From Parent and Krajicek to Meszaros and O'Donnell
Make no mistake, the Flyers have their goaltending issues. Anyone that's been watching the team for the past fifteen or so years can attest to that. And the so called "goaltending carousel" that fans have seen in these playoffs only reiterates that it's still a big issue.
At the same time, you can also make a case that the reason the Flyers fell short last year was not because of the goaltending but fact that after their "big four," their defense was basically inept. Ryan Parent was the butt of many jokes and Lucas Krajicek was so bad that he barely got any ice time. It was either play those two and cringe while watching them, or have Pronger, Timonen, Coburn, and Carle take extra shifts for them. It was a lose-lose situation.
Things are different this time around. In two moves that may have not seem so great at the time, GM Paul Holmgren drastically changed the defensive makeup of this Flyers team for the better.
On July 1st, while many people were hoping for the Flyers to sign a goaltender, Paul Holmgren went out and traded for Andrej Meszaros. Meszaros had been struggling mightily down in Tampa Bay and had not been the same since his days in Ottawa. Not many people were happy with the trade because of his poor play and hefty $4 million/year cap hit. No one could have expected what the Flyers ended up getting out of him this season.
Holmgren also signed free agent defenseman Sean O'Donnell the same day to a one-year deal. At 39 years old, people were not expecting too much from him other than the veteran presence and Cup-winning experience that he could bring. O'Donnell has certainly brought way more than that.
Unfortunately, the defense was a bit shaky down the stretch and at times in the playoffs, too. Yesterday specifically, way too many defensive breakdowns occurred. Obviously this cannot keep happening, especially with the talent the Flyers have on the back end. With the dedication to defensive depth, Meszaros and O'Donnell now have an even bigger role.
With guys like Pronger and Timonen you know what to expect. They are both human and make mistakes themselves as we saw yesterday, but they bounce back without a problem and always seem to make up for their mistakes.
James van Riemsdyk, Nikolay Zherdev, and Claude Giroux have stepped up their game in the post season. It is now time for Meszaros and O'Donnell to do the same and to get back to their regular season form.
While the play of Pronger is obviously huge and the goaltending cannot be as bad as it was yesterday, #41 and #6 are going to prove to be two BIG x-factors in this series against Boston.
The Bruins showed their depth yesterday and they also showed how dominant their first line can be. Pierre McGuire eluded to the fact that the Flyers were not getting the correct line match-ups in the game. Peter Laviolette has the chance to change that tomorrow night with Game 2 on home ice. But when the Flyers head up to Boston, they are not going to have that luxury. It's not just the forwards that are important with match-ups -- it's the defensemen, too.
Last year it was a nightmare on the road with Parent and Krajicek. Any match-up was a bad match-up for those two, but Meszaros and O'Donnell are capable of facing the top lines and not looking flat-footed or out of position.
It is also not just about defense with these two guys. Meszaros's shot is so highly valued by the Flyers; he scores huge goals for this team. He only has one goal so far in the playoffs, but of course it was a big one that helped a Flyers come back in Game 5 versus the Buffalo Sabres.
Some people think that the plus/minus stat is extremely overrated, but the fact that Meszaros finished the season as a +30 was not a coincidence. And if it was not for his struggles down the stretch, O'Donnell would have been in the positive double digits, too.
There are plenty of keys to beating the Bruins. The power play is going to have to start producing. The goaltending is certainly going to have to be less shaky. Briere, van Riemsdyk, and Giroux are going to have to keep doing what they've been doing. Chris Pronger is going to have to play like the Chris Pronger of old. But one of the biggest keys that is rarely discussed is of course the play of Meszaros and O'Donnell.
There should be no doubts about these two guys. Meszaros has been fantastic season long and despite his late season struggles, O'Donnell has enough experience to know what has to be done and know how important his play is to the success of his team.
The Flyers have prided themselves on their defensive depth from the time the preseason started. It's time to put that depth to the ultimate test against the Bruins this series.