As the Flyers went down in flames on Friday night at TD Garden in Boston, to get swept out of the second-round series by the Bruins, smoke of an uncertain offseason quickly filled the air.
Lost in the haze of disappointment and blame, however, was the play of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who provided a flicker of optimism in an otherwise empty 5-1 defeat.
“He was real big in the net,” said defenseman Sean O’Donnell. “He didn’t make the fancy save but I think sometimes with goalies when they don’t make the fancy save is when they are playing well. A lot of pucks were hitting them. You can’t fault him tonight.”
Since Chris Pronger’s Game 6 return to the line up, the talk has been of his impact on the power play, his veteran presence and the spark he could and did provide. That’s all true and proved so in the team’s Game 7 victory against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday.
But in the long-term, as the big defenseman begins to log more minutes and heal that aching right hand, Pronger’s key contribution will come in the form of pure depth for the Flyers.
“I think his presence back there is huge,” said James van Riemsdyk. “When you get a guy like him back in the lineup it’s huge.”
After leaving with a knee injury in the first period of Sunday’s 4-2 win over the New York Rangers, Flyers defenseman Sean O’Donnell said he could have returned to play and that holding him out was simply precautionary.
However, upon further review, the injury might have been more serious than expected
According to general manager Paul Holmgren on Monday, O’Donnell, who skipped practice, will miss 10-14 days with a knee sprain. Seventh defenseman Oskars Bartulis is expected to fill in during that time.
O’Donnell, 39, has one goal and 11 assists, and is a plus-7 in 59 games with the Flyers. Not accustomed to missing time, O’Donnell has played 75 games or more in 11 of his 14 seasons prior to this year.
After falling on the road to the Boston Bruins, 7-5, just one night prior, the Flyers were looking for more “jam” against the competitive Atlanta Thrashers.
And Sean O’Donnell stepped up and brought it.
The 39-year old veteran defenseman, who scored a beautiful goal against the Bruins, set the tempo and led by example by making two clean and violent hip checks against the Thrashers’ Rich Peverly and Evander Kane. The Flyers were able to outlast Atlanta in the third period, winning the contest, 5-2.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)
Immediately after trading forward Simon Gagne to the Tampa Bay Lightning for 6’4 depth defenseman Matt Walker, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren attempted to explain his reasoning behind the move.
“When we came out of the Stanley Cup Final loss to the Blackhawks, we had specific objectives in mind,” Holmgren told CSNPhilly.com. “And the No. 1 thing on our list was to improve our defense, and No. 2 on our list was to get a little bigger.”
And he seemingly achieved both this offseason by signing Walker, 6’3 forward Jody Shelley, as well as defensemen Sean O’Donnell and Andrej Meszaros, who both stand at 6’2.
But despite the appearance of greater size and talk from the GM, the truth is in the numbers — the Flyers are no bigger than they were last year.
Ryan Bright (Philabright@gmail.com) is a sports writer, born and raised in the Philadelphia area. A graduate of West Chester University, he has been with the Daily Local News in Chester County since early 2007, working as the paper's college and high school ice hockey beat writer. In 2010, began as a contributer for CSNPhilly.com, covering the Flyers and the Philadelphia Union.