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January 18, 2014 | 12:40am ET
Healthy Meszaros regaining confidence
By David Strehle,

PHILADELPHIA, PA -- Having been a healthy scratch for 20 of the first 36 games of the 2013-14 campaign, it appeared as though Andrej Meszaros' days with the Philadelphia Flyers may be numbered.

Rumors had Paul Holmgren attempting to deal the defenseman and his $4 million cap hit for some time, but the GM had found no takers.

It was a frustrating start to the season for the 28-year-old. He endured three major injuries over a 12-month period -- one that required back surgery and two separate shoulder ailments -- but wasn't playing now that he was finally healthy.

"It was tough at the beginning (of the year)," Meszaros said following Thursday's 4-3 shootout loss to the Nashville Predators. "I wasn't playing much. I was in the press box, then I was playing, then I wasn't playing. It was tough for my confidence."

There's no doubt he had struggled in sporadic opportunities to play. His usual two-way game was nonexistent, as he looked slow and flat-footed for much of his ice time as he attempted to shake off the rust. As a result, Meszaros managed only one goal and five points in his first 23 appearances of the year.

As has been the case several times for the Flyers this season, injuries played a part in reshaping the lineup. With Erik Gustafsson out after suffering a sprained knee in a late-December loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Meszaros has made the most of his latest opportunity.

"I'm just trying to do everything [head coach Craig Berube's] asking me to do," Meszaros said. "I have to be better defensively, jump up in the rush and help the forwards, and create some offense."

The result is that he has gotten a lot more involved in Philadelphia's offensive attack. After recording just 10 shots on goal in a span of 11 games in which he had appeared, Meszaros has sent 14 pucks on net in his last five outings, during which he has posted a goal and seven points.

His play as of late has resembled that of the 2010-11 season -- his first year in Philadelphia during which he scored eight times and notched 32 points while tying Matt Carle with a team-high +30 rating -- as he deservedly won the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the Flyers' top defenseman.

His run of excellent outings began with a three-assist showing against the Montreal Canadiens on January 8, as he figured in on all of Philadelphia's goals in capturing First Star honors in a 3-1 victory.

"I'm just going game by game and try to do my best out there, try to help the offense as much as I can, be solid in the defensive zone," he said after the game against Montreal with Gustafsson set to be activated off injured reserve. "It's up to the coaches who's gonna be in the lineup. The only thing I can control is playing my best and we’ll see what happens."

"He's come in and played really well since Gus went down," Berube said after the win over the Habs. "He had a real good game tonight, but overall he's improving all the time. He's a good offensive defenseman, he's a good all-around defenseman that can do a lot of different things. He can skate, he can shoot the puck, and he can defend, so he’s a valuable guy."

"Mez is an extremely competitive guy," said goaltender Steve Mason. "When guys aren't getting the opportunity to play, it obviously weighs on them. But he's worked hard to get back in the lineup and he's done a great job."

The big effort came just one day after Meszaros was named to the Team Slovakia Olympic roster, and the 6'2", 223-pounder's on-ice performance has been brimming with confidence ever since.

"I don't know if that's a coincidence or not," Meszaros chuckled when asked whether or not his Olympic addition is a catalyst for his recent resurgence. "It's an honor to be selected and I'm looking forward to that. When you're there and representing your country it's always a big thing and I'm obviously happy about that."

It has been a noticeable difference in Meszaros' play, as he has fit nicely into Berube's system of the club's defensemen pinching and jumping into the play as part of Philadelphia's rejuvenated offensive attack.

"He’s confident with the puck," Berube said after Thursday's contest 4-3 shootout loss to the Nashville Predators, in which Meszaros had a goal and an assist. "He's doing good things at the blue line with it, jumping up on the play like he did on that goal. He's got confidence."

Although he has had some difficulties in his own end from time-to-time, Meszaros has certainly made an impact on the offensive side of things. The goal Thursday that Berube mentioned came with just 3.6 seconds remaining in the second period, knotting the game at 2-2 after 20 minutes of Flyer frustration in generating much in the way of scoring chances. He jumped into the play, taking a pass from Wayne Simmonds in full flight at the left circle and snapping a shot over the short side shoulder of goaltender Carter Hutton and under the crossbar to register the game-tying marker.

Meszaros realized there was little chance of risking a Predator’s length-of-the-ice counterattack in the frame's dwindling seconds, so moving forward into an open spot was the correct choice at the perfect moment.

"He's really good offensively," said captain Claude Giroux of the defender's play after the game. "You can see that he can score goals and move the puck. He’s got a great shot and he’s playing very well right now."

Meszaros has unrestricted free agency on the horizon at the conclusion of the current campaign and a with a good portion of the season already gone, Meszaros' pro-rated cap hit will no doubt have other NHL teams calling to inquire about the defensemen’s services. But with the Flyers squarely in the thick of the playoff hunt, his overall skillset has once again been bolstered to become an invaluable commodity in the club’s chances moving forward.

And all he really wants is the opportunity to play.

"Yeah, it’s what I want," he said Thursday night. "I want to stay in the lineup all the time. That's the key, and you play more games obviously you feel more comfortable. I feel good. It's just a confidence thing."

It remains to be seen where he ultimately fits into Philadelphia's long-term plans, but for the time being it looks as though Holmgren's inability to move Meszaros has been something of a blessing in disguise for the Flyers fortunes.

David Strehle is the Philadelphia Correspondent for The Fourth Period.

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