MacDonald, Schenn clicking on blue line for Flyers

MacDonald, Schenn clicking on blue line for Flyers
March 21, 2014, 10:45 am
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Andrew MacDonald (left) and Luke Schenn (right) were paired together on the blue line as soon as the Flyers acquired MacDonald on March 4. (USA Today Images)

When the Flyers went out and traded for Islanders defenseman Andrew MacDonald 24 hours before the NHL trade deadline earlier this month, their intent was succinct.
 
A young, mobile, up-and-coming defenseman in the final year of an entry-level contract who could be molded into an existing cast and re-signed long term.
 
The only question was whom to pair MacDonald with. The answer seemed obvious, since MacDonald was soon to replace Andrej Meszaros on the blue line: Luke Schenn, Meszaros' former partner.
 
That's exactly what happened.
 
What the Flyers didn’t expect, however, was the instant chemistry the two would develop. Or that Schenn, who has struggled to find consistency in his game this season -- even being benched at one point -- would suddenly look like a more relaxed, confident and better player on the ice.
 
Seven games in, it’s working.
 
MacDonald is making Schenn a better defenseman, and that’s become a bonus to his defense. He can cover more lateral area in front of the slot more quickly, which allows Schenn to focus on his strengths -- his ability to hit and his penchant to block shots.
 
It’s even allowed Schenn to get a little more room to make first passes out of the back end -- stretch passes like the one he hit Vinny Lecavalier with last Saturday for a goal that broke the Pittsburgh Penguins' back at 3-0.
 
“Even before seeing Andy, you could imagine it as a good pairing,” said assistant coach John Paddock, who handles the defense.

“One is a bigger, physical guy. The other one is a slighter build, puck-mover. Those complements don’t always work out, but sometimes they do. This looks like a good pair.”
 
The pairing has given the Flyers a more versatile look on the back end. Now the team has three pairs of defensemen who can play in more situations.
 
Against Chicago, Paddock used Nick Grossmann and Mark Streit against Patrick Sharp. MacDonald went against Patrick Kane because of his skating ability. The toughest matchup saw Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen against Jonathan Toews.
 
“That was a handful for anybody,” Paddock said of Toews. “This allows us more flexibility of not worrying about the matchups.”
 
Remember when the Flyers hooked up Chris Therien and Eric Desjardins back in 1995 after the latter arrived in the trade from Montreal? Instant chemistry.
 
They went on to play a decade together. Desjardins the mobile puck-mover; Therien the big, physical presence who owned Jaromir Jagr in one-on-one matchups.
 
Schenn doesn’t skate as well as Therien, and MacDonald admits he has a ways to go to match Desjardins, but the idea here is similar: one guy complementing the other to become a very good pair and raise the level of play.
 
“Luke does a lot of things really well out there,” MacDonald said. “He’s big, physical, moves the puck well when the opportunity is there. For me, playing with Luke, we try to complement each other.
 
“We’ve been doing a good job of making day-to-day plays. He’s found the stretch guys a few times and so have I. We’re creating good chemistry out there. Get the puck in our forwards' hands with speed and transition.”
 
Schenn is noticeably more confident on the ice.
 
“You don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself and compare us to Desjardins and Therien who did a lot for the franchise, but I think MacDonald -- it’s only been a few games, but we’re developing chemistry and learning how to play together,” Schenn said.
 
“We complement each other well. He’s helped me out there. He’s a steady player to play with. We knew what type of player he was: steady and consistent. Probably not a real flashy guy or things you would notice about him.
 
“He is always in good position, makes a good first pass and puts pucks on the tape. He can play some offense, but I think the big thing is he is sound defensively.”
 
Paddock is blunt when asked how MacDonald-Schenn holds up against Meszaros-Schenn.
 
“No disrespect to anyone else or any pairing this year, but MacDonald is a better player,” Paddock said. “A calm, cool guy who moves the puck and is in position defensively.
 
“Good position all the time. A smart player who can skate and pass the puck. Some guys get chemistry. They got it.”
 
And how does Schenn feel right now?
 
“Throughout the whole year, I had bumpy ground, had a few different partners,” he said. “This is the first time where I had a few games with the same guy to develop a relationship as a defensive pairing. I enjoy playing with him.”