After a couple of weeks of controversy, one item has been put to rest, as Chris Pronger, newly named captain of the Flyers, played in his first game since recovering from offseason back surgery. It was the final home game of the preseason before finishing up in New Jersey, and the power play led the way to a 2-1 victory.
Pronger has been sidelined while recovering from both hand and back surgery most of the summer. As training camp approached, he reported being at least two months behind on strength training. But when the preseason began, both he and Flyers GM Paul Holmgren assuredly announced the big defenseman was progressing as expected, which in Holmgren speak could mean anything from he’s ready to play to he’ll be out the remainder of the season.
Pronger sent a shockwave through the Philadelphia media Thursday afternoon by announcing himself ready for action, and that he’d be playing that night against the Devils. So, after his first game action, how did he do?
In his own words, Pronger said he “felt OK. First period was pretty fast. Good way to get back, kind of get back into the fold.”
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette tried Pronger in all situations, and the veteran looked extremely rusty. His skating was slow, and his fundamental skills were lacking in crispness. He was banged around by opposing forwards, and he looked far from his usual rugged self. However, he looked stronger as the game went on, and even at less than 100 percent, the big man is an asset to his team.
When asked about why it was important to get Pronger into a preseason game, Laviolette said of his captain, “He’s played a lot of games, and I’m sure if he just walked into the Boston game, you’d get a great effort out of him, or whenever he’d be ready to come back. There’s also something to be said for coming back, and finding your timing, getting into live battles, you know, finding your game to.”
His stats on the game were 19:35 of ice time (fourth highest for a Flyers defenseman), one assist, one shot on goal (which came in the first period, moments after he had whiffed on a one-timer), and two blocked shots.
The Flyers top defenseman will likely miss the final preseason game on Saturday, but his effort shows a likelihood he’ll be ready for the opening day roster on October 6.
The Flyers power play has gone 5-for-17 in its last two games against the Rangers and Devils. Three of those goals have gone to 39-year-old Jaromir Jagr. The former Hart Trophy winner was also on the ice for the other two.
The Flyers’ man-advantage last season finished an abysmal 49-for-295, good for 16.6%, which placed them the 19th in the league. After goaltending, one of the things Holmgren was desperate to address in the offseason was the power play, and he seems to have found his answer.
After playing what Jagr believed to be his final NHL season with the Rangers three seasons ago, he defected to Russia to play in the KHL. This season he has returned for one final hurrah, and hopefully another cup ring. It might seem a three-years-removed 39-year-old former star couldn’t re-adjust to the younger, faster NHL, but his chemistry with young star Claude Giroux is apparent.
The two have changed one of the worst power plays in the league into a game breaker after only a few games together. This is only preseason however, and things can change quickly when the regular season begins. But one thing is for certain, bringing in Jagr seems to be paying off.