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Flyers not getting contributions from defensemen

by Mike G. Morreale
PHILADELPHIA - On the way to earning their third straight playoff appearance by the skin of their teeth last season, the Philadelphia Flyers were a pretty dynamic offensive group.
The club would finish eighth in the League with a 2.83 goals per game average while averaging 31.6 shots. This season, it seems they've struggled out of the gate to regain that offensive edge, particularly from the defensive end.
Through five games in 2009-10, Flyers' defensemen totaled 3 goals, 18 assists and 21 points, nine on the power play, on the way to a 3-1-1 start. In the team's sub-par 2-2-1 start to the 2010-11 campaign, the back end has accounted for just two assists and a minus-2 rating.
Is there any cause for concern?
"A lot of times it comes from the power play but it's certainly something we've noticed," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said following his team's morning skate at Wells Fargo Center on Thursday morning. "We're not getting the contribution that we got last year. I think it's a matter of time. I think right now, if you're talking from a 5-on-5 or power play point of view, we're close but we're not there. I think when they go and start to drop, you'll see goals and assists coming from the back end as well. So while I'd like to say we have that going, we don't right now, but it's kind of blended in to the rest of the offense, which is not quite there, but not far off."
The Flyers enter their game against the Anaheim Ducks (2-4-1) on Thursday ranked 24th in the League with a 2.20 goals-per game average and are 19th in shots (30.2). Defensively, however, the team has still made it difficult on the opposition, yielded just 27.8 shots per game (eighth lowest in the League). They concluded last season fifth in the League, allowing 28.6 shots.
"I don't think anyone is hitting any panic button this early in the season," Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger told "We haven't really lit it up in any of the games. When you're only scoring one or two goals a game, there's going to be a lack of production all over the place and obviously it starts with the power play and with 5-on-5 play with defensemen getting the puck through to the net and having forwards there to cash in on rebounds and loose pucks."
Pronger's blue line partner, Matt Carle, has the only two assists among any of the team's defenders, which includes newcomers Andrej Meszaros and Sean O'Donnell. Carle, who won the Pelle Lindbergh Memorial as the most improved player on the team last season after notching 6 goals and 29 assists, is hoping things will turn around very soon.
"I don't think it's just on the back end, I think it's our whole team in general," Carle said. "It certainly hasn't been talked about that much. We'd like to chip in more offensively when we can, but I think the positive out of that is we haven't been giving up too much defensively either. The points will come, but right now we're focused on still getting off to a good start to the season. Wins are crucial right now."
The Flyers power play, one of their strong suits in recent seasons, has failed them to this point -- the club is 24th in the League with a 9.1 percent efficiency (2-for-22).
"A lot of teams like to collapse down low, so forwards will be kicking the puck up high and we as defenders must do a better job at getting our shots through," Carle said. "That'll create a lot of havoc in the offensive zone. I know as a defenseman, it's tough when teams are generating a lot of point shots because it creates a lot of chaos in front of the net. You don't know where the rebounds are going. We need to keep it simple. It's not just us getting pucks to the net, it's the forwards getting pucks to the net as well. That'll start creating more for everyone."
Braydon Coburn, who produced 5 goals and 14 assists last season, feels everything will start to click much sooner than later. Additionally, Coburn hasn't sensed any letdown this season following his team's remarkable 2010 postseason run.
"A letdown? Absolutely not," Coburn said. "We have unfinished business to do and I don't think ... as good a year as many people would make it out to be last year, we feel like we have a lot to prove still and we have another step we need to take."
Pronger, who topped all Flyers' defensemen with 10 goals and 55 points last season, doesn't feel there has been much of an adjustment having two new players in the fold this campaign.
"At the end of the day it's hockey ... we're not splitting atoms here," Pronger said. "It's a game we've all played for a number of years. Whether it's been here or wherever, guys understand the systems and the concepts in playing the game of hockey. Offense is about us getting on the same page and getting some production from a lot of different fronts, including the back end."
Meszaros agreed.
"I'm not really concerned about it now," he said. "It's going to come 5-on-5 or on the power-play. We just have to play good defense and then, after that, maybe try and help the forwards score some goals. That's the main thing."
Pronger, who missed the opening two games of the season recovering from off-season surgery on his right knee, also dismissed the notion the club might be feeling the effects of dropping a six-game series to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final last spring.
"The games are very tight and close and the parity in this League is very good and both teams want to win," Pronger said. "It comes down to how badly do you want to win and what are you willing to do to win those games. We've had games we lost but probably deserved to win, and vice-versa. In our last game against Pittsburgh (a 5-1 loss), they didn't generate a whole lot 5-on-5. We shot ourselves in the foot by taking penalties, so we need to show that aspect up obviously and once we do, the rest will take care of itself."
The Flyers are 11th on the penalty kill, incidentally, denying the opposition on 27-of-31 chances this season.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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