It has been an unenviable roller-coaster ride.
"I've been playing multiple roles," Downie said yesterday with a laugh. "It hasn't been a very smooth year for me. I'm not a negative person, so I'm not going to look at it that way. I've just got to stay positive and work hard every day, and just hope. A couple injuries have slowed me down, but I'm feeling pretty good right now."
For Downie, the remaining 5 weeks of the season will go a long way in determining not only where he will fit in Berube's playoff roster, but also where he will be playing next season and how much money he'll be earning.
Downie, 26, is the Flyers' only pending unrestricted free-agent forward besides fourth-