Overshadowed by the Flyers 6-4 win over the Washington Capitals was the debut of defenseman Andrew MacDonald.
Acquired the day before the trade deadline, the former New York Islander suited up for this first game in the black and orange. To the delight of every Philadelphia fan, the veteran didn’t disappoint. Before further review, MacDonald recorded his first point in a Flyers uniform until his assist was taken away later in the game. Then, after the game, the goal was changed for the second time and Macdonald was credited with an assist. It was certainly an interesting way to get your first point with your new club. He ended up finishing +2 in his debut while leading the team in blocked shots.
For a team that has been plagued with sloppy play from their blueliners, MacDonald’s performance Wednesday night comes as a breath of fresh air for multiple reasons.
Unlike other defenders on the Flyers, MacDonald didn’t look nervous or jumpy with the puck on his stick. He looked poised and confident as he continually made the smart move. On numerous occasions, MacDonald, rather than trying to do too much, would quickly deliver a pass up to the closest man instead of spinning the puck around the back of the net where turnovers come at a higher frequency.
Not once did MacDonald make a pass that left you wondering why he did that. This is a major plus for a team that has struggled all year with turnovers in its own zone. Nobody will look back on this game and say, “Boy, MacDonald’s passes were game-changers.” But what they won’t do is, “Man, I can’t believe MacDonald turned the puck over in the zone.”
The latter phrase has been used far too often with the likes of Braydon Coburn and Luke Schenn. MacDonald’s arrival definitely upgrades this area of the ice.
There’s something to be said about a defender who can stand his ground in front of his own net. While not the biggest guy on the ice at 6’0”and 185 lbs., MacDonald displayed some toughness in front of Steve Mason tonight.
The play that stood out was about four minutes into the third period when the Capitals were pressuring the Flyers zone. After a redirection got away from Mason, the Capitals would have had the perfect rebound goal set-up if not for MacDonald. The defenseman cut in front of the would-be goal scorer, bodied him out of the way to get to the puck before his opponent could and wound up delivering a beautiful outlet pass to Jakub Voracek.
It’s plays like these that go unnoticed by most people, but ultimately, are game-changing moments. Had MacDonald been outmuscled on that play, the Capitals would have had a tremendous opportunity to narrow the Flyers lead.
Aside from that one situation, there were multiple times he outworked his man along the boards or threw his body into an oncoming rusher to shut down the offensive rush. MacDonald finished Wednesday’s game with three blocked shots, too, which is a very unheralded attribute for defensemen.
It’s often a term that can be overused, but there’s no doubt that having a player who’s been around the league for five or more years can benefit a team. The 27-year-old demonstrated some savvy moves in his first game with the Flyers.
One particular instance was when he used his body to shield the oncoming forechecker from reaching the puck in the corner of the Philadelphia zone. This allowed Luke Schenn to safely carry the puck around the net with the defender being cut off by MacDonald’s smart pick.
Speaking of Luke Schenn, the often-criticized defenseman actually played very well as MacDonald’s linemate. That hasn’t been the case for him for much of this season. The 24-year-old looked a lot more confident Wednesday night, using his size to intimidate (his hit along the boards on Ryan Stoa – as legal as it was – was what started the brawl) and taking his time with the puck to make the smart decision. Now there was one or two times where he slipped up, but from what he’s done previously, his performance against the Capitals was a major improvement. If he can keep up his energy and continue to get in the face of oncoming forwards, the Flyers might have found themselves a formidable defensive pairing.