WASHINGTON — Paul Holmgren thought he addressed the issue when he acquired Pavel Kubina and Nick Grossman before the trade deadline, yet defense is once again a red-flag issue for the Flyers. Sure, the blueline played well in a 1-0 shutout win over the Washington Capitals, but they’ll also be without Kimmo Timonen and Andrej Meszaros, who have lower-body injuries and are out “indefinitely.”
The newcomers are now of paramount importance for the remaining 18 games, since the defense is once again shorthanded. Erik Gustafsson got a surprise call-up on Saturday night. After the Flyers traded for two defensemen before the trade deadline, it looked as though his progress to the NHL had found a hiccup.
“Obviously I heard the talk about [the Flyers looking for defense], but I just tried to focus on my part and try to play as strong a game as I can and get better every day,” Gustafsson said. “Ultimately, my goal is to be an NHL player. If that happens next year, then I think everything I've done this year is going to help me out.”
Gustafsson answered the call, even when an already a mangled defensive corps got even more banged up when Kubina temporarily left action after taking a Alexander Ovechkin shot to the face in the third period. He needed seven stitches above his left eye. Gustafsson played 15:24 on the night with a pair of blocked shots and was sound in front of Ilya Bryzgalov, who made 34 saves on the night for his third shutout of the season.
“We hope [Meszaros and Timonen] can come back soon in the lineup, but guys who was playing tonight, Andreas [Lilja] and Gustafsson, they played unbelievable,” Bryzgalov said. “It’s the whole team, like I said, unbelievable team effort. I love to get the two points because it was a very important game.”
Gustafsson wasn’t the only young Flyer who had a good showing. The fourth line of Zac Rinaldo, Eric Wellwood and Sean Couturier was the most effective Flyers line and had the only goal. Wellwood, also with the Flyers on a call-up, had the Flyers’ only goal on a shot from the slot with Kubina giving the assist.
“We were battling in the corner pretty good,” Wellwood said.“Kuby got a good shot off and I was lucky enough to find the slot area and I got a good tip in there.”
Kubina returned after taking the shot off the face and played 19:06 on the night. Most of the night he spent clearing the porch, with Grossman taking over the blocked shots category with six. That’s not usually the Flyers, game. They are rarely outshot, but Washington out-shot them 34-23. Peter Laviolette usually hangs his hat on having more shots than the opposition.
“A lot of shots were from the outside, I think that’s their game, just to fire pucks from everywhere,” Laviolette said. “The quality chance, I think they still had just a little bit, but not by much. I think they were relatively low for the game, the quality chances. The saves that we did need [Bryzgalov] to make, he did a nice job.”
The goalie enjoyed clear sightlines all night, but apparently the concept was too complex for him to talk about.
“That’s a tough question to answer,” he said when asked if he preferred that kind of game. “Next. Seriously.”
That style, despite losing two defensemen, got the Flyers a win. It marked the first time they’ve had back-to-back victories since Jan. 10 and 12.