Figuring out the Flyers: Defense Part I

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Figuring out the Flyers: Defense Part I

As much as the Flyers’ goaltending was both praised and maligned this past season (see story), nothing dominated the team’s overall consciousness like its defense.
 
Start to finish, the Flyers were mostly a reconstruction project on the blue line because of injuries and a poor offseason.
  
From the get-go, the Flyers were worse off than last season because Chris Pronger wasn’t coming back and Matt Carle was headed back to Tampa Bay. When GM Paul Holmgren struck out with Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, the Flyers were doomed.
 
Four games into the lockout-shortened season, the club lost Andrej Meszaros and was still waiting for Erik Gustafsson to recover from injury with the Phantoms, fielding an immobile blue line that wasn’t very skillful with the puck under pressure.
 
Before the season ended, the Flyers had lost four of their starting six from the season opener and would play 13 different defensemen just to survive.
 
Pronger? He won’t ever play again. His money will continue to hang in the balance for use when the Flyers need to place someone on long-term injured reserve.
 
Neither Marc-Andre Bourdon (post-concussion syndrome) nor Matt Walker (dual hip injuries) played a game for the Flyers. Walker is an unrestricted free agent this summer.
 
Kurtis Foster and Kent Huskins were previously evaluated last week in CSNPhilly’s story on UFA Flyers who might not return (see story).
 
If Holmgren does nothing else this summer, fixing the blue line is paramount.

Here’s a look at our first installment of players under contract, plus pending restricted free agents expected to be re-signed:
 
Braydon Coburn
Age: 28
Games played: 33
Stats: one goal, four assists
Plus/minus: minus-10
Average ice time: 22:36
Cap hit: $4.5 million for next three years
 
Talk about a player whose game has fallen off the charts. Coburn has had declining numbers since 2007-08. His once-mighty shot from the point has vanished while his puck handling has been sloppy.
 
His point production this season was a career-low 0.15 a game.
 
The Flyers were alarmed with his drop-off, which makes Coburn vulnerable to a trade this summer.
 
You can make an argument Coburn wasn’t as effective when split from Kimmo Timonen in 2010-11, then split again from Carle after the latter left in free agency last summer. Yet Coburn’s overall game suffered with too many turnovers and mental mistakes, while his ice time went to 22:36 this season –- two minutes less than the career-high he set in 2008-09.
 
Coburn missed the Flyers' final 15 games with a left shoulder separation. If he’s back, the Flyers need a major rebound year from him.
 
Bruno Gervais
Age: 28
Games played: 37
Stats: one goal, five assists
Plus/minus: minus-17
Average ice time: 17:07
Cap hit: $825,000 (2013-14 is his final year)
 
Though Gervais has a year left on his deal, he could easily become a cap casualty in an overall defensive upgrade this summer. He’s OK in short doses, but not cut out for every night's regular duties, especially logging 17 minutes a game.
 
He is an adequate seventh defenseman only, and frankly, Huskins would be far better in that role. Gervais' minus-17 rating in 35 games was the worst among all Flyers.
 
Nicklas Grossmann
Age: 28
Games played: 30
Stats: one goal, three assists 
Plus/minus: minus-1
Average ice time: 18:19
Cap hit: $3.5 million for next three years
 
Since coming to the Flyers prior to the 2012 trade deadline, the big Swede has had two concussions, a groin pull and a knee injury that cost him significant missed time, including the final 18 games this season (concussion).
 
At the time of his concussion, Grossmann was among the NHL leaders with 82 blocked shots. He is a perfect stay-at-home guy, and a pairing with a more mobile partner is ideal for the Flyers.
 
Positionally, he is among the smartest guys around. What the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Grossmann brings is physicality. The assumption is he won’t experience post-concussion syndrome next season, but it bears watching. 
 
Erik Gustafsson
Age: 24
Games played: 27 
Stats: three goals, five assists 
Plus/minus: minus-1
Average ice time: 20:08
Cap hit: restricted free agent this summer
 
Gustafsson took giant leaps forward this season, and you have to give him every credit because he overcame a leg fracture that was hard to diagnose during the lockout.
 
