Washington Capitals v Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers looking for Meszaros to step up

There’s no doubt the Flyers will be looking to get back on track in New Jersey after last night’s lackluster failure against the Thrashers at Wells Fargo Center. They’ll look to get back on the winning side of things as they take on the rival Devils and try to eliminate them once and for all from postseason consideration. The game will be the Flyers’ 12th since Chris Pronger left the team with a hand injury—an injury which will keep him out of the lineup until the start of the playoffs. In his place, the entire defensive corps for Philadelphia has stepped up to pick up the slack. Andrej Meszaros has been asked by head coach Peter Laviolette to fill the void that was created when Pronger’s 22:29 of ice-time was sent to the press box. Kimmo Timonen has played the underrated effective game he’s played for the better part of a decade. Braydon Coburn has stepped up to play even more of a shutdown role and Matt Carle is proving he can play with just about anyone.

This isn’t the first time Pronger has missed time this season; and this isn’t first time the Flyers have thrived in his absence. Even before the news was announced that Chris Pronger would miss the rest of the regular season, CSN Philly’s Jim Jackson was already looking at the type of team the Flyers have been without Captain Hook.

“He has missed 25 games this season with three different injuries. The Flyers have more than held their own without him, going 14-6-5 in games he’s been out of the lineup. Still, though, his absence is felt, especially late in games, whether the Flyers are leading or trailing.”

More recently, Philadelphia is 6-2-3 since the latest Pronger injury that has cost the assistant captain 11 games. After feeling out his roster for the first two games after the injury, head coach Peter Laviolette handed Meszaros more responsibility. Whether it was because he trusted the Slovak or because he was looking for anything after blowing a 3-goal lead in the 3rd period against the Thrashers, Meszaros has grabbed onto the opportunity and made the most of it. In the 9 games since, he’s a +10 with five assists and is averaging 26:20 per game. In games against Dallas and Washington, he played at least 40 shifts in both games on his way to playing almost half of each. His new defensive partner Matt Carle is used to that kind of workload (by playing with Pronger), but Andrej Meszaros has taken the increased ice-time and proven to the coaching staff that he can be trusted with important minutes at critical points of the game. Sure, that helps now—but it’ll help even more if the Flyers are able to make a deep run into the playoffs like fans in Philadelphia expect.

To be honest, Meszaros has done a fantastic job in the limited role the Flyers have put him in for most of the season. The plus/minute will get people’s attention, but all season he’s just been a really good third pairing defenseman. He has 6 goals and 21 assists while playing just a hair under 21 minutes per game. Then again, “good third pairing defenseman” is usually a back-handed compliment; if he was that good, he wouldn’t be a bottom pairing guy. For those who thought he wasn’t getting the fair credit he deserved, this is the moment we’ll find out if they were onto something.

It’s not like we’re talking about an undrafted kid who is just now finally getting his shot to show what he’s worth. A quick history lesson: Meszaros is a former 1st round pick (23rd overall) of the Ottawa Senators. After the 2008 season, it was clear the young restricted free agent was going to get a serious raise—but not from the Sens. They dealt the promising blueliner to the Lightning; who promptly signed him to a 6-year, $24 million contract. It was validation, but also added a ton of expectations with his new team. After a pair of disappointing seasons in Tampa, the Lightning were more than willing to part with him (and his contract) in exchange for a 2nd round pick.

After last season, the Flyers were looking for a defensemen who could help alleviate the workload of their top 4 blueliners. There’s no question that Pronger, Matt Carle, Braydon Coburn, and Kimmo Timonen played well during Philadelphia’s Stanley Cup Finals run last season, but all four players ended up logging a ton of ice time. Unfortunately, the coaching staff had zero confidence in their 5th and 6th defenseman—and eventually it caught up with them. In the offseason, GM Mike Holmgren knew the biggest hole in his roster that prevented his team from winning the Cup was depth on the blueline. Between the trade for Meszaros and signing unrestricted free agent Sean O’Donnell to a one-year deal, Holmgren had put together a defensive corps that the team could depend on for both the regular season and the playoffs.

