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.

Buffalo’s depth on defense is dwindling

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 18:  Josh Gorges #4 of the Buffalo Sabres skates against the Boston Bruins at First Niagara Center on October 18, 2014 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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The Buffalo Sabres aren’t known for their depth on defense, so when they have to deal with injuries at that position, things can get complicated.

Well…I guess things are about to get complicated.

On Sunday, the Sabres announced that Josh Gorges (pictured) will miss “weeks” because of a non-displaced fracture in his foot. The injury occurred after he blocked a shot in Thursday’s game against the Rangers.

Besides Gorges, Buffalo is also without Zach Bogosian and Dmitry Kulikov.

Bogosian has been out since Nov. 3 with sprained ligaments in his knee, and he’s still 10-to-14 days away from getting back into the lineup.

The news is a little better for Kulikov, who returned to practice on Sunday. He’s missed 11 games because of a back injury he suffered in the preseason. He tried playing through it, but obviously he was still in some discomfort.

“Kulikov has now skated two days with some physicality and now been skating for seven days,” coach Dan Bylsma said, per the Buffalo News. “Hopefully, that means we’ll see him in practice soon – in the next week hopefully.”

Now, some of the replacements for these guys are starting to get hurt.

Taylor Fedun missed Sunday’s practice and it’s unclear if he’ll be able to play against the Capitals on Monday night. If he can’t go, Buffalo will need to call someone up from the minors.

Things got so wacky last week that the Sabres called up Brendan Guhle from junior on an emergency basis. By rule, he can stay on the roster as long as he keeps playing. Once he stops playing, the emergency tag is removed and he has to go back to his junior team.

Guhle, Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake McCabe, Cody Franson and Justin Falk are the healthy defensemen on the roster right now.

Goalie nods: Dubnyk looks to continue dominance of Oilers

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 07:  Devan Dubnyk #40 of the Minnesota Wild celbrates a win over the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on April 7, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Wild defeated the Blackhawks 2-1.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Playing against your old team is always special, but Devan Dubnyk takes it to another level when he goes up against the Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers drafted Dubnyk in the first round, 14th overall, in 2004 and he spent parts of five seasons with them.

Since leaving Edmonton in 2014, he’s won six of seven games against his former team.

To make matters worse for the Oilers, his individual stats are better against them than they are against any other team in the league. He has a  1.28 goals-against-average and a .949 save percentage in those seven games.

His numbers in 2016-17 aren’t as good as his career numbers against Edmonton, but he still has a fantastic 1.67 goals-against-average and a .946 save percentage this season.

Like the Wild, the Oilers played last night, as they won an OT decision against the Ducks.

Cam Talbot played in that game, so they’ll opt to start backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson tonight.

Elsewhere… 

Ben Bishop turned in a solid performance against the Capitals last night, but the Lightning still haven’t announced who their starter will be this afternoon. Cam Ward is likely to get the nod for the Hurricanes.

–The Flyers and Predators both played afternoon games yesterday, and neither side has indicated who will start. Don’t be surprised if it’s Steve Mason against Pekka Rinne.

Jared Coreau made his NHL debut for Detroit yesterday, so look for Petr Mrazek to get the call tonight. Jaroslav Halak is the probable starter for the Islanders.

–Look for Connor Hellebuyck to be between the pipes for the Jets, but that hasn’t been confirmed. With Corey Crawford hurt, don’t be surprised if Scott Darling gets his second start in two nights for Chicago.

–The Ducks will give backup Jonathan Bernier the start in Calgary. The Flames will continue to ride Chad Johnson.

Flames get Johnny Gaudreau back way ahead of schedule

CALGARY, AB - APRIL 5: Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Los Angeles Kings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 5, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Some good news if you’re a fan of the Calgary Flames.

Johnny Gaudreau, who missed 10 games with a finger injury, will be back in their lineup for Sunday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks.

The Flames forward was injured in a game against Minnesota on Nov. 15 (he was slashed by Eric Staal), and after he underwent surgery, the team announced that he’d be out six weeks.

In the end, he missed less than three weeks of action.

“I’m ready to play,” Gaudreau said, per NHL.com. “I think the finger’s healed up pretty well there. I’m just excited to get things going here.

“I think they did a great job with my finger and we did a great job rehabbing it. They keep tell me it’s going to be harder to break the nine other fingers than to re-hurt this one. It feels good. It feels good when I shoot. I’m excited to finally get out of there.”

He’ll be playing with some added protection, as Calgary’s equipment manager made this glove for him:

Before Gaudreau got hurt, the Flames had a 6-10-1 record. But thanks to improved team play and some strong performances from goalie Chad Johnson, they managed to go 6-3-1 in, while Gaudreau was out.

The 23-year-old has five goals and six assists in 17 games, but he had scored three goals in three games before getting hurt.

Related:

Gaudreau injury a reminder as to how star players are treated

Boudreau: Flames made “mountain out of a molehill” over Gaudreau slash

Garret Sparks plays for first time since being suspended by Maple Leafs

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 30:  Garret Sparks #31 of the Toronto Maple Leafs gets set to face the Edmonton Oilers in an NHL game at Air Canada Centre on November 30, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Oilers 3-0. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Garret Sparks made waves for all the wrong reasons last week, as he was suspended by the Maple Leafs for remarks he made on social media.

Sparks officially made his return on Saturday night in the Marlies’ 3-2 loss to the Hartford Wolf Pack. He stopped 27 of 30 shots.

“It’s been a lot to deal with. I understand what I did,” Sparks said, per TSN.ca. “[The incident] wasn’t me. That’s not who I want to be known as, it’s not the image I want my reputation to have.

“I should know the difference between what I can and can’t say. It’s just holding myself to a higher standard of professionalism.”

The 23-year-old actually returned to the team on Tuesday, but didn’t play until yesterday.

With Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen dealing with an illness, the Leafs recalled Antoine Bibeau, which opened the door for Sparks to make his return.

Sparks has been limited to just five AHL games this year, but he was between the pipes for 17 NHL games in 2015-16.