"Sometimes, even with veteran players, a new guy comes in and you learn more about him and his game as you go," said the fourth-year head coach. "But not with Blair. He competed against us six or seven times a season for years [as a member of the New York Rangers], so we saw him up close and personal.
"And when I say compete, I really mean it. He drove us nuts at times, killing penalties, battling...and, of course, he scored those two big goals against us in the final regular season game last year (when the Flyers fell to fifth place in the Eastern Conference). We're just glad to have him on our side now. He's been terrific so far, but we expected nothing less."
Betts, 29, appears to have found a new home after spending the previous four seasons with the rival Rangers. The 6-3, 210-pound Edmonton native has solidified the primary checking line with teammates Ian Laperriere
and Dan Carcillo, with whom he developed an instant chemistry. And true to the reputation he brought with him from New York, he has been among the Flyers' best penalty killers in the early going.
|Blair Betts spent the last four years with the New York Rangers before officially joining the Flyers in September. (Getty Images) |
Perhaps the most notable indication of Betts' effectiveness is the fact that up until the team's 3-2 loss to Buffalo on Saturday night, the Flyers had been undefeated in games he had played in. Still, a 10-1 record with Betts in the lineup (2-4-1 without him) isn't too shabby, as the team continues a West Coast swing on Friday in San Jose (10:00 p.m., CSN).
"I'd say that has less to do with me and is more about the team getting healthy at the right time," explained the humble pivot, who missed seven games and nearly a month of action after suffering a separated shoulder in early October.
"But it's been great here so far, and I feel like I've fit in nicely. It hasn't been a difficult adjustment at all, very smooth. This is a very talented team that comes to work every night. That makes it fun, especially now that we're beginning to pick up steam."
Betts is not, and never will be, the type of player that gets fantasy GMs excited. He has tallied one goal and one assist in 11 games, but offensive production isn't the name of his game.
The Flyers presently rank tenth in the NHL in penalty killing at 81.8 percent. Betts' play has been a major factor in limiting the damage.
"I'd say my best attributes are knowing what type of a player I am and hard work," he explained. "I take a lot of pride in my all-around play and penalty-killing. Those are the areas I can help out most, but I also want to be a player who can fit into any role. Whatever is needed of me, I'll do."
To this point, Betts is averaging over 15 minutes of ice time per game. Over a full season, this would be the highest mark of his seven-year NHL career.
"One thing having Blair in the lineup does for us is, he takes away a lot of those hard minutes from Mike Richards and Jeff Carter," said Stevens. "It's a lesson we learned last year, that we probably had our star players out there playing too many minutes on the PK, in particular. Betts' presence, and his play with Laperriere and Carcillo, really helps us delegate minutes in different ways.
"In my opinion, Blair is one of the best checking line centers and one of the best penalty-killers in the league. And he has been for some time. That's why we're so fortunate to have him, as he's probably entering the prime of his career."
Laperriere, another veteran newcomer to the team, lit up when asked his thoughts on playing alongside Betts.
"Oh man, he just works so hard," he noted. "That's the basis of his game. He pursues the puck and doesn't over think things. We talk about making the simple plays, especially when killing penalties. It doesn't have to be flashy; you just want to get the job done, clear the zone.
"Blair is great at that. He raises my level of play because I have to keep up with him."
Carcillo agreed: "You just never see [Betts] out of position. He's always below the puck in the defensive end and keeps the play in front of him. He's so easy to play with. In the locker room, he has a very calm confidence and can settle everything down."
Betts describes himself as a relatively quiet but intense player, who isn't overly physical but is willing to get his nose dirty if necessary. Those traits blend well with the pugnacious styles of Laperrerie and Carcillo.
"I love the makeup of our line," he said. "Ian and Danny, they're in-your-face type of players, to say the least. They bring that physical element and an intimidation factor. I think we've been able to cause a lot of problems for our opponents.
"The thing is, they are great linemates because in addition to being in a checking role, we can all play. Those guys can score as well as backcheck. They're a lot of fun to play with. As a team, we're off to a pretty good start this year, and I'd like to think that our line can keep up our level of play and hopefully get even better as the season goes on."
Stevens hopes so, too.
"It's early, but this is probably the best checking line I've had here," he said. "Betts has come in and, on top of being a great veteran presence, has really upped the quality of our checking lines and PK units. He's made this team a lot better just in the little things that he does, things that sometimes go unnoticed.
"He was a great acquisition for our team."