Inside the Flyers: After slow start, Flyers' Hartnell is rejuvenated

Scott Hartnell struggled in the Flyers' first six games but is now thriving with new linemates Jaromir Jagr and Claude Giroux.
Scott Hartnell struggled in the Flyers' first six games but is now thriving with new linemates Jaromir Jagr and Claude Giroux. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 06, 2011

By his own admission, Flyers winger Scott Hartnell played miserably in the season's first two weeks.

Maybe it was because some of his good friends, including Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Ville Leino, were no longer here and he felt alienated.

Maybe it was because his highly productive line - with Danny Briere and Leino - had been broken up and he felt lost.

Maybe it was because he was having problems developing chemistry with his new linemates.

Whatever the reason, Hartnell struggled in the first six games, going goalless and managing a total of six shots. He was averaging about 11 1/2 minutes a game.

In short, the Flyers were not getting a good return on Hartnell's $4.2 million cap hit.

On Twitter, fans made him the team's early-season scapegoat. Some wanted him demoted to the fourth line. Others wanted the Flyers to ask him to drop his no-trade clause.

Ah, but a lot has changed since two weeks ago. That is precisely when Hartnell was moved onto a line with the irrepressible Claude Giroux and the ageless Czech, Jaromir Jagr, a future Hall of Famer.

Entering Saturday night's matchup against Columbus, Hartnell had 10 points (five goals, five assists) in his last six games. He had been on the Giroux-Jagr line for seven games, averaging almost 18 minutes a contest.

No longer does he look lost. (Though he still falls down a lot.) No longer are fans clamoring for him to go elsewhere.

Hartnell, 29, is playing the game with zest again and is starting to resemble the wild-haired guy who put up a career-best 30 goals in 2008-09.

"It seems he's winning a lot more battles. He was struggling a little bit early in the year," Briere said Friday. "I think he's a lot more upbeat - his personality and when he gets on the ice, he just has that edge to him that in the beginning of the year maybe wasn't quite there. It's good to see. We need a Scott Hartnell to perform for us to be a successful team."

At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Hartnell gives the Flyers a big body in front of the net. He and the 6-3, 240-pound Jagr have been a perfect fit with the smooth-skating Giroux, giving the coming-of-age superstar - whom Jagr calls "Little Mario" - lots of room to maneuver and work his stickhandling magic.

"He's a space-maker," said general manager Paul Holmgren, describing Hartnell.

Briere knows all about Hartnell's value, having centered him for most of the previous two seasons.

"He does a lot of little stuff that doesn't show up on the scoreboard or stat sheet - taking a beating in front of the net, five on five and on the power play," Briere said. "That's a tough job. He's an agitator; he gets under the other teams' skin. Those are little things that you might take for granted. It doesn't show on the stat sheet, but we all know how valuable he is to our team."

In the season's first five games, Hartnell was on a line with rookies Sean Couturier and Matt Read. He then played one game with Brayden Schenn, another rookie, and Jakub Voracek before coach Peter Laviolette put him with Giroux and Jagr.

The line has been, by far, the Flyers' most productive unit. It has gotten various nicknames: the Hairline, the Little Mario Line, and CzechMates are a few of them.

Hartnell was asked if he felt rejuvenated playing with his new linemates.

"I had a tough training camp. I didn't really feel good and my body didn't feel good," said Hartnell, whose line produced 28 points (13 goals, 15 assists) in their first seven games together. "And mentally, you start gripping the stick a little tighter. It's amazing what one game does, and when the coach puts some confidence in you and starts playing you a little bit more, you have to take advantage of the opportunity."

Earlier in the season, Hartnell admitted, he was beginning to doubt himself.

"You start reading your guys' columns or people around the city tell you to pick it up," he said with a smile. "When you're good, everything is good. When you struggle or you're hurt, they start riding you and all that kind of stuff. You try to keep an even keel. You can't worry about what you guys say and all your [trade] rumors. You just have to play your game."

With Carter and Richards traded in the offseason, the Flyers needed some of their young players to pick up the scoring slack. They also needed veterans like Hartnell, Jagr, and Briere to show there was still some tread on their rather worn tires.

One month into the season, the tires don't need any repairs.


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com or @BroadStBull on Twitter.

 

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