Last season, over the course of 105 games, the Flyers lost their top four defensemen for a combined total of three man-games to injury.
Starting this afternoon, when the Rangers visit the Wells Fargo Center for the second time this season, Chris Pronger will more than triple that number.
General manager Paul Holmgren said over the summer that there is "no chance" the Flyers could be as fortunate as they were last season with injuries. He was right.
Yesterday, Pronger underwent successful surgery to have the first metatarsal in his right foot repaired by Dr. Steven Raikin, the same doctor who inserted two stabilizing rods into both the left and right feet of Jeff Carter last spring. Pronger, who was placed on injured reserve, is expected to miss 4 to 6 weeks.
It still will sting for the league-leading Flyers, but there are multiple silver linings to Pronger's surgery: The Flyers play just 12 games over the next 30 days, Holmgren significantly bolstered the blue-line depth in the offseason with Sean O'Donnell and Andrej Meszaros, and it will leave Pronger well-rested heading into the punishing playoff run.
"This is just one of those things," Holmgren said. "Injuries in our sport are pretty much a very frequent occurrence. I think we've been fortunate so far to this point, of being relatively injury-free. We'll deal with it."
The best-case scenario would be for coach Peter Laviolette to gradually work Pronger's replacement, Oskars Bartulis, back into the lineup. Bartulis, 23, has played in just three games this season and hasn't seen the ice since Nov. 1.
Bartulis has spent most of the past month-and-a-half not really a part of the Flyers' lineup, even though he practiced every day and traveled to all road games. Two nights ago, he enjoyed the Usher concert at the Wells Fargo Center. Today, he will be at center ice with his teammates.
"I've been waiting for this moment the whole time," Bartulis said. "And now here it is. I just need to show them that I can play. It was tough, every day you come in and you're not in the lineup. But I've been in this situation before, maybe not this long, and it's not easy. You just need to keep the game simple at first and then go from there."
For the rest of the Flyers' defenders, the uptick in ice time won't be that much of an adjustment. All except O'Donnell have averaged more than 19 minutes per game this season, allowing the Flyers to attack the opposition with all three units.
Meszaros (plus-21) and O'Donnell (plus-18) have been No. 1 and 2 in the league in plus/minus for the bulk of the season, though their pairing might be broken up with Bartulis skating with O'Donnell yesterday at practice.
"It doesn't matter to me how much I play, I just want to be good," Meszaros said. "We've got Oskars coming in and he is a talented hockey player. We're going to be fine."
Even though the Flyers would rather have a healthy Pronger in the lineup - since he quarterbacks the power play, is a stalwart on the penalty kill, and plays big minutes late in games - Laviolette has been focusing on keeping Pronger's ice time down. He has averaged 22 minutes, 20 seconds per game, just 7 seconds less than Kimmo Timonen for the team lead, almost 5 minutes below his career average.
"He's obviously a guy that you don't want to go too long without, but these things are going to happen," O'Donnell said. "We're going to need him in the spring and into June, so, hopefully, this will be a blessing in disguise to give him the slack and let us pick up the slack for a little bit."
Brian Boucher will start in net this afternoon against the Rangers . . . Expect Jody Shelley to be a healthy scratch for today's matinee with his former team, the Rangers. Shelley lost his fight with Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard on Nov. 4 . . . Kate Gosselin, star of the hit show "Kate Plus 8" on TLC, will be filming an episode at today's game with her eight kids in tow . . . The Flyers did not recall anyone to replace Chris Pronger on the roster, but have Danny Syvret available as an extra defenseman for next week's West Coast trip . . . Defenseman Matt Walker had successful hip surgery on Thursday in Nashville, Tenn., to remove an inflamed synovial tissue. Walker is expected to miss 6 to 8 weeks.
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