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.

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    Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

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    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

    Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

    “It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

    Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

    “That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

    Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

    Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

    Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

    Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

    “We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

    Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

    Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

    Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

    Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

    Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.

    STREAKING

    Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

    NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.

    UP NEXT

    Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

    Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

    Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

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    PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

    T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

    Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

    Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

    Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

    Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

    Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

    The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

    Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.

    UP NEXT

    Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

    Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.

    Penguins prospect Sam Poulin taking leave of absence

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    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins forward prospect Sam Poulin is taking a leave of absence from the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

    Penguins general manager Ron Hextall announced on Wednesday that the 21-year-old Poulin, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2019 draft, is stepping away due to “personal reasons.”

    “The Penguins support Sam’s decision to take time away from hockey to focus on himself,” Hextall said in a release. “As with all of our players, our priority is them as individuals first. We look forward to having him back with the team when he is ready.”

    Hextall said Poulin will return home to Quebec and continue to work out on his own.

    Poulin made his NHL debut in October and had one assist in three games before heading back to the AHL. Poulin had four goals in 13 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the time of his decision.

    Nathan MacKinnon sidelined about a month with upper-body injury

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    DENVER — The injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche will be without leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon for about a month after he suffered an upper-body injury in a loss to Philadelphia.

    The team announced the news on social media.

    MacKinnon has eight goals and 26 assists for a team-best 34 points this season for the defending Stanley Cup champions. He joins a long list of banged-up players, including Valeri Nichushkin, Evan Rodrigues, Bowen Byram, Kurtis MacDermid, Josh Manson, Darren Helm and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Forward Artturi Lehkonen also missed the game in Philadelphia.

    The 27-year-old MacKinnon signed an eight-year extension in August. He was coming off a postseason in which he tied for the league lead with 13 goals, helping the Avalanche raise their third Stanley Cup in franchise history.