ST. PAUL, Minn. -- It was a play the Flyers had practiced many times. And it may be one that finally gets one of their most baffling assets off the mat.
Matt Read dished to Steve Downie. Downie cycled up the wall and passed off to a streaking Andrej Meszaros, who pivoted, spun around Nashville’s Craig Smith and laid an absolutely perfect backhand pass to Sean Couturier in front of the Predators’ net.
Nevermind the fact that Couturier deposited the puck behind Marek Mazanec to knot the score late in the third period. That was a bonus.
It was the most confident, aggressive move Meszaros had made in nearly two calendar years.
Somewhere, buried behind his battered mental state and bruised 28-year-old body, there is talent inside the defenseman who was once voted best on the team in 2010-11.
Right now, Meszaros’ Barry Ashbee Trophy as top defenseman seems like a distant memory - little more than a tease, given their scant input in scoring from the blue line.
Meszaros has played just 11 games this season, but he’s already matched his total from last year’s lockout-shortened season. He didn’t played for a stretch of 22 days last month, forced to watch from the press box while Erik Gustafsson and even Hal Gill got cracks at the lineup.
Meszaros is the Flyers’ most expensive healthy scratch in team history at $5.5 million this season. The Flyers would have loved to unload him to a willing taker at somepoint, yet none emerged.
Now, they need to make the best of it. And so does Meszaros.
He was re-inserted back into the lineup on Friday against Winnipeg. The Flyers have won two straight - and coach Craig Berube doesn’t like to tinker with a winning roster without necessity.
Admittedly, it’s a delicate balance for the Flyers - playing the game between whether it makes more sense for Meszaros to skate out his string in Philadelphia, or hand the time to a 24-year-old Gustafsson who hasn’t exactly run with his opportunity.
Gustafsson isn’t getting any younger. He is already beyond what the definition of a ‘prospect’ at this point. He’s played 75 games and hasn’t shown the sort of potential that Meszaros has already realized at the same point in his career - and they are only four years apart.
For Gustafsson, you either are or you aren't a full-time NHL player. With the Swedish national team last spring, Gustafsson looked like that player, skating more minutes than any other defenseman on the team, helping them to a gold medal at the World Championships. For whatever reason, that consistency is lacking in the NHL.
For the most part, Meszaros has made it easy thus far for Berube to bench him. He has rarely played with anything resembling confidence, with the puck squirting off his stick in addition to his ill-advised passes. He has taken undisciplined penalties. In short, Meszaros seems afraid to make a mistake. Most of it seems more mental than physical.
Yet, twirling below the Nashville goal line, we got a brief glimpse into the player that seemed like a steal three seasons ago: the one who scored two overtime blasts to deliver wins. He is at his best when he is stepping into a shot from the point, involved in the play. He was much better then in the defensive zone, too, with the confidence flowing on his stick from one zone to the other.
Saturday’s shootout win in Nashville showed a little peek into Meszaros’ ability that remains.
He is a flawed player at this stage of his career. No one will deny that. But the Flyers are paying him big dollars for this season. They might as well try to pump his tires and see if they can get more of the same from him. It won’t cost them any more.
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