Leino's three assists help Flyers add to Devils' woes

Danny Briere leads his teammates in a skate after scoring one of his two goals in the third period.
Danny Briere leads his teammates in a skate after scoring one of his two goals in the third period.
Posted: January 07, 2011

NEWARK, N.J. - Ville Leino has a style all his own.

On the ice, Big Ville Style is not marked by his patented white skates with white laces, which are meticulously replaced before every game, or his stick, which is delicately spray painted black at the bottom to add to his deception.

And we're not talking about his vogue, designer wardrobe off the ice.

But it's evident when Leino cradles the puck like a baby on his stick. He is willing to hold onto the puck an extra split-second, in the face of a puck-sniffing defenseman, absorb a hit to find an open teammate and surprise an opponent. Unlike most players in the fast-paced NHL, who treat the puck like a grenade on a stick, Leino would rather be flattened than give it up.

That style was on display last night, as Leino picked up a career-high three assists as his line with Scott Hartnell and Danny Briere combined for four goals and seven points to upend the last-place New Jersey Devils, 4-2, in front of a pro-Flyers crowd at the Prudential Center.

"He could run the show by himself," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "I think that's the thing that we remember the most about [the playoffs] last year. When that line was really effective, he could hang onto the puck; he protected it.

"While he's doing that, Hartnell could get open, Danny B's getting open or a defenseman is getting open. That line, they all bring something different, and there's some good mixture there, but Ville makes the plays."

Laviolette briefly broke up Leino's line in Los Angeles last Thursday for the first time since last year's run to the Stanley Cup finals. It was reunited Sunday in Detroit and has scored all of the Flyers' last five goals.

With the win, the Flyers improved to 10-1-1 against the Atlantic Division but trail Pittsburgh by one point for first place in the Eastern Conference. The Devils, who have lost 30 of their 40 games this season, will head to the Wells Fargo Center tomorrow afternoon for the back end of this home-and-home series.

"We play good together," Leino said. "We play good when we work hard, and obviously we were missing that for a little while. But I think we got it back."

Leino said he first learned to protect the puck back in Finland, where the ice surface is 13 feet wider than the NHL's 85-foot-wide rink, giving him more room to spin away and dodge checks.

"It's kind of been a little bit of an adjustment for me here in the U.S.," Leino said. "It's something that I've always done. When I was younger, we had more room to do it. But I feel like I'm getting better.

"I've always been playing that way because a lot of guys are stronger and faster than me and I've got to find my ways to work out there."

Leino's line got working, finally, thanks to a crazy bounce off a routine dump-in. Rather than rim it around the boards, Leino sent the puck straight in and it caromed off a partition past Devils goalie Johan Hedberg, who was out of the crease looking to settle it, directly onto Hartnell's stick.

It might have been the easiest assist in Leino's career.

"Actually when I dumped it, I was like, 'Oh my God, it's a bad dump, he's going to get it,' " Leino said. "It worked out pretty well. Nice finish."

Before that, it looked like the Marty Brodeur of old might have been in net instead of Hedberg, since the Flyers struggled to find the back of the net. In the first period alone, the Flyers had three two-on-one breaks, one breakaway and one partial breakaway but were all denied by Hedberg.

"It was one of those scary games," Laviolette said. "We didn't give up many chances . . . and they scored on two of them. And we were down in the game and had to keep fighting back. To keep fighting back, I think that was a positive."

The Flyers posted a season-low 20 shots on net, but Hartnell nearly picked up his third career hat trick in the third period when Briere's cross-ice pass ended up behind Hedberg - but it went in off Devils defenseman Colin White's skate and not Hartnell's stick. Briere and Hartnell each finished with two goals.

Briere missed part of the second period when one of his fingers was busted open by a hard slash from Andy Greene. The tip of the finger was numbed and subsequently stitched up before he returned to the ice.

"The doctors said it's going to be a rough night," Briere said of when the medication wears off. "But it was worth it. The Devils, they've been beating up on so many teams for so long, it's kind of nice to give it back to them a little bit.

"And it's a lot of fun playing with [Leino]," he added. "With him, you always need to be ready."

Syvret recalled

The Flyers recalled defenseman Danny Syvret from AHL Adirondack yesterday with Chris Pronger remaining on injured reserve.

Pronger has not played since Dec. 18 and just resumed light skating yesterday. The Flyers had not been carrying an extra defenseman and needed to recall rookie Erik Gustafsson from Adirondack in the middle of last week's West Coast road swing as a precaution for Kimmo Timonen's lower-body injury.

Syvret played in 21 games for the Flyers last season before signing with Anaheim in the offseason as a free agent. He was reacquired on Nov. 21 and has racked up 12 points in 19 games since then with the Phantoms. Syvret was a healthy scratch last night.

Slap shots

Jeff Carter's second-period holding call was the Flyers' only penalty of the game . . . The Flyers were 0-for-4 on the power play . . . Nik Zherdev, who is nursing a groin injury, did not make the trip to New Jersey. He is expected to practice today.

For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at

http://go.philly.com/frequentflyers.

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