The Flyers didn’t want to thrust him into having to play upwards of 24 minutes a night, yet it became a blessing in disguise. Though still a little on the small side, Gustafsson has improved his skating and vision to move the puck. He had 39 blocked shots in 27 games.
 
A pending restricted free agent, Gustafsson should start next season regardless of what happens this summer.
 
Matt Konan
Age: 21 
Games played: two
Stats: no points
Plus/minus: even
Average ice time: 16:15
Cap hit: restricted free agent this summer
 
Incomplete. Konan dressed for the final two games of the regular season. He remains a call-up from the Phantoms.

NHL Playoffs: Cam Talbot, Pat Maroon lead Oilers to 2-0 series lead over Ducks

NHL Playoffs: Cam Talbot, Pat Maroon lead Oilers to 2-0 series lead over Ducks

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Cam Talbot made 39 saves, Patrick Maroon scored a power-play goal and the Edmonton Oilers moved halfway to the Western Conference finals with a 2-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks in Game 2 of their second-round series Friday night.

Andrej Sekera scored an early goal for the Oilers, who took the first two games on Pacific Division champion Anaheim's home ice. Talbot was the difference in Game 2, making all manner of impressive saves while Anaheim dominated the last 30 minutes.

Jakob Silfverberg scored and John Gibson stopped 21 shots for the Ducks, who had gone 18 games without a regulation defeat before this series. Anaheim has never recovered from an 0-2 series deficit, losing all seven series after digging that early hole.

Game 3 is Sunday in Edmonton (see full recap).

Tarasenko scores twice as Blues beat Predators
ST. LOUIS -- Vladimir Tarasenko scored twice, including the tiebreaking goal with 3:51 left to give the St. Louis Blues a 3-2 victory over the Nashville Predators in Game 2 on Friday night to tie the Western Conference semifinal series.

Jori Lehtera also scored for the Blues, and Jake Allen stopped 22 shots -- including 14 in the third period.

Ryan Ellis had a goal and an assist and James Neal also scored for the Predators, who had their franchise-high five-game postseason winning streak snapped. Pekka Rinne finished with 17 saves.

Game 3 is Sunday at Nashville, Tennessee.

Tarasenko's game-winner came on a lucky bounce. Jaden Schwartz led the rush and initially tried to pass it to Carl Gunnarsson, but the pass was off the mark and bounced off of Gunnarsson's foot right to Tarasenko's stick.

It was the first lead for St. Louis in 116:09 of the series (see full recap).

NHL Playoffs: Crosby, Bonino lead Penguins to Game 1 win over Caps

NHL Playoffs: Crosby, Bonino lead Penguins to Game 1 win over Caps

WASHINGTON -- Sidney Crosby scored two goals in 52 seconds, Nick Bonino had the winner in the third period and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Washington Capitals 3-2 in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series on Thursday night.

In a high-profile showdown of Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, Washington's captain also scored and Evgeny Kuznetsov had the goal that tied it in the third. But Marc-Andre Fleury made 15 of his 32 saves in the third period to help Pittsburgh to the win.

Crosby was a threat to score just about every time he touched the puck. He beat Braden Holtby with his first two shots of the second period.

Holtby stopped 18 of the 21 shots he faced but allowed Bonino's goal with 7:24 left.

Game 2 is Saturday night (see full recap).

Karlsson helps Senators edge Rangers 2-1 in Game 1
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Erik Karlsson scored on a bad-angle shot with 4:11 left in the third period, sending the Ottawa Senators to a 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers in the opener of their second-round playoff series on Thursday night.

The Senators captain beat fellow Swede Henrik Lundqvist from just above the goal line. The shot pinged off Rangers center Derek Stepan before going into the net.

It was Karlsson's first goal and seventh point of the playoffs. The 26-year-old defenseman, who has been playing with a foot injury, also logged more than 28 minutes in the win.

Game 2 is Saturday.

Ryan McDonagh scored for New York, and Lundqvist finished with 41 saves.

Craig Anderson stopped 33 shots and Ryan Dzingel scored for Ottawa, which eliminated Boston in six games in the first round (see full recap).