VOORHEES, N.J. - It took five games for the truth to be revealed, but the Flyers should have exercised a good deal of patience with Andrew MacDonald. They rushed the defenseman back from a lower-body injury he sustained during an off-season workout, and as it turned out, he wasn't remotely ready for the start of the regular season..
Either the Flyers hurried MacDonald back out of concern the defense was thin without him, or he was rather convincing in relaying his condition to the medical staff. A week before the season started, general manager Ron Hextall told the media he believed MacDonald was simply a fast healer, even though his speedy return felt more like a Mr. Miyagi type of recovery.
"I think in hindsight those couple of preseason games were a little premature," MacDonald said. "I thought I could work back into it. I felt pretty good. It's just the nature of the injury, I was able to skate a little bit sooner than you can do a lot of off-ice stuff. I wasn't able to do much in the gym as far as getting that power and strength back. I thought I would be OK."
As it turns out MacDonald wasn't, and neither was the Flyers' defense.
Dave Hakstol needs a 95-100 percent version of MacDonald. Anything less, you run the risk of using an inefficient player. Through six games MacDonald's 5.06 goals against per 60 minutes played is a team worst by far. The next closest defenseman is Ivan Provorov (who hasn't looked that good either) at 3.47 goals allowed per 60. That alone shows how much the Flyers' defense was suffering with MacDonald on the ice.
From the season opener in Vegas, MacDonald clearly wasn't himself, falling to the ice without contact while struggling at times to keep up when opposing forwards brought speed into the Flyers zone. Interestingly, coming off a 1-0 loss to the Golden Knights where the Flyers played their best defensively structured game of the season, Hakstol felt a change was necessary.
"When you miss training camp, it's tough, I'll say that," Hakstol said. "Any player that's missed training camp I'm sure could tell you it's hard to catch up in a hurry. For me, that's a big part of it."
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This Sunday would have marked the end of the original six-week timetable, and even now, MacDonald admits he's physically still not where he needs to be to perform at the highest level.
"I wouldn't say I'm completely 100 percent, but I feel pretty good," MacDonald said. "It's a just matter of getting into that routine and that game shape type of thing."
"It's always a tough situation," Hakstol said, "There's things in Mac's game that he knows and we know that he can work at. He's a huge part of our team and he's going to be a big part of our lineup. Don't make too much of it. It was the right thing for our team tonight."
Then again, the right thing would have been a full recovery.