Flyers' Rinaldo will remain aggressive

Posted: February 22, 2012

WINNIPEG - Country music emanates from the Flyers' dressing room on a daily basis. But forward Zac Rinaldo said he wasn't a big fan of Johnny Cash.

Listening to Rinaldo yesterday before his first game back in the lineup after serving a two-game suspension, you would have thought he was a dead-ringer for "the man in black."

"I've been on the line [of discipline] since I entered the [Ontario Hockey League]," Rinaldo said. "It's just been a process of walking the line every game. I'll continue to walk the line. And I'm not ashamed about it."

Ask Rinaldo about his suspension, which was earned for a hit on Detroit's Jonathan Ericsson on Feb. 12, and he'll tell you that it "sucked." Aside from a dent to his wallet - Rinaldo has now "donated" $10,885.88 to the NHLPA's Emergency Assistance fund this season - the suspension gave Rinaldo plenty of time to think about his on-ice demeanor.

Each practice over the last week, Rinaldo was subjected to extra skating after his teammates exited the ice. But like Cash, as depicted in the aptly named Hollywood flick "Walk the Line," Rinaldo is stubborn.

"I'm not changing," Rinaldo said yesterday.

And his coach, Peter Laviolette, doesn't want him to.

"We love Zac for what he does," Laviolette said. "I think he's done a pretty good job [this season]. The hit that he took, he could have made a better decision right at the end. He goes to that line. He's physical."

If Rinaldo isn't skating on that blade-thin edge on a nightly basis, he might as well be back in Glens Falls, N.Y., with the Phantoms. He knows that.

The Flyers don't just like him because he can fight. Even at 5-11, 185 pounds, Rinaldo has taken on some of the toughest knucklers in the NHL. He is eighth in the league with 12 fighting majors this season.

The Flyers like him because he makes opponents fumble the puck in fear of getting run over. Last night, Rinaldo was one of the few Flyers willing to go after the Jets' Dustin Byfuglien, a 6-7 beast who checked in at 286 pounds at one point last summer.

Rinaldo fell down after trying to lay a hit on Byfuglien, but the message was sent.

"It's a tough job," Laviolette said. "We talk about it all the time. He has to hit. He's got to have that mind-set. He puts people on edge because of his physicality. You ask him to get wound up, to play with that energy and that emotion and that jam out there.

"Then, in that last split second [before a hit], he's got to decide whether it's still good. Then you say, if it's not good, hit the brakes."

That's always easier said than done. And the time, from when an opponent makes a pass to the hit being delivered, is shrinking all the time.

"I think I've done a really good job the whole year," Rinaldo said. "I'm just going to keep going. I finish my hits, it's nothing out of the ordinary. With these hits, you can't look at that and say, 'That's a really bad hit.' You have to slow it down and look at it in detail to suspend me. That's what they're going to do. And that's fine with me. I'll take it. It will make me a better hockey player at the end of the day."

Jagr returns to 'Peg

Last night, Jaromir Jagr played his first game here since Feb. 16, 1996 - just a few months before the franchise packed its bags and moved to Phoenix.

The new MTS Centre, a cozy and loud building that seats just 15,004, is Jagr's 57th arena in which he has played an NHL regular-season game, including Citizens Bank Park from January's Winter Classic. That's a staggering number, but a reality for a player who has been in the league longer than anyone else, since 1990-91.

Jagr missed the Flyers' only other trip to Winnipeg in November.

"It's a big comeback for me," Jagr joked. "Last one was a tough game here. I was sitting on the bench, my teammate [with the Penguins] jumped over the boards and cut me right on the wrist [with his skate]. I got 25 stitches. I came back in the second period, and our goaltender, Tommy Barrasso, he slashed someone and got 10 minutes. The coach sent me to go sit the 10 minutes. I guess that wasn't a very good game."

Last night was. Jagr won it with an overtime goal.

Quotable

"I think he plays dirty. Or, at least he did against me. He's old-time, like [Chris Pronger], but the legal way, slashing you and playing tough around the net. On edge. I don't mind if he plays that way now that I play with him."

- Jaromir Jagr, on the addition of countryman Pavel Kubina to the Flyers' blue line. The two were teammates for the Czech Republic in three Winter Olympics: 2002 in Salt Lake City, 2006 in Torino and 2010 in Vancouver.

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