DETROIT – On practice days, they are the men in black. On game days, they are the men in the crosshairs.
They are the Flyers defensive corps.
And as a unit they have not been held in very high regard over the past 12 months.
From the start of last season through now, the Flyers defensemen have been labeled as too slow, or too weak, or not smart, or ragamuffin, or any other number of mostly derogatory adjectives.
The arguments are they don’t have a true No. 1. They don’t have a legitimate puck-mover. They aren’t very good on breakouts…. Blah, blah, blah.
What they do have is a solid group who plays the system very well in its own end and is a big reason why the Flyers have a top five scoring defense in five-on-five play.
The Flyers have given up just 39 goals 5-on-5 in 27 games so far this season. That’s an average of 1.44 per game.
That total ranks fifth in the NHL behind Minnesota (1.17), Los Angeles (1.32), Montreal (1.36) and Boston (1.41).
|After being a helthy scratch for three games early last month, Luke Schenn has returned with an improved game to help solidify the Flyers blue line. |
“Everyone is looking for a stud defenseman out there, you know a Norris Trophy candidate,” said Luke Schenn. “Sometimes though, as is our case, if you have a group of guys who can play any situation and can step in at any time and fill that void, it’s just as good.
“Everyone would like to have a [Shea] Weber or [Zdeno] Chara on their team of course, but they don’t grow on trees. Instead, we have eight capable guys who all can play good hockey. We are happy with our group no matter what the outsiders say or don’t say about us.”
They’ve said a lot of negative, but not recently. That’s because this group has been solid if unspectacular.
The Flyers have limited their opponents to two goals or fewer (not counting shoot goals) in 17 of 27 games this season.
Think about that for a minute.
That means that in 63 percent of the games they play, they are not allowing more than two goals – and that includes in other situations as well, not just five-on-five.
It made me think back to an interview I did with Kimmo Timonen in the summer. At the time he suggested the defensive group was better than they were getting credit for, not just locally, but across the NHL.
“I’m excited to see what we’ll look like if we’re healthy and able to play more than just a few games together,” said Kimmo Timonen at the time. “I think it’s a good group here.”
And it has been a good group. Especially since Craig Berube has implemented his new system that has made defense a group effort and not a six-man group that is frequently left alone on an island.
“It goes hand-in-hand,” Berube said. “It takes everyone out there on the ice to contribute to defensive zone coverage and playing good defense. It needs good back pressure from your forwards and having a good F3 (third forward high/first forward back) so your defensemen can be more aggressive.
“It’s the same thing on breakouts. If you don’t have good support you can’t break the puck out. But, the defensemen are playing really well. They’re doing a good job. They’re starting to get up in the rush too. We can have more of that – and it’s something they have to practice. But we can stay on them about it.”
Yes, they can improve offensively, as they’re not getting a ton of points from the blue line, but they seem to have the defensive end of things figured out.
“We started playing better and it’s all about our effort,” said Andrej Meszaros, who has both been part of the quie
|Andrej Meszaros is starting to play more confidently, which is what the Flyers would like to see from him as he tries to round into 2011 form. |
t resurgence of the Flyers defense, and has watched it from the press box as a guy who has been in and out of the lineup as part of a back end rotation. “We have eight good defensemen who can play in any situation. It makes it easier too if you play with the same partner for a long time. We’ve been pretty solid that way.
“For me though, it’s a team effort. The forwards help us and we help them and that’s what builds confidence and makes it work better.”
NOTES: VInny Lecavalier (back spasms) and Kimmo TImonen (maintenance) did not practice Tuesday. Timonen will play Wednesday against the Red Wings. Lecavalier is still up in the air…. The Flyers will catch the Red Wings without their entire top line and minus one of their top defensemen as Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Todd Bertuzzi and Danny DeKeyser will all miss Wednesday’s game. Still, the Red Wings come into the contest red hot, winners of four straight…. The Flyers can move into a playoff position with a win against the Red Wings and a loss by New Jersey to Montreal tomorrow… Steve Mason will probably be in net for the Flyers.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers