NHL

Flyers must deal with Pronger injury

Hockey Primetime Bill Weisbrod
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Coming into this season, the biggest question for the Flyers was how all their new parts fit together.

Through the first two months, the results have mostly been positive. Philadelphia is fifth in the Eastern Conference at 14-7-3, good for 31 points and three points off the conference lead heading into Saturday.

Now that veteran defenseman Chris Pronger is on the shelf for the next month, the revamped team will face its biggest adversity of the season.

Pronger underwent knee surgery Tuesday and will be out of the lineup for at least three weeks — possibly as long as six weeks. He had already missed six games this year with an eye injury, and has not played since a Nov. 19 loss in Winnipeg due to a virus.

Nevertheless, the 37-year-old has been as important as any other Flyer, and as captain he dictates the team's mean-yet-talented identity.

Pronger was leading the team by averaging more than 22 minutes per game. He has led the team in average ice time per game each of his previous two seasons as a Flyer and was arguably the key to the team's Stanley Cup Finals run in 2010.

Despite missing significant time on injured reserve, Pronger still leads Philadelphia defensemen in points with one goal and 11 assists in 13 games.

That's all the more impressive considering Pronger had been playing with an injured knee.

"We kind of believed that through continuing the rehabilitation that he's been doing on that, that he does on a daily basis anyway and some medicine, that it would start to feel better," general manager Paul Holmgren said on a conference call. "But Chris saw the doctor yesterday and had another MRI, and we just decided that this was the time to go ahead and get this taken care of."

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Pronger maintained that, had it been May instead of November, he likely would not have opted for the surgery.

"I think if it was the playoffs or the Stanley Cup Final, I could play," he said in a conference call following the surgery. "But it was to the point where I wouldn't have played very well. We can always say we can play but at what level and at what detriment are you playing? At this stage in the season, not knowing the other side of it, it was prudent to get it done now so that if I'm able to return in four weeks, let's say, then I'm able to get three weeks in before the all-star break and then put the hammer down after that as we get into the playoff stretch."

There is now a strong possibility the Flyers will be without their captain until after they play in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

Fellow defenseman Andreas Lilja is also going to be out for the next six weeks with a high ankle sprain. Philadelphia will rely on rookies Marc-Andre Bourdon and Kevin Marshall – who have a combined six games of NHL experience – to fill in. Bourdon is being paired with Matt Carle, normally Pronger's defense partner.

Left wing James van Riemsdyk is also sitting out with an "upper-body injury" suffered Nov. 23 against the Islanders.

There is some good news on the injury front in Philadelphia. Right wing Jaromir Jagr scored two power-play goals in his return from a groin injury, while Brayden Schenn returned from a broken foot and played 14:47 in his first action since Oct. 26, in a 4-3 overtime victory in Anaheim.

Both players will help the Flyers get through December, but the reconfigured Broad Street Bullies will not be able to reach their full potential until Pronger — the man who gives them their identity — comes back.

Atlantic Division notes:

The Rangers are arguably the Eastern Conference's hottest team right now, having lost just two of their last 13 games through Friday. They have allowed the third-fewest goals per game this season (2.14) despite D Marc Staal missing the entire season recovering from the effects of a concussion. … Staal told reporters Friday that he does not have a timetable to return but is aiming to get back at some point this season. … Al Montoya appears to be retaking the reins in the Islanders' crease. He has started the team's last three games, winning two, while stopping 54 of 57 shots. Montoya started in his native Chicago for the first time Friday. … Sidney Crosby has 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in six games since making his season debut on Nov. 21. The Penguins are 4-1-1 in that span, with the one regulation loss coming against the Rangers. … The Devils' special teams have been polar opposites. They have killed a stellar 94.4 percent of power plays against and are the only team in the league with a rate over 90 percent. Their power play, however, is 26th in the league at 12.2 percent and has allowed the most short-handed goals against — six, two shy of last year's total. … Special teams were not the problem in a 4-2 loss at Minnesota on Friday night that featured the best and worst of Ilya Kovalchuk. Though he scored in consecutive games for the first time this season, he was on the ice for three Minnesota goals, including one that occurred after he tripped over Zach Parise's skate. Kovalchuk is a minus-5 in his last two games and a minus-9 overall.

Tagged: Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Flyers, Chris Pronger, Al Montoya, Marc Staal

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