Whether it's Chris Pronger
, Andrej Meszaros
or Nick Boynton
skating opposite him doesn't matter to Matt Carle
or the Philadelphia Flyers
. Carle has emerged as the chameleon of the Flyers' blue-line unit because he'll adapt and give the team consistent minutes regardless of who coach Peter Laviolette
puts with him.
But does anyone outside of the Flyers' dressing room realize how valuable Carle is to the top team in the Eastern Conference? The answer likely is no, because of how quietly he does his job to help the Flyers win games.
"Matty is understated," Flyers veteran defenseman Sean O'Donnell
, Carle's dressing room neighbor inside the Wells Fargo Center, told NHL.com. "His stick is in the right place. He makes the right pass. Unless you're really watching and paying attention, nothing about him jumps out. He just really doesn't do anything wrong."
Carle has no choice but to play third (perhaps even fourth, with Braydon Coburn
around) fiddle on the Flyers' defense. Chris Pronger
's larger-than-life personality, Hall of Fame credentials and big-money contract make him the top guy, while Kimmo Timonen
's near-flawless play and All-Star history give him second place in the popularity contest.
Being the unassuming contributor, however, works for Carle. He holds no grudges even though his career trajectory warrants some bigger headlines in Philadelphia.
"Any guy wants to be that go-to player," Carle told NHL.com. "Anybody in the League would relish that because you want to try to be the best player you can be, but I understand what my role is and I know that Kimmo and Prongs, those guys will be taking all the headlines and that's fine. They've been around the League a long time and they've earned that as great players, potential Hall of Famers.
"I just try to take advantage of playing on the same team as them and hopefully when I'm their age or I've been in the League a while, I can be that kind of go-to guy."
The thing is, Carle, 26, has been in the League for a while -- full-time since 2007-08. A 2003 second-round pick (No. 47) of the Sharks, he's gone from being the player San Jose relied on strictly as an offensive defenseman during his rookie season to a skater Philadelphia relies on to be excellent in all situations.
Carle had 42 points in 77 games as a rookie in 2006-07, but said he never got on the ice late in games San Jose was winning.
"But if we were down by a goal I was playing every other shift," he said.
Under Laviolette he's playing every other shift regardless of what the situation is, late in a game or in overtime, and his offense hasn't suffered.
Carle has 35 points in 72 games this season, matching the total he had in 80 games last season. He is on track for a career-best plus/minus rating (currently plus-25), and he's actually playing nearly two fewer minutes per game than he did last season because Meszaros and O'Donnell have given the Flyers defensive depth that didn't exist for them in 2009-10.
"Oh, he's smart," Meszaros told NHL.com regarding Carle. "He knows what to do and he doesn't panic. He can play against everybody in the League, against the top lines, and that tells you he can play defense. Offense is his big strength, but he's an all-round player."
Carle usually is paired with Pronger, but with the towering veteran out of the lineup Laviolette has paired Carle with Meszaros for the last four games and they've been excellent.
Carle has played at least 26 minutes in every game and has 4 assists with a plus-4 rating. Meszaros has played at least 25 minutes in every game, including more than 28 in each of the past two. He has 3 assists and a plus-6 rating playing with Carle.
"I guess being not a strictly offensive guy or strictly a defensive defenseman allows you to play with interchangeable parts," Carle said. "When you have strictly an offensive guy a coach will put him more with a defensive guy to back him up. Mez is similar to myself where he's a two-way player and I think we can play well together."
"There's not a lot of noise that comes with Matt. He just quietly does his job every night. He is an understated player. Nobody talks about Matt a lot, but he does such a good job for us." -- Flyers coach Peter Laviolette
He's as effective when he plays alongside Pronger, too, but Carle stopped short of comparing himself to the 6-foot-6, 220-pound former Hart and Norris trophy winner.
"He plays a little bit of a different game than I do," Carle said. "I know I'm not going to be a guy who knocks another guy off the puck. I remember still sitting at the NHL (Scouting) Combine in my interviews with teams, them asking me how I'm going to play against a guy who is 6-4 and 230 pounds. I always said you just have to have a good stick, good body positioning and be able to read plays. That's something that I'm still developing in my game."
Arguably no one in the history of the game has played that style better than Nicklas Lidstrom
, and Carle quickly nodded his head yes when he was asked if he studies Lidstrom's game.
"Any young defenseman is going to say that, but he's always been the guy, and when I was younger it was also a guy like Brian Leetch
," Carle said. "I always watched them and admired them growing up and thought if I could become even half the player that those two guys are then I'm going to be OK."
The irony is that for the longest time Lidstrom was (and some would argue still is) the quiet, unassuming player in the Red Wings' dressing room. He took his cues from veteran leaders like Steve Yzerman
, Vladimir Konstantinov
, Viacheslav Fetisov
and Larry Murphy
, but still had a great, yet underrated value to Detroit's championship teams in the late '90s.
Carle's value to the Flyers is as underrated as it is important. If they're going to win the Stanley Cup, he's going to have a big say in how it gets done.
"There's not a lot of noise that comes with Matt," Laviolette said. "He just quietly does his job every night. He is an understated player. Nobody talks about Matt a lot, but he does such a good job for us."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl