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BLUE LINE GROUP

Much-maligned, the Flyers defensive corps has been staunch and a bright spot of late

Tuesday, 12.3.2013 / 6:05 PM ET / News
By Anthony SanFilippo  - Philadelphia Flyers Inside Reporter
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BLUE LINE GROUP

DETROIT – On practice days, they are the men in black. On game days, they are the men in the crosshairs.

They are the Flyers defensive corps.

And as a unit they have not been held in very high regard over the past 12 months.

From the start of last season through now, the Flyers defensemen have been labeled as too slow, or too weak, or not smart, or ragamuffin, or any other number of mostly derogatory adjectives.

The arguments are they don’t have a true No. 1. They don’t have a legitimate puck-mover. They aren’t very good on breakouts…. Blah, blah, blah.

What they do have is a solid group who plays the system very well in its own end and is a big reason why the Flyers have a top five scoring defense in five-on-five play.

The Flyers have given up just 39 goals 5-on-5 in 27 games so far this season. That’s an average of 1.44 per game.

That total ranks fifth in the NHL behind Minnesota (1.17), Los Angeles (1.32), Montreal (1.36) and Boston (1.41).

After being a helthy scratch for three games early last month, Luke Schenn has returned with an improved game to help solidify the Flyers blue line.

“Everyone is looking for a stud defenseman out there, you know a Norris Trophy candidate,” said Luke Schenn. “Sometimes though, as is our case, if you have a group of guys who can play any situation and can step in at any time and fill that void, it’s just as good.

“Everyone would like to have a [Shea] Weber or [Zdeno] Chara on their team of course, but they don’t grow on trees. Instead, we have eight capable guys who all can play good hockey. We are happy with our group no matter what the outsiders say or don’t say about us.”

They’ve said a lot of negative, but not recently. That’s because this group has been solid if unspectacular.

The Flyers have limited their opponents to two goals or fewer (not counting shoot goals) in 17 of 27 games this season.

Think about that for a minute.

That means that in 63 percent of the games they play, they are not allowing more than two goals – and that includes in other situations as well, not just five-on-five.

It made me think back to an interview I did with Kimmo Timonen in the summer. At the time he suggested the defensive group was better than they were getting credit for, not just locally, but across the NHL.

“I’m excited to see what we’ll look like if we’re healthy and able to play more than just a few games together,” said Kimmo Timonen at the time. “I think it’s a good group here.”

And it has been a good group. Especially since Craig Berube has implemented his new system that has made defense a group effort and not a six-man group that is frequently left alone on an island.

“It goes hand-in-hand,” Berube said. “It takes everyone out there on the ice to contribute to defensive zone coverage and playing good defense. It needs good back pressure from your forwards and having a good F3 (third forward high/first forward back) so your defensemen can be more aggressive.

“It’s the same thing on breakouts. If you don’t have good support you can’t break the puck out. But, the defensemen are playing really well. They’re doing a good job. They’re starting to get up in the rush too. We can have more of that – and it’s something they have to practice. But we can stay on them about it.”

Yes, they can improve offensively, as they’re not getting a ton of points from the blue line, but they seem to have the defensive end of things figured out.

“We started playing better and it’s all about our effort,” said Andrej Meszaros, who has both been part of the quie

Andrej Meszaros is starting to play more confidently, which is what the Flyers would like to see from him as he tries to round into 2011 form.

t resurgence of the Flyers defense, and has watched it from the press box as a guy who has been in and out of the lineup as part of a back end rotation. “We have eight good defensemen who can play in any situation. It makes it easier too if you play with the same partner for a long time. We’ve been pretty solid that way.

“For me though, it’s a team effort. The forwards help us and we help them and that’s what builds confidence and makes it work better.”

NOTES: VInny Lecavalier (back spasms) and Kimmo TImonen (maintenance) did not practice Tuesday. Timonen will play Wednesday against the Red Wings. Lecavalier is still up in the air…. The Flyers will catch the Red Wings without their entire top line and minus one of their top defensemen as Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Todd Bertuzzi and Danny DeKeyser will all miss Wednesday’s game. Still, the Red Wings come into the contest red hot, winners of four straight…. The Flyers can move into a playoff position with a win against the Red Wings and a loss by New Jersey to Montreal tomorrow… Steve Mason will probably be in net for the Flyers.

To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email asanfilippo@comcast-spectacor.com or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers

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HOME
AWAY
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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 WSH 53 40 9 4 175 120 84
2 FLA 54 32 16 6 150 122 70
3 NYR 54 31 18 5 153 135 67
4 NYI 53 29 18 6 150 131 64
5 DET 54 28 18 8 136 132 64
6 BOS 54 29 19 6 159 148 64
7 TBL 53 29 20 4 140 127 62
8 PIT 53 27 19 7 138 135 61
9 NJD 55 27 21 7 122 123 61
10 MTL 55 27 24 4 147 145 58
11 PHI 53 24 20 9 127 138 57
12 CAR 54 24 21 9 130 142 57
13 OTT 56 25 25 6 157 173 56
14 CBJ 56 22 28 6 140 173 50
15 BUF 55 21 28 6 125 151 48
16 TOR 53 19 25 9 122 149 47

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
C. Giroux 53 16 29 -8 45
J. Voracek 53 8 35 -3 43
W. Simmonds 53 20 16 -7 36
B. Schenn 51 15 15 1 30
S. Gostisbehere 35 9 20 4 29
S. Couturier 40 9 15 9 24
M. Read 51 9 9 -5 18
M. Raffl 53 7 7 5 14
S. Laughton 52 4 10 -7 14
M. Del Zotto 51 4 9 -8 13
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
S. Mason 13 14 7 .917 2.65
M. Neuvirth 11 6 2 .933 2.14
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