Carle Looking Forward to Classic, Excelling With Added Ice Time

 NHL Hot Stove Managing Editor David Strehle was able to catch up with Flyers’ defenseman Matt Carle after Saturday’s game against Boston. In an exclusive interview, Carle talks about the upcoming Winter Classic, and the state of the team’s defense without Chris Pronger.

By David Strehle
NHL H
ot Stove Managing Editor

As camera crews for Home Box Office’s ”24/7″ series have made their way through the Philadelphia Flyers’ locker room for the past month in anticipation of the NHL Winter Classic, there is an expectation of something special. It’s a showcase for not only the League, but also the Flyers, their opponents on January 2nd, the New York Rangers, and the respective players and coaching staffs.

(Photo credit: Len Redkoles / NHLI via Getty Images)

Amid all of the ballyhoo, defenseman Matt Carle tries not to act any differently with all of the extra attention.

It’s a little different having those guys around as much as they are,” the 27-year-old rear guard said after Saturday’s loss to the Boston Bruins. ”But you just try to go about your business and do things as you would normally. Just act like they’re not there, just kind of a fly on the wall.”

While Carle’s philosophy as HBO is filming seems to be just to blend in, his play in recent weeks has forced everyone to take notice.

This is the second straight year that the team has had to endure a prolonged Chris Pronger  absence, and it has perhaps been the most trying on Carle, Pronger’s usual partner.

Carle, a user of the social media platform Twitter, sent out his feelings after it was announced that the Flyers’ captain would miss the rest of the season.

Tough news about Prongs yesterday…really just hoping the big guy is able to get healthy, not just for hockey, but everyday life #beast

The loss of Pronger for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs, along with the injuries to Erik Gustafsson and Andreas Lilja, has understandably affected the way head coach Peter Laviolette has been utilizing his defensive pairings.

Subtracting the club’s top defender and leader in ice time, alone, will do that. With the three blueliners out of the lineup, Laviolette’s top four defensemen — Carle, Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, and Andrej Meszaros — have seen a noticeable increase in their amount of ice time.

Through the first 19 games of the 2011-12 campaign, Carle’s TOI hovered in the range of 20 minutes per game. Included in that time frame were five different contests in which he stayed below the 20-minute mark. Maybe not so coincidentally, the 19th game of the season was in Winnipeg, which just so happened to be Pronger’s last appearance for the year.

Since Pronger’s departure, Carle has been averaging closer to 25 minutes a night, topped off by a season-high 27:44 December 7th in a 5-4 overtime victory in Buffalo.

Perhaps then it’s a good thing that the outcome was not in doubt in two of the last three games, and the four workhorses were able to get a reprieve late in those contests. The Anchorage, Alaska-native played 10:13 in the first period, more than half of the stanza, in Washington last Tuesday, en route to 25:27 in a 5-1 triumph over the slumping Capitals. In Saturday’s 6-0 stinker against the Bruins, Carle saw just 20:52 of ice time, his lowest game total since Pronger last played.
 
Even though some have wondered if the additional minutes could wear down the club’s best defenders, Carle isn’t worried at all.
 
It’s nothing out of the ordinary,” he said. “All four of us, between myself and Coby, Mesz, and Kimmo, are all very capable of playing between 25-30 minutes a game.”
 
And the pending unrestricted free agent has fully taken advantage of the situation, picking up a goal and nine points in the 12 contests since Pronger’s abrupt exit. Included is a recent four-game point streak — which was snapped in Saturday’s shutout loss to the Stanley Cup champs – in which Carle posted a goal and six assists for seven points in the four games. He racked up three assists in Montreal in Thursday’s 4-3 win over the Canadiens.
 
While he believes the extra time on ice shouldn’t be a problem, Carle does acknowledge the necessity for the time being.
 
“There’s a bit more of a reliance on our top four,” Carle noted. ”Especially having two young guys (Marc-Andre Bourdon and Kevin Marshall), rookies that don’t have a whole lot of experience, getting into the lineup. Those guys have played well and alleviated some of that extra ice time, so it’s been good to get their feet wet and see them develop.”
 
I asked if Carle thought the increased minutes would end up being an issue if the situation were to linger on for an elongated period of time, while the Flyers await the return of Gustafsson from wrist surgery and Lilja from a high ankle sprain.
 
No,” he said without hesitation. ”Obviously, you’d like to have some veteran guys there, but between those two (Bourdon and Marshall), and Lils (Lilja) and Walks (Matt Walker) are both veteran guys that can be relied upon, and Gus (Gustafsson), he’s getting healthy now, too. There’s between eight and ten of us that are NHL-caliber defensemen, and most organizations would be tickled to have that many guys.”
 
The Winter Classic is looming just after the New Year, and this will be the second for both Carle and the Flyers since its inception. With Carle being from Alaska and Philadelphia facing off against the Rangers, does this time around seem any more special?
 
“(Laughs) Yeah, I mean they’re always special,” Carle said of the annual NHL spectacle. “To play in one was awesome, to have the opportunity to play in two is even better, especially being able to be here in Philly and play at home is certainly something that everybody is looking forward to.”
 

(Photo credit: UPI / Matthew Healey)

In the 2010 Classic, Philadelphia traveled to Fenway Park in Boston. Carle played 21:49 and finished the afternoon with a -1 rating, and the Flyers dropped a 2-1 overtime decision. Carle said his team, which was wildly inconsistent during the first Classic experience, will have a better idea of how to handle things this year. And maybe even savor it some more.

The second time around, you know what to expect a little bit more, just trying to take it in a bit more,” he said.
 
As HBO prepares to air the much anticipated second of four installments of their NHL-based series Wednesday night, Philly will lick their battle wounds from a tough loss Saturday and attempt to get back on the winning track against the Avalanche tonight in Colorado, with camera crews in tow.

Though he tries to act as though nothing is different with the added exposure, Carle does like the idea of the documentary-type format. He believes it’s an important medium for hockey fans to identify with their heroes, and maybe even further appreciate their daily grind.

I think it’s (“24/7″) something that needs to be done every year, whether there’s a Winter Classic or not,” Carle said. “It’s a great opportunity for fans to get an inside look at what our daily lives are like, trying to get to know some personalities and players a little bit more.”


If you have any comments or questions, you can email the author at dstrehle@nhlhotstove.com.  You can also follow him on Twitter – @David_Strehle