Flyers' defense excelling despite youth, inexperience

Flyers' defense excelling despite youth, inexperience

April 26, 2013, 12:45 pm
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The Flyers are 4-1 since Brandon Manning was recalled from the Phantoms on April 16. (USA Today Images)

There are many incongruities about this lockout-shortened season that will end for the Flyers on Saturday in Ottawa.
 
Among them, how a totally-devastated defense that lost four of it’s top five players could remold itself around some youth and a couple of veterans, then play fairly well over the final month of the season.
 
Since rookie Oliver Lauridsen joined the roster March 30 once Braydon Coburn went down with a shoulder injury, the Flyers are 9-5.
 
Since Lauridsen was joined by Brandon Manning on April 16 as the defense changed over again, the team is 4-1.
 
How do you explain something like that on a non-playoff club?
 
“I think from a team standpoint, the guys have done a nice job with making sure they come back and trying to keep the game simple,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “I think the guys who have stepped in did a really nice job. ... There have been games where we gave up too many shots and chances but then our goaltenders have been really good. ... I think it’s more of a team commitment and our goaltenders have done a nice job as well.”
 
Lauridsen has already achieved his first NHL fight and first two goals, while providing a physical presence. He has miles to go, but you have to like what you see from the 6-foot-6 blueliner.
 
He’s playing for a roster spot next season, and making a good presentation.
 
“That has been the goal the entire time,” Lauridsen said. “Obviously, I know there have been a lot of guys down with injuries this year. I got my shot here in the last 10 games. I have just been trying to make a mark for myself, and hopefully I put myself in a good position for when camp starts next year.”
 
The "great Dane" is proud that a group of unknowns, at this point, have helped make the Flyers a bit more competitive at the end, aided by some sound goaltending from Steve Mason, whose puck-handling abilities make it much easier for a patchwork defense to do its job.
 
“We have kept it very simple, and I think that is a great asset to have, as a D-core, no matter who is out there,” Lauridsen said. “With regards to the guys we have out there, I am actually pretty proud of what that D-core has done. We have had so many guys in and out. We haven’t given up that many goals. We have gotten some great support from out goaltenders. We kept it real simple and kept a minimal defensive zone time. It is paying off and we succeeded winning games, too.”
 
On Thursday during the Flyers' 2-1 win over the Islanders, rookie Matt Konan made his NHL debut. He had to acquaint himself with new teammates.
 
“Being a young guy, I just want to keep it simple and go out there and show what I’m made of … and not be a liability out there,” Konan said.
 
There were plenty of ex-Phantoms around the dressing room to make him feel comfortable.
 
“That did help a lot,” Konan said. “Seeing and playing with the other guys down there. They are all up here now. It was kind of a relief seeing those faces in the locker room, but like I said, just went out there, played hard and got the job done.”
 
One player who has really had an impact as his ice time has ballooned because of injuries to other is second-year defenseman Erik Gustafsson.
 
He advanced to the first-unit power play once Kimmo Timonen was shut down with a foot injury.
 
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” Gustafsson said. “I was nervous at the start. I have been watching Kimmo all year and last year. Just keep it simple and move the puck. I hope to grow with the opportunity.”
 
Gustafsson played five games as Timonen’s partner this month.
 
“I have learned a ton from Kimmo,” Gustafsson said. “I can’t even tell you. Just the poise, the smarts. The positioning. You don’t have to panic. You take it easy. You don’t ever throw the puck away. You try to hit it or take a step and fire it off the glass. Kimmo’s smarts is where you pick up on things.”
 
Laviolette could not be more pleased with Gustafsson’s development at the end here.
 
“Gus is approaching 25 minutes,” Laviolette said. “Just an example. He gets another opportunity, another crack at big minutes. He did an  outstanding job.”
 
Gustafsson had a strong game against Boston with a new partner: Andreas Lilja.
 
“What was impressive was that Gus had to stand on his own [against Boston],” Laviolette said. “I thought Lilja came in and did a terrific job for us. When you are playing with Kimmo on a consistent basis, there is a simplicity to the game that makes it a little bit easier.”
 
Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov has his own theory about this new group.
 
“They got an opportunity,” Bryzgalov said.  “Not every day do you have the opportunity to play in the NHL. Sometimes good players play their whole career in the minors, and never have the chance to play in the NHL.
 
“They have a great opportunity to play and show themselves what they are capable of doing. If they play hard and play well, lots of teams and management are watching. This is just a chance; maybe it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
 
And they have made something of it, too.
 
Loose pucks
Laviolette would offer no indication as to who dresses and who sits in the season finale against Ottawa … Mike Knuble has been a healthy scratch six of his last seven games and would like one more skate with the Flyers … Call-up Jason Akeson figures to be a look in the final game … Laviolette said his goal remains “to win a hockey game,” which will take precedence over the lineup, you have to think with him. Flyers could finish 23-22-3 which the players want to see happen. The club has won five of its last six games ... Marc-Andre Bourdon (post-concussion syndrome) skated with the Flyers for the first time in 2013. He was unavailable.
 

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