With the injuries the Flyers have encountered this season, the depth has been more important than they could have imagined. O’Donnell has played much more than Philadelphia probably wanted—and was exceeding all expectations before he sustained a knee injury last month. Combined with Meszaros, the pair of newcomers has given the Flyers the depth they so noticeably lacked last season in the playoffs. Assuming Pronger came get himself healthy for the first round, the team will only be that much stronger when the it needs the bottom-pairing guys to step up.

After all, they’ve proven all year they’re capable.

Red Wings hope to continue the climb back to playoff contention vs. Bruins

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 07:  Kevan Miller #86 of the Boston Bruins is upended by Luke Glendening #41 of the Detroit Red Wings during the second period at TD Garden on April 7, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The odds are against them right now, but the Detroit Red Wings hope to continue the climb back into the thick of the East’s playoff bubble against one team already situated in playoff position in the Boston Bruins. It should make for a spirited edition of Wednesday Night Rivalry (8 pm ET on NBCSN, online or the NBC Sports app).

At the moment, the Red Wings are closer to the bottom of the East (two points ahead of the last-place Islanders, one ahead of Buffalo) than the last wild card spot (Ottawa has a six-point edge and five teams rank ahead of Detroit right now).

On the other hand, Detroit won’t let its record-breaking playoff run end without a fight. The Red Wings are currently on a two-game winning streak, so there could be some optimism on their end.

Meanwhile, the Bruins rank second in the Atlantic, but they still need to protect their spot. Ottawa and Toronto aren’t far behind the Bruins, and both of those teams have five games in hand on Boston.

In other words, Detroit’s climb could benefit from Boston’s fall, so we’ll see what happens tonight.

Click here for the livestream link. Tonight’s doubleheader also includes the latest round of the San Jose Sharks – Los Angeles Kings rivalry.

Rather than whining, Capitals take ‘shut up and play’ approach with refs

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 18:  John Carlson #74 of the Washington Capitals pleads his case with referee Brad Meier after teammate Brooks Orpik #44 is down after a hit in the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 18, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) Shut up and play has been a mantra lately for the Washington Capitals.

Too often early in the season players would harp on officials for missing a penalty or getting a call wrong. So coach Barry Trotz and veteran leaders made a concerted effort to tone down on the yapping.

Even though the Capitals have taken their fair share of penalties, their bench has been quieter during an 11-game point streak and that’s not a coincidence.

“You don’t want to be known as the whiny team that the refs don’t want to go by the bench because they’re always going to get whined at from the players,” right winger Justin Williams said. “You don’t want to have that reputation.”

Trying to nip that reputation before it gets out of control, players talked inside the locker room about officials being human beings. No one likes to get yelled or screamed at while doing their job, so show a little respect and maybe it’ll get returned in kind.

Trotz and most around hockey will readily acknowledge just how difficult officiating an NHL game can be and compliment referees and linesmen for getting more calls right than wrong. He’ll often apologize to referees later for yelling at them if they saw something he didn’t.

But that doesn’t mean everyone’s always thrilled about officiating. Captain Alex Ovechkin expressed his displeasure about a couple of missed calls in their 8-7 overtime loss in Pittsburgh on Monday, including a high hit from the Penguins’ Patric Hornqvist on T.J. Oshie in the second period and a trip by Sidney Crosby on him in overtime.

“Everybody makes mistakes,” Ovechkin said Wednesday. “Everybody have emotions. If it’s 100 percent call and nobody make a whistle and don’t make a call, of course everyone going to be mad and sad about it. But I think the captains and the coaches, we can talk to the referees, so that’s what we should try to do.”

Trotz, Ovechkin and alternate captains Brooks Orpik and Nicklas Backstrom have the job of communicating with officials. Keeping the off-the-cuff yapping to a minimum has been part of Washington’s recent success.

Given the Capitals’ recent dominance at 5-on-5, not taking a reactionary penalty allows them to take advantage of their depth and wear opponents down. They’re pretty good when they’re not in the penalty box.

“I think controlling our emotions and having the right people talk all the time and focus on the right things can keep us more grounded, more on detail,” Trotz said. “I just think that’s how we’re going to handle it.”

Orpik said cutting back on mouthing off to officials can help players sharpen their focus on controllable aspects of the game. Oh, and they have long memories.

“If you yell and scream at them all game long, they might not give you the benefit of the doubt at the end of the game or the next game they have you they might say, `Oh we got Washington again,’ and before they even get to the game they’re sick of us,” Orpik said.

