Hartnell sees an end to his scoring slump

Posted: November 25, 2013

THE LONG HAIR may be gone, but the head underneath it appears unscathed. Scott Hartnell is still Scott Hartnell, thankfully, so sometimes the answer that comes out needs a double take or two, like the philosophies of Tigger in Winnie The Pooh.

Such as this, when explaining yesterday his inability to put the puck past the goaltender for the first month of the season:

"There are times things are bouncing your way and times that things are not bouncing your way," Hartnell said after Flyers practice at SkateZone in Voorhees. "And they were bouncing the opposite of where I was going."

There were a number of reasons for this. Luck, yes, but the lack of conditioning that apparently plagued the entire team easily translated into Hartnell's game. A big effort guy who creates space for both himself and his linemates was doing none of this. And his breathless efforts to get into those positions often led to just miss swipes at the puck, especially in that scoring zone around the net.

"I think everything is related," he said. "When you're skating, you're feeling better, you're in sync with your body. But when you have heavy legs, you're tired, especially mentally. You have brain cramps. You get out of position. You turn the puck over.

"It's all timing. You play with a couple guys for a long time, you get that chemistry where you're skating well. Passes are there all the time. But when you're a step behind, you're always trying to play catchup. Then you look a little off, you're whole line does, right?"

"It's not a difficult game for him," Flyers coach Craig Berube said. "It's a simple game. Go to the net, shoot pucks. Crash. Bang. It's simple hockey. Legs are huge. If you're not skating and you're not working and you're not forechecking hard, you're probably not going to get as many chances as you should."

Truth is, that still appears to be the case more often than not. Hartnell's legs do not seem to be completely back, evidenced by the 4-minute penalty he incurred in the second period Thursday night when he high-sticked Buffalo defenseman Mike Weber while pursuing the puck.

Rubbery legs make for a rubbery stick or, put another way, errant point-blank shots that don't have either the oomph they should or the accuracy. No sooner did the Flyers kill off the 4 minutes than Hartnell waved at a cross-ice pass with goalie Ryan Miller overcommitted and half the net unprotected.

Still, there are signs of an emergence, starting with the player's confidence. Of Hartnell's six points this season, four have come over the last five games. His line has come alive over that span, as well.

"I wasn't winning too many battles, and stuff like that," he said. "The last dozen or so games, I've been stronger on the puck, creating more chances, getting lots of shots, and a few went in. It's better. Hard work pays off.

"I think I've skated a lot better. But I think everyone has skated a lot better. And when we're a fast hockey team, it means we're on the puck, checking, creating turnovers, checking - a dangerous hockey club. When you're legs are not there, you're not skating, we look like an average hockey team. I think everyone is streaky, and then you get confidence and then once one goes in, you get a few more."

That's the hope, and there's some recent history. Hartnell had a start similar to this in 2011, but got it going just about now and had the career 67-point season that led to his $4.75 million annual "contract for life" with the Flyers, a deal that extends to 2019. Like many of his teammates, he chooses to view his 11-point post-lockout campaign as an unfortunate blip rather than a downward trend, which only amplifies what his performance now means going forward.

"He's getting there to where he was," Berube said. "He's skating hard, getting to the net hard. Physical. That's his game. Getting on the forecheck, getting in there, creating space for [Claude] Giroux and [Jakub] Voracek. And getting to the net in a shooting position.

"He's got a good shot. If he continues to do that stuff, he will score."

Ice cubes

The Islanders are in town tonight after flying in from Pittsburgh following last night's game. After sitting out the last five games, Thomas Vanek - who was traded from Buffalo early this season - returned to the team . . .

After Jakub Voracek played less than 4 minutes of Thursday's third period, there was much conjecture that he had been benched in favor of the more defensive-minded Adam Hall.

Voracek wasn't around at yesterday's practice, the official reason being a maintenance day. So was he benched? Craig Berube wouldn't answer, except to make several pointed remarks about his team continuing to work hard and move its feet. When someone asked whether Voracek was moving his feet Thursday night, Berube said, "Go ask him."

Which, of course, no one could, since he wasn't there.

Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon


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