(Philadelphia, PA) - Kevin McCarthy has seen his share of top-flight defensemen come and go, first as an NHL defenseman and now as a coach.
But the Philadelphia Flyers' assistant coach finds it tough to remember a finer foursome than the group he's been instructing along this season -- Chris Pronger
, Kimmo Timonen
, Braydon Coburn
and Matt Carle
They've become Philadelphia's version of the "Fab Four" and for obvious reasons.
|Montreal Canadiens left wing Mathieu Darche is checked by Philadelphia Flyers Matt Carle, center, and Chris Pronger, right during the second period of Game 5 of the NHL hockey Eastern Conference finals with the Montreal Canadiens, Monday, May 24, 2010, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek) |
"In all my years of coaching, in Raleigh (with the Carolina Hurricanes) and now here, I've never been behind the bench for a defense like this," McCarthy said. "Timmo and Prongs are obviously No. 1 defensemen on any team and definitely a top two as a pair when they kill penalties and work the power play. Matty Carle and Coby are young and only getting better.
"It's kind of a unique situation, how four defensemen can log those kinds of minutes," McCarthy said. "I remember back in the '70s, Montreal played three defensemen the whole game, so having four is kind of a luxury."
Not surprisingly, Pronger, Timonen, Carle and Coburn rank among the top four in ice time for the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They also logged the most ice time during the regular season -- Pronger led the team with 25:55 per game followed by Carle (23:23), Timonen (22:52) and Coburn (21:08).
Despite the increased responsibility that comes with playoff hockey, the "Fab Four" have upped the ante with the stakes even higher. Pronger (28:48), Timonen (26:35), Carle (25:25) and Coburn (24:23) have continued to excel with added minutes this postseason while also ranking among the team's top four in blocked shots (totaling 162). They're a collective plus-23 and have chipped in with 5 goals and 35 points in 17 games.
Don't expect that to change Saturday in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS). The greater the challenge, the more determined they become.
The chemistry between defensive pairs -- Pronger and Carle and Timonen and Coburn -- cannot be denied.
"Getting to know what he's going to do in certain situations and what his assets are and what kind of hockey he's going to play are important in a partner," Timonen told NHL.com. "I know Coby pretty well, so I know what he's going to do when he gets the puck pretty much every time. It's not just a one week or two week thing. It takes time because you get to know different players and your partner."
The Flyers' top four 'D' are the glue that holds the team together and when the opposition finds a way to melt that cohesiveness, you could almost sense an unraveling about to take place.
"If we want to win, we have to have those top four guys shutting down their top players," Flyers goalie Michael Leighton said. "They're going to get the minutes, and we're all confident in them."
McCarthy is a firm believer that the best defensive pairs in the League believe in each other.
"For me, there's a certain trust factor that goes on and that only happens when you play with that partner over a period of time," McCarthy said. "You get to know his strengths and weaknesses. At the same time when you come off the ice as a pair, you're able to talk because you know they're going to go out on the ice together for the next shift. We've been fortunate this year to be able to keep our pairs fairly intact and they've built a lot of chemistry and trust between each other."
For Coburn, patience really is a virtue when it comes to Timonen.
"Timmo's a great defenseman because he's so patient with the puck; he makes the game so easy," he said.
McCarthy, who played 10 NHL seasons with Philadelphia, Vancouver and Pittsburgh and was also an assistant to Peter Laviolette in Carolina, admits even he's learned a lot being around players like Pronger and Timonen.
"I've probably learned more from Prongs and Timmo than I've taught them and I think that's what makes them such great players -- their knowledge of the game," McCarthy said. "With Timmo and Prongs, you don't have to worry about telling them things when they come off the ice. They know what went wrong and what went right and they communicate that with their partner so it allows you to concentrate on the game."
Pronger admits poise is something you don't gain overnight, however.
"I've been in those situations before so you learn how to handle it," Pronger said. "I've played with a lot of great players that I've been able to learn from. You can take a lot out of what other great players do in the game, and certainly one of them is how they handle tough defeats and how they handle wins."
"Prongs has a way of calming the game down," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "He's a physical player and plays with an edge but it's a calming game he plays. You never see him diving anywhere or sprawling anywhere -- he's in control of himself, the puck and the game."
With a combined 27 seasons between them, it isn't easy to change what has worked so wonderfully for Timonen and Pronger.
"We all do things differently, we have different routines," Timonen said. "Me and Prongs have played so many games that I don't know if any coach can change our style of play, but there's little things they can do and adjust."
There's no question Carle and Coburn have benefitted tremendously by having Pronger and Timonen as partners.
"I think (Carle and Coburn) have improved immensely since the start of the season," McCarthy said. "To think they have the luxury of playing with (Pronger and Timonen) on a daily basis and learn from them, on and off the ice, is a big reason for that. They know how to prepare for games and how to succeed in game situations."
"Coby just moves the puck quickly to the forwards, allows them to do their jobs and then supports the attack from there," Pronger said. "He's a big guy that's tough to beat one-on-one."