For years Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger has made a living with his physical play but it looks like it’s beginning to catch up with him as he underwent his second knee surgery in two seasons this week. In the last two seasons, Pronger has missed significant time thanks to five serious injuries and the Flyers are once again left without their captain for at least a month. Now the team must once again find a defenseman who can step up and replace one of the better blueliners in the NHL.
Pronger had not been back long from an eye injury caused by a high stick when he was scratched thanks to what the team called a “virus”. One week and four missed games later, Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren announced the 37-year-old defenseman would need to undergo surgery to remove particles from his knee, a far cry from the once diagnosed virus. Though he probably could have played through the uncomfortable injury, it was better to get it taken care of now rather then wait. The question now is, who will step up and replace Pronger in his absence?
The Flyers went a mediocre 5-4-1 while Pronger recovered from his eye injury but this time around will miss about four weeks and if Philadelphia remains on that pace, they could be scrambling for one of the Eastern Conference’s bottom seeds. Last season Pronger missed the most games of his career and the team went 15-8-6 while he was out. Two big reasons for the Flyers’ continued success was the play of Kimmo Timonen and Andrej Meszaros, who helped show that the Flyers were able to keep pace without No. 20.
“We’ve been without [Pronger] now for a little bit now,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette told CSN Philly. “So I think things remain the same. The guys that come up and fill in, and the guys who have been here and maybe taken on more responsibility, it’s nothing new.”
Timonen has long been a workhorse for the Flyers and logs significant ice time game in and game out – just under 22 minutes before Prongers injury. The same can be said for Meszaros, whose ice time has spiked in the last week but he is used to it after last season when he filled in nicely for Pronger and proved to be the best offseason acquisition for the Flyers. Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle shouldn’t be overlooked either, as both are experienced veterans who should be able to – and expect – a larger workload this December.
After those players, the Flyers are a little short on replacements thanks to injuries. The Flyers’ best young defenseman, Erik Gustafsson is out for another five weeks with a wrist injury, while Andreas Lilja was just put on long term injured reserve thanks to a high ankle sprain. The good news is that the Flyers are getting the injury bug out of the way now, instead of in March as they hope to get forwards Jaromir Jagr and James van Riemsdyk back sometime this weekend which will help rejuvenate the offense and possibly take some of the pressure off the defense.
While the Flyers won’t miss his leadership because there is plenty throughout their lineup, the team will miss Pronger’s irreplaceable blasts from the point. It has become somewhat of his trademark throughout his career and can make a huge difference on the powerplay. No other blueliner comes close. Pronger also has an intelligence on the ice that no one except perhaps Timonen has. He rarely makes stupid mistakes and typically knows where everyone on the ice is at any given time – the same can’t be said for Meszaros and Carle.
It certainly is a heavy load to carry, one that only a 6-foot-6, 220 pound defenseman can handle but the Flyers hope their defensemen can collectively fill in for the captain, much like last year and coast until Pronger’s return right before the Winter Classic on Jan. 2.