It's no surprise that Chris Pronger is the best defensemen for the Philadelphia Flyers and it is no surprise that as he goes, the team defense goes too. This year Pronger has not been as dominating as he was in years past. Some might suggest that this has to do with the minor knee surgery that he underwent in July, and others may suggest it is about time the skyscraper's age caught up with him. But this simply is not the case.
Chris Pronger's defensive game is not 100%. But it has nothing to do with aching knees or age. It is simply lapses of judgement. Let us exam just one game, last Thursday's shootout with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Chris Pronger made mistakes that led directly to opposing goals. On Downie's goal, the sixth for the Lightning, Pronger misreads a puck leading to an odd man rush. Then he hustles, gets back, and leaves Downie open back door. On Tampa's game winner Pronger simply doesn't pick up his man as he goes right by him and pounds in a rebound.
And he is not the only one. Sean O'Donnell, Andrej Meszaros, Braydon Coburn, Matt Carle, and Kimmo Timonen have also been prone to poor clears, failing to clear the porch and losing men. On the whole, the team defense seems to be a source of momentum killing, taking the momentum gained by their offensive cycling away with consecutive shifts spent in the D zone every night because of these mistakes. All this running around in the D zone ends in trips to the penalty box rather than the bench and makes the Flyers the most penaltized team in the NHL.
Now before you go asking for my fan card back, let me finish. Pronger has played good this year. He, along with the other D, have been much more willing to shoot which leads to much more scoring chances. But the mental lapses have hurt the team. These lapses happen on every D, on every team but the problem is that these lapses are happening a few times a game costing the Flyers games they should be winning or almost costing them. When the offense puts up 7 goals, you need to win. Hell, when the offense puts up 4 goals you should be pulling out a W.
However, for some reason, some of these games are getting a lot closer than they should be because the Flyers' D are leaving the back door open, or pivoting the wrong way (like Pronger did for the first goal against in Saturday's win against the Caps). Unlike last year, it is not just the bottom pair D making these mistakes, it is happening with Pronger on through.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="457" caption="Pronger and the Philly D need to cut down on mistakes"][/caption]
So why are these lapses happening? I believe that this isn't an issue of adding two new defensemen to the mix and they aren't gelling yet. They have been playing with each other long enough to overcome that. Plus, the two new D-men are partners so that would not explain the other 4's play. I don't think this has to do with "Stanley Cup Hangover," or where a team finds it hard to get up for regular season games after tasting the intensity of Stanley Cup matches. I think we saw that in the first few games of the year, but if this were the case they would be lacking in other ends of the rink as well but their great offensive numbers prove they aren't.
To me, the reason the D play has fallen is because the offensive game has opened up. They have been scoring a ton of goals, and the D have been a big part of that. Philly has been scoring big quantities not just in the whole season but in individual games. Sometimes when the D is thinking about getting involved on that next goal, or is playing with the offense too much they lose track of assignments in their own end. They frankly get caught up in one aspect of the game.
This early in the season, it is not a red flag worthy of being waved from every hill and mountain top. But it is surely worth being talked about. The offense is rolling right now, and with Bobrovsky playing well so is goaltending. It is just a matter of time before the lure of the offensive rush becomes old news and the D starts tightening up the links of the chainmail armor Paul Holmgren and the Flyers' brass put together. Hopefully it won't cost them anymore games.