PHILADELPHIA – All Danny Briere could hear were the agonizing screams. Chris Pronger buried his face in his hands after taking a brutal blow to the outside of the right eye, fearful of the worst for his eyesight.
Hunched over, Pronger skated straight to the bench, his hands over his eyes.
“I knew he was in trouble and needed help,” said Briere, who skated with Pronger to the bench.
Pronger, the Flyers captain, will miss two to three weeks and spend the next few days on bed rest, putting a scare in Philadelphia’s 4-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night.
“He was hit on the side, and there’s a lot of swelling,” Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said. “The hope is that there’s not a lot of blood buildup there where it will create issues.”
Pronger and Toronto’s Mikhail Grabovski sprinted for a loose puck in the circle after a rebound off Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky in the first period. Grabovski slapped at the puck, but his stick connected with Pronger’s and the blade shot straight up into the defenceman’s face.
Pronger did not return after the blow that hushed the crowd. Flyers forward Scott Hartnell called Pronger one of the “biggest warriors” in the NHL.
Pronger, an 18-year veteran, does not wear a visor. The protective piece is not required in the NHL, though several players have had their careers prematurely end after blows to the face. Holmgren said Pronger would not be cleared to play unless he wears one. Holmgren said Pronger complained of blurred vision.
“I think he was very scared and rightly so,” Holmgren said. “When something like that happens to your eye, you’re worried about what’s going on. I think he settled down over a period of time and was fine when he left.”
Grabovski was not penalized for the play because it came on a shot. He was whistled for high-sticking only 28 seconds into the game when he nailed Claude Giroux in the face on a faceoff.
The injury overshadowed the first two goals of the season for Jaromir Jagr and Scott Hartnell. Jagr scored his first NHL goal since April 6, 2008. He left to play three seasons in Russia before signing a one-year deal with the Flyers. He split defenders on a breakaway, courtesy of a sweet feed from Giroux, and flipped the puck past Jonas Gustavsson late in the first for the power-play goal.
Jagr removed his right glove and saluted the crowd and his teammates. Flyer Wayne Simmonds leapt into Jagr’s arms and the rest of his teammates mobbed him as if he had scored the winning goal. Jagr has become an instant team leader and fan favourite, even as concerns over his scoring slump lingered.
Not any more.
“I needed it,” Jagr said. “I feel a lot better right now than I have, that’s for sure. I changed everything: the skate, gloves, I got hit in the head during warm-ups, so that helped.”
Hartnell put the Flyers ahead 2-1 in the second on a great second effort. He shot at close range from one knee, then fell to both to pound in the rebound for his first goal of the season.
Briere had the assist for his 600th career point—a big number for a 5-foot-10 forward once deemed too small to play in the NHL.
Hartnell added the insurance goal in the third, helping the Flyers snap a two-game losing streak. The Flyers and goalie Ilya Bryzgalov allowed nine goals over two straight home losses. Bryzgalov got a breather Monday, and Bobrovsky was solid in net. Bobrovsky won 28 games as a rookie last season, but the Flyers felt they needed a proven veteran winner to get them to the Stanley Cup finals. The acquired Bryzgalov from Phoenix and Bobrovsky was relegated to the bench.
He got beat early by Phil Kessel early in the first period for his NHL-best ninth goal. Kessel fired from the circle and scored on Toronto’s first shot of the night. Bobrovsky was perfect from there until David Steckel beat midway through the third that cut Philadelphia’s lead to 3-2.
Bobrovsky stopped 24 shots.
“I’m always happy to play behind this defence,” he said. “This is one of the best defences in the NHL, and at times, they can make it easy on me.”
Jagr put any thought of a late-game collapse to rest when he got all alone on a breakaway for the easy score—and one more salute.
“You don’t want to see Jaromir Jagr coming in alone with nobody around him,” Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “He is going to more than likely bury it.”
Bobrovsky beat Gustavsson in the battle of the backups. Gustavsson got the start with James Reimer out with a neck injury.
The game also had brothers playing against each other: Philadelphia’s Brayden Schenn and Toronto’s Luke Schenn.
Notes: The last time a Flyer played against his brother in a regular season or playoff game was Nov. 29, 2006: Philadelphia’s Jussi Timonen vs. Nashville’s Kimmo Timonen (NSH), according to the Flyers. … The Maple Leafs recalled G Ben Scrivens from the Toronto Marlies of the AHL.