Pronger: Flyers need to be more physical

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Pronger2.jpgChris Pronger met with the media today after the Flyers practice, and as always he attracted the biggest media throng of all the players on the team.

He covered a number of topics, but what was most interesting to me was what he had to say about Dustin Byfuglien. The matchup between Byfuglien and Pronger was one of the most anticipated of the finals, especially considering how well Byfuglien had played around the crease in the previous series.

With Pronger patrolling the crease, however, Byfuglien and the top line of the Blackhawks had their worst game of the postseason. By far. Byfuglien was completely ineffective, and considering how poorly that line played it’s amazing that the Blackhawks were able to win.

Pronger is the veteran, he’s been here before and he knows how to handle players like Byfuglien. According to Pronger, perhaps the talk was a bit too much leading up to the game.

“There was a lot of talk. You guys had a lot to say about him,” Pronger said. “So I guess we needed to calm that down real quick. I have played in the West for 14 years. I played against him a lot. So it’s not like I’ve been out East for my whole career and never played against the guy. That may have been blown out of proportion, I think.

“I just tried to deny him easy access to the front of the net. As I said, the first couple of days I think teams allowed him to just to go stand there. You have to force a guy like that to work. He’s a big guy. But he’s got to exert some energy and work to get into position. That tires guys out that aren’t used to it. You have to pay a price, whatever that may be.”

Pronger hints that perhaps Byfuglien was given too easy an access to the front of the net before, and he just needed to be able to work out to be rendered ineffective. That Pronger was able to negate Byfuglien’s attack without taking a penalty in the game is amazing in itself.

Speaking of penalties, Pronger was asked if perhaps the Flyers needed to play a bit more aggressive. After all, not taking penalties isn’t exactly what the Flyers are all about. He got into a bit of a back and forth with the media over the question, until admitting that perhaps the Flyers didn’t play the game they’re successful with.

“Can we play more physically? Absolutely. I don’t think we need to take more penalties in doing so. I think we got off track by not getting the puck in deep and being physical in that respect.

“You know, if we take a couple of penalties, so be it. I don’t think we’re worried about taking penalties. I think we just got off track and started to play a little bit their game, a little bit of run and gun, and that fed into their hand a little bit.”

The fact that the Flyers took no penalties in the game caught everyone off guard, especially considering how close they played the Blackhawks without getting overtly physical. After finally getting down to it, Pronger is dead right; the Flyers don’t need to be undisciplined, but to be successful they can’t fall prey to the run and gun game that the Blackhawks are so good at.

Update: Pronger also had a bit of a feisty session with the media. Here’s video of his time at the podium.


McDavid will center Hall and Slepyshev

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ST. LOUIS (AP) Edmonton Oilers rookie Connor McDavid said he didn’t have any trouble falling asleep on the eve of his professional debut.

But when he woke up on Thursday he said it finally hit him.

“In the days leading up I wasn’t really thinking about it too much,” McDavid said. “Kind of when I woke up this morning, I guess that’s kind of when it hit me that I’ll be playing in my first NHL game. I think that’s when I first realized.”

When the Oilers play at the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night, all eyes will be on the 18-year-old McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and the most hyped player to enter the NHL since Sidney Crosby of the Penguins made his debut a decade ago.

Speaking in front of a crowd of reporters on Thursday following his team’s morning skate, the soft-spoken rookie admitted to having some butterflies but said he felt pretty good and was excited to get going.

“It’s just special,” McDavid said of his NHL debut. “I’m living out my dream, so there’s nothing better than that. I’m just really looking forward to tonight.”

McDavid will be centering the Oilers’ second line against the Blues with Taylor Hall on the left wing and Anton Slepyshev on the right. Hall was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, while Slepyshev will also be making his NHL debut on Thursday night.

“We all see what he can do in practice and the games,” Hall said of McDavid. “It’s important to remember he’s 18. I’m 23 and I still have bad games. Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world and still has bad games. There’s going to be some trials and some errors, but I think that he’s in a position to succeed and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow.”

Oilers coach Todd McLellan, hired in May after spending seven seasons with the San Jose Sharks, has already gotten accustomed to receiving questions about McDavid.

The first few questions McLellan was asked on Thursday were about the NHL’s most popular newcomer.

“What I’ve found with him is he’s working really hard to just be himself and fit in,” the coach said. “He doesn’t want to be special, he doesn’t want to be treated any differently but he obviously is. He’s trying to adapt to that and he’s doing a very good job of it personally and collectively I think our team has done a good job around him.”

McLellan said there are three levels of pressure surrounding him.

The first is McDavid’s individual expectations, which he is sure are extremely high. The second comes from the rookie’s teammates, coaching staff, organization and city of Edmonton.

“But where it really changes is the national, international and world-wide eyes being on him,” McLellan said. “How does that compare to some of the other players I’ve been around? I haven’t been around an 18-year-old who has had to deal with that. It’s new to all of us.

“I did spend some time talking to Sid (Sidney Crosby) about his experience and even since then the world’s really changed as far as media and social media and that type of stuff. This is a new adventure for everybody involved. I know Connor has the tools to handle the pressure and we’ll do everything we can to help him.”

Bruins’ second line officially goes under the microscope


While much has been written about the Boston Bruins’ depleted defense, there’s also a good amount of intrigue about the forward group, which will look dramatically different tonight compared to last year’s season opener.

Here are the Bruins’ expected lines versus the Jets:

Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronLoui Eriksson
Matt BeleskeyDavid KrejciDavid Pastrnak
Jimmy HayesRyan SpoonerBrett Connolly
Chris KellyJoonas KemppainenZac Rinaldo

The line most under the microscope may be that second one. In today’s Boston Globe, there’s a lengthy story on Krejci. The 29-year-old center with the big contract only played 47 games last season due to injuries. He finished with just 31 points.

So, where is Krejci’s game now?

Then there’s free-agent addition Matt Beleskey, a.k.a. Milan Lucic‘s replacement. Prior to scoring 22 times last year for the Ducks, the 27-year-old Beleskey had never tallied more than 11 goals in a season.

So, is Beleskey a legitimate top-six forward?

On the other wing, it’s David Pastrnak, the 19-year-old who, somewhat surprisingly, emerged as one of the top rookies in the league last year.

So, can Pastrnak take another step forward?

“It’s been a good three plus weeks where we’ve been able to kind of work individually, as a group, as a line, with different players and different personalities,” said coach Claude Julien. “We’re pleased with it. We’re optimistic and we just have to let things work themselves out too.”