player - Andrej Meszaros - who seemed to be playing out his time with the Orange and Black.

Meszaros won the Barry Ashbee Award as the Flyers' top defenseman in 2010-11, but in the next two seasons seemingly spent more time in the trainer's room than on the ice.

Lately, the easygoing, 6-foot-2 218-pounder has started to remind people of the 2010-11 version.

The transformation of Meszaros - from bench-sitter to one of the Flyers' most productive defensemen - has been one of the team's most pleasant surprises during the last month.

Meszaros was a healthy scratch for most of the season's first 21/2 months. When he did play, he seemed tentative, and it appeared that the Flyers couldn't wait until his contract expired at the end of this season.

He's not all the way back to the way he played before undergoing back and shoulder surgery - back when he cleared bodies in front of the net, had a plus-30 rating, and became a valuable offensive contributor.

But he's getting there.

Meszaros, 28, has been getting involved in the offensive end, making creative moves and setting up numerous scoring chances.

"He's confident with the puck," said coach Craig Berube, whose team will visit the New York Islanders for a Monday matinee. "He's doing some good things at the blue line with it, jumping up on the play."

Meszaros, who played in just 11 games during the 2013 season and underwent shoulder surgery in April, had two goals in Saturday's 6-4 comeback win over the Islanders, giving him nine points in his last six games.

"I'm getting pretty close to it," Meszaros said when asked if he felt he was back to being the player he was in 2010-11. "I'm feeling good. I want to be better defensively. Offensively, I'm trying to create as much as I can, but the game starts back in our own zone. If you play good defense, then that'll lead to offense."

To his credit, Meszaros continued to work hard and never complained while he was shuffled in and out of the lineup earlier in the season. He has played in 13 straight games since returning Dec. 23 because of Erik Gustafsson's knee injury. Gustafsson has regained his health but can't get back into the lineup.

It does not seem coincidental that Meszaros has started to resemble his old form ever since he was named to Slovakia's Zdeno Chara-led Olympic team on Jan. 7.

Meszaros conceded it was difficult to impress his Olympic coaches when he was in and out of the lineup earlier in the season - and he wondered if it would affect his being selected.

"It was tough. I talked to the coach [Slovakia's Vladimir Vujtek], and I wasn't playing much," Meszaros said. "I was up in the press box, I was playing, I wasn't playing. It was tough for my confidence and even for the coaches back home to make a decision. Obviously, if you're not playing, it's tough to get nominated for the Olympic team. But I played more lately, and that got me confidence, and they got me in."


scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull

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