Flyers are missing Hartnell's big-body presence
BY FRANK SERAVALLI, Philadelphia Daily News
PHILADELPHIA -- By the time Feb. 21 rolls around, the earliest date Scott Hartnell is projected to return from a broken foot, he will have played just 26 regular-season games in an entire calendar year thanks to the NHL lockout.
For a player who missed just three contests in his first six seasons in Philadelphia, two to suspension and one to illness, that's a significant blow.
It's an even bigger blow for the Flyers, who are clearly reeling without their leading goal-scorer from last season. Hartnell, 30, netted a career-best 37 goals last year.
"It's frustrating that it had to happen to me right at the start of a short season," Hartnell said in his first comments since fracturing his left big toe on Jan. 22. "It's a shame because I was just starting to feel a little bit better on the ice and getting my timing and reading plays."
With Jaromir Jagr now in Dallas, Hartnell's absence has not only forced Peter Laviolette to find two new replacements on Claude Giroux's line, but there's also a gaping hole on the power play.
Hartnell was second in the league in power-play goals last season with 16, trailing only Pittsburgh's James Neal. The Flyers have scored five goals in their five losses; their power play is 23rd in the league at 5-for-37 (13.5 percent).
"Last year, I had a lot of power-play goals, being in front and causing havoc," Hartnell said. "We really had it going almost the whole year and in the playoffs. Then you watch the game and it seems easier on TV. You remove yourself from being out there and it's tough (to watch)."
Wayne Simmonds and Mike Knuble are struggling to replace Hartnell's big-body presence in front of the net. Not capitalizing on three third-period power plays led to their 2-1 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday night, leaving a bitter taste in the Flyers' mouths at practice on Wednesday.
"It's hard when you lose," Laviolette said. "You're talking about a team that just came home from a tough loss from a rival opponent in their building. When you get out of bed, I don't expect guys to come in here, skipping along and whistling to a beat."
That clearly wasn't the case, as the Flyers' locker room was pretty quiet.
"Guys aren't happy where we are right now," Knuble explained. "When anger turns into a frustration, which turns into finger-pointing, then you're in trouble. But guys are angry that we lost the last two games. That's the way we should be feeling."
With both units ranked in the bottom third of the league, the Flyers worked almost exclusively on special teams Wednesday in preparation for today's game at Washington.
"Obviously we're disappointed, but I don't think we're discouraged," Danny Briere said. "We're feeling that we're not very far away from breaking it open with goals. A little confidence will go a long way."
Faceoff woes: When the Flyers jumped out to an 0-3 start last week, Peter Laviolette said his team could be better at minor details of the game, and named faceoffs and crisp line changes as focal points. The Flyers are failing miserably on the faceoff front.
They've won the faceoff battle twice in seven games. On Tuesday, the Flyers won a season-low 34 percent of draws -- a number that actually improved from 21 percent after two periods.
"That's definitely not good enough," said Danny Briere, who took his first three faceoffs this season following a wrist injury. "That doesn't just (fall) on the centerman. The wingers have to do a better job coming in and helping out. I'm sure it's something that will be addressed."
The problem is that the Flyers don't have a significant amount of practice time in this shortened season to work on details like faceoffs. They usually spend 10 minutes during pregame skates working on them. In fact, Wednesday marked the Flyers' first on-ice practice in exactly a week.
"You're trying to manage everything that we need to do to become better, and we'll do that with practice time," Laviolette said. "While the centerman can dig in -- and there's room for improvement there -- the wingers can come in and help out more."
The Flyers are 29th (44.9 percent) for the season, ahead of only Buffalo (42 percent). Among those with more than 30 draws taken, Brayden Schenn (64 percent on 33 faceoffs) and Claude Giroux (51 percent on 159) are the only Flyers who have won more than they've lost.
Slap shots: The Flyers' MVP through the first seven games, Ilya Bryzgalov, was given the day off on Wednesday. Bryzgalov is 10th in the NHL with a .924 save percentage and eighth with a 2.18 goals against-average, yet only has two wins to show for his much-improved effort.