Flyers' Zac Rinaldo thriving in shutdown role

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Zac Rinaldo is fourth in the league in hits with 70 and has become one of the game's best agitators.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Zac Rinaldo is fourth in the league in hits with 70 and has become one of the game's best agitators.
Posted: February 26, 2013

TAKE A LOOK at the scoresheet from the Flyers' 5-3 win over Winnipeg on Saturday and one thing stands out.

It wasn't Jake Voracek's three assists. Or Claude Giroux' 33 faceoffs. Or Brayden Schenn's three points. It wasn't even Zac Rinaldo's game-high 12 hits, 11 of which he was credited for in the first two periods.

But how about Rinaldo's ice time? He skated a career-high 14:08, and punched in an empty-netter with 1 second remaining in regulation to ice - a pure hustle play that started with sound defense and ended in exultation.

It's a pretty high number, considering not 1 second of it came on the power play or penalty kill. In perspective, Rinaldo played 12 percent of his entire season total of minutes Saturday against the Jets.

Rinaldo's minutes weren't a mistake. You could make a case that, aside from Schenn, he was the best player on the ice Saturday. Aside from hitting anything that moved, Rinaldo was used in a shutdown, checking role to frustrate the Jets. It's a relatively new role for Rinaldo, and he has learned from playing with linemates Max Talbot and Sean Couturier.

Rinaldo had spent much of the season on the fourth line with Ruslan Fedotenko and either Mike Knuble or Tom Sestito.

Couturier, 20, has been given the most credit for slowing down reigning Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin. Still, for all the love shown for Couturier, Malkin still netted 17 points in 12 games against the Flyers last year - including the Stanley Cup playoffs.

(Malkin, by the way, missed Sunday's game with an injury - though the Penguins are disputing a well-reported piece from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review saying he has concussion-like symptoms from a violent hit on Friday.)

Perhaps Rinaldo should get a share of the praise for shutting down Sidney Crosby and Malkin on Thursday night.

Of his 7:05 total ice time, Rinaldo was out on the ice with either Malkin or Crosby for 5:58. He spent three shifts (2:00) guarding Crosby. And he spent another six shifts (3:02) marking Malkin. There was one 56-second burst where Rinaldo was on the ice against both Malkin and Crosby.

Crosby had just one assist. Malkin netted a goal and an assist, though his goal was on the power play (Rinaldo was on the bench) and it was a tap-in from an errant shot rebound off the boards.

"I think that just may have been an accident more than anything, me being on the ice with those guys," Rinaldo said Sunday in a phone interview. "Saturday was the first and only game that [coach Peter Laviolette] asked me to shut down anyone. I did it last year quite a bit, but other than that, I've really never been a checking-line forward in my life."

Rinaldo, 22, has turned into one of the game's best agitators. Of his 13 shifts Thursday in Pittsburgh, there was a penalty drawn on the play an astounding five times.

His physicality makes opponents pay attention. He is fourth in the league in hits (70), despite playing an average of 6:10 less minutes per game than the three guys above him. He averages a league-best 32.8 hits per 60 minutes of ice time. The next-closest player, the Islanders' Matt Martin, averages approximately 21 hits per 60 minutes of ice time.

"I know I'm capable to play in a shutdown role like that," Rinaldo said. "It's all about hard work. Everything else will just fall into place from there."

'JVR' back

James van Riemsdyk will be given another chance to make the Flyers brass regret last June's trade with Toronto when he returns to Philadelphia for the first time on Monday. Van Riemsdyk, of course, blew by trade counterpart Luke Schenn to put the exclamation point on a 5-2 Toronto win on Feb. 11.

Van Riemsdyk enters tied for third in the NHL in goals with 11. For all of the hoopla in Toronto, he hasn't received much praise from coach Randy Carlyle - and he apparently hasn't even assured himself a permanent spot on the top line. Van Riemsdyk started the season on the third line before an injury to Joffrey Lupul rocketed him to the top with All-Star Phil Kessel.

"He skated as strongly as in any game this year," Carlyle said after last Thursday's win over Buffalo. "It's good to see him move his feet and get rewarded. The tough part will be when Lupul gets back."

If you'll notice, there has been no continuation of van Riemsdyk's impressive charitable efforts in his absence. He paid for a suite to allow underprivileged fans to attend games last year, calling it "JVR's MVPs." Maybe it's a curse? JVR took over the box from Mike Richards, who had the "Captain's Corner." Both players had the suite for a year before being traded in the offseason.

Slap shots

The Flyers enjoyed their fourth day off from practice in one calendar week on Sunday (Sunday, Tuesday, Friday, Sunday). They will have gone a full 12 days without a practice, from Feb. 14 until getting back on the ice Tuesday . . . Carlyle termed goaltender James Reimer as "getting very close" to returning from a lower-body injury suffered against the Flyers on Feb. 11. It's unclear if Reimer will be ready to play Monday against the Flyers.


On Twitter: @DNFlyers

Blog: philly.com/FrequentFlyers

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