Perhaps sick of their own penchant for taking penalties, the Capitals don’t want to put undue stress on goaltenders Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer and the players tasked with killing them off. Williams said the coaching staff and older players had to set the tone for how everyone else should treat referees and linesmen.

Most of the time that means just being quiet.

“Yelling at the refs, although spontaneously it may feel like the right thing to do, it never changes the call – never, ever – as much as you whine and moan about it,” Williams said. “I think you get more respect from the referees that way when you show them the respect, as well.”

NOTES: D John Carlson missed practice Wednesday with a lower-body injury and is considered doubtful to play Thursday in St. Louis, which would be his second consecutive game out of the lineup. Trotz said the team would consider recalling a defenseman on Thursday morning but isn’t worried about going to St. Louis and Dallas with only 12 forwards “because we have airplanes.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .

Varlamov injured, again, as questions arise about future in Colorado

Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, of Russia, takes a drink during a time out against the Arizona Coyotes in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, March 7, 2016, in downtown Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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So, an interesting series of events for the Avs on Wednesday.

First, the club announced that No. 1 netminder Semyon Varlamov‘s troublesome groin — one that’s hampered him throughout the last two seasons — will sideline him for the next two weeks.

“We’re going to shut [Varlamov] down until after the All-Star break [Jan. 27-30],” coach Jared Bednar told the Avalanche website. “This is no longer a day-to-day thing.”

Varlamov, who turns 29 in April, has struggled with health and consistency since his banner ’13-14 campaign — the one in which he led the NHL with 41 wins, finished second in Vezina voting and fourth for the Hart Trophy.

He appeared in 57 games in each of the last two seasons, but his save percentage steadily dropped (from .921 to .914). This year, he’s only played 24 times, and he’s at an ugly .898.

Given he’s nearly 30 and trending in the wrong direction, it wasn’t entirely surprising to read this today, from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:

We’ve been focusing on defencemen as what the Avalanche will be acquiring for one of their cornerstone forwards.

But don’t be surprised if a goalie becomes a focal point of the conversation, too. I’m not sure Colorado is too secure in what they have.

Varlamov’s smack in the middle of a five-year, $29.5 million extension, one that carries a $5.9 million cap hit. That’s a big financial obligation. Outside of Varly, Colorado has a young ‘tender in Calvin Pickard — the 24-year-old in his first full year as Varlamov’s backup — but right now, it’s unclear if the Avs see him as a potential No. 1.

It’s also unclear what the organization thinks of Spencer Martin, the 63rd overall pick in ’13. Martin’s played reasonably well for AHL San Antonio this year, and is still just 21 years old.

Add it all up, and the goaltending situation is just another wrinkle in what’s become a very complex situation for Colorado.

Toffoli unlikely to join Kings on road trip

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 05:  Tyler Toffoli #73 of the Los Angeles Kings gets a shot on Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at Staples Center on December 5, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Los Angeles Kings will have to keep on keeping on without Tyler Toffoli.

Toffoli has not played since Dec. 20 due to a lower-body injury, and head coach Darryl Sutter doesn’t expect the sniper will join the Kings for their upcoming road trip.

“It was four weeks yesterday,” Sutter said, per LA Kings Insider. “We thought he’d be further ahead. Once we came back and had the doctor’s evaluation we were told a three-to-six week time frame, so yesterday was four weeks, so we thought he’d be a little further ahead, but at the same time, there’s a fine line between the healing and the training. I think Tyler’s pushing hard and we want him back. We were hoping to have him for sure on this next trip, so that doesn’t appear to be the case right now because he hasn’t had any skating or practicing.”

Toffoli did actually hit the ice for a skate this morning, but there remains no timetable for his return.

Without Toffoli, the Kings have been leaning heavily on Jeff Carter to score. Carter has a team-high 23 goals; Tanner Pearson is next with 13, followed by Toffoli with eight.

Read more: Kings still don’t have timetable for Toffoli’s return 

Los Angeles hosts San Jose tonight, then hits the road for five games starting Saturday in Brooklyn. A poor trip and the Kings — currently holding down the second wild-card spot, but only barely — could find themselves on the outside looking in.

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