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Pronger confident Flyers will be OK without him

by Mike G. Morreale /
Chris Pronger doesn't anticipate a letdown in his absence.

Pronger, who has become the backbone of Philadelphia’s defensive corps since his arrival via trade in the summer of 2009, will miss 4-6 weeks with a broken bone in his right foot. But he’s pretty confident the team will carry on and maintain its consistency in the back end without him.

"I think this is one of the exact reasons and instances why we made the moves we did in the offseason -- to have more through our defense corps," Pronger explained during a conference call on Saturday morning. "When Homer (GM Paul Holmgren) made these moves, he talked about our top four defensemen missed a total of two or four games, something silly that most teams don't go through."

Entering Saturday's game against the New York Rangers, the Flyers ranked fourth in the League with a 2.36 goals-against average. They were 13th in penalty-killing at 82.3 percent.

"It was just a matter of time; one of us was going to get hurt at some point. It's a long stretch on last year and a lot of minutes and luck … we got lucky last year," Pronger said. "We got guys that were a little banged up but they were able to play through. At some point you're going to get injuries where you're not going to be able to play through them and this is one of those cases. I think you've seen now, with the depth on our back end, we're rolling three sets of (defense). I might be the high guy with like 22 or 23 minutes and the low guy might be at 17 or 18 minutes but we're getting a pretty good roll of the bench and that only helps you when you get guys into situations and keeps them sharp."

In 31 games this season, Pronger has 4 goals and 15 points while playing an average of 22:20 per game, second on the team. He had surgery Friday afternoon to repair a broken first metatarsal in his right foot. The injury occurred while blocking a shot during the second period of Wednesday's game against the Canadiens in Montreal.

"It might have been (Brian) Gionta, I'm not positive," Pronger said when asked who shot the puck that broke the bone. "I kind of remember the play. It was in the midst of my 3½-minute shift toward the end of the second period, and I think it was maybe five minutes left in the period. I happened to be on one knee in front and the shot came and just hit me in the right spot on my foot, right on my laces … on the lace holes. I think, probably it broke because I wasn't standing on my skate or applying any pressure on my foot. You know, it just hit me in the right spot and this is what happened."

It's the second time this season Pronger will have a long-term injury absence. The 36-year-old veteran had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in August and missed all of training camp and the first two games of the regular season while recovering.

Pronger, who will be re-evaluated on Jan. 5, is taking a wait-and-see approach.

"I'll get checked two weeks again to see how it's healing and see how it's calcifying," he said. "I don't think there's any easy way for me to tell you when I'll be back and how it's going to heal.  I don't have a crystal ball, so it's kind of a wait-and-see approach. We kind of take it with each kind of, I guess, analysis, and each appointment after that."

Pronger, who had a team-leading 75 blocked shots prior to Saturday's game, said he has never experienced a foot injury this severe.

"I had, not to this extent, a similar injury like this in Anaheim but to my other foot almost in the small spot on a very similar play," Pronger said. "It wasn't a very hard shot. It was right off the draw, a little wrist shot. I went to block the shot, I picked up my skate and opened my foot and it hit me almost on the exact same spot as this one and that broke my foot as well. It hits you in the right spot on your boot."

Pronger said he missed almost four weeks while recovering from that foot ailment.

"It was a different break," he said. "This one, I think, was a worse break so the time frame is obviously different."

Last season, his first in Philadelphia, Pronger was named team MVP after finishing with 10 goals and 55 points in 82 games. He had 18 points in 22 games last spring in helping the Flyers reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1997 and averaged a League-high 29:03 of ice time per game in the postseason.

"It's disappointing," Holmgren said. "It is what it is. Other guys will pick up the slack."

One such player will be Oskars Bartulis, who was paired with veteran Sean O'Donnell against the Rangers on Saturday. The 23-year-old Latvian has been on the roster all season, but had played just three games, the most recent being Nov. 1.

"This is an opportunity for Oskars to get into the lineup and play and get back into the rhythm of playing," Pronger said. "He's obviously sat out a long time and it's not easy."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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