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March 05, 2018

After taking a lot of heat from fans, Flyers' MacDonald now playing crucial role on young team

He does it often, and though it may go unnoticed by many Flyers’ fans, his teammates certainly take note each time defenseman Andrew MacDonald sprawls himself out on the ice to block a shot or a pass. Days after, MacDonald, 31, usually finds himself nursing those nasty purplish bruises that come with such sacrifices. 

Sometimes, they can be costly. 

It's why MacDonald, who is day-to-day with an upper-body injury and may return to the lineup for Wednesday game against rival Pittsburgh Penguins, missed their 4-1 loss to Florida on Sunday. 

What can’t be lost in the Flyers’ trajectory toward the top of the NHL’s Metropolitan Division standings is MacDonald’s quiet, steadying unsung hero role for a young defense that averages 24.4 years of age, excluding him, among the six defensive regulars. 

And while still finding time to mentor his young teammates, Old MacDonald is having arguably his best season in his five years with the Flyers. 

He’s plus-2 through 50 games – his four goals are the most he’s scored in a year with the Black and Orange, – and, above all else, MacDonald is not afraid to do the dirty work, like putting himself between the puck and the goal or an opponent's stick. His play has been a good example for Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg, his second-team defensive partner. 

After MacDonald bore the brunt of Flyer fans' anger for his play in 2016, the elder statesman of the Flyers' blue line deserves credit for his play this season.

“I think me and Hagg have developed some really good chemistry together,” said MacDonald, prior to the injury against Tampa Bay on Saturday night. “We’re both defensive-minded guys at this point, and try to keep things simple, move pucks up to the forwards and join them when we can. That being said, we’ve been winning, and when that happens, you feel a lot better about your game.” 

The oldest defenseman by four years – at least until the team claimed former Senator Johnny Oduya, 36, off waivers at the trade deadline – MacDonald feels like the “Papa Bear” of this young group. 

“They give me a hard time all of the time about being old, and I may be 31, [but] I’m old in the new NHL,” MacDonald said, laughing. “We obviously have a younger group of guys, and being an older guy, it’s a different territory. I mean they blatantly tell me that I’m old. Ghost [Gostisbehere] reminds me every day, but it’s all in good fun. 

“We’re a real close group throughout this whole room. There wasn’t a good time in November when we were winless in 10 games. Everyone was coming at us, telling us that we weren’t worth anything. We stuck together in this room," he said. "There wasn’t any pointing fingers. There was no negativity. We were going to get through that together and we did. Realistically, I think that made us a real strong group in here.” 

MacDonald himself has been the victim of pointed fingers in the past. Though, in fairness, the fans' ire may have been mistakenly directed at him more because of his six-year, $30 million contract than anything he did on the ice. 

"The first couple of years here didn’t go very well... there was more losing than winning. That’s when you tend to put a lot of pressure on yourself and get down on yourself a bit." – Andrew MacDonald

His all-out style, in most cases, would be applauded by Flyers’ fans. 

These last two seasons are the healthiest MacDonald has been. He was out earlier this season after blocking a puck with his knee. In a 3-2 overtime win over Montreal on Feb. 20, MacDonald laid out a few times to break up passes, and thwarting a two-on-one break. It’s that kind of unnoticed work that has made MacDonald invaluable to his teammates. 

“Mac is doing a great job of leading and he leads by example,” Flyers’ defenseman Radko Gudas said. “He does the kind of things young guys should follow, because he does all of the right things and all of the small things that win hockey games. It’s a real treat to have him on our team and he’s been a true leader for us.”      

MacDonald admits this season has been far better than years past for the Flyers. For one, he has been healthy, for the most part, despite missing Sunday’s game in Florida. 

"I blocked out the negativity [in the past], because if you dwell on the negative, you play negative," MacDonald said. "This season has gone pretty well for me. I try to stay even-keeled. There are a lot of ups and downs in a season. We’re in a great spot right now and we control our own destiny. 

"Obviously, it hasn’t been the easiest here, but what was built off some pretty good minutes working with Provy [Provorov] last year, and the start of this year, I feel much more comfortable and confident in my game than I have in the past couple of years. The first couple of years here didn’t go very well. It was a mental grind I think that worn on me a bit. You battle through that and have a good mindset throughout."

MacDonald’s bumps and bruises are still there — but winning means they hurt a lot less.

"I’ve been able to elevate my game," he added. "This season is the most fun I’ve had in a while. In the past few years, there was more losing than winning. That’s when you tend to put a lot of pressure on yourself and get down on yourself a bit. It’s tough on the psyche. But we’re having a blast right now. This whole team has come together well. 

"Winning cures a lot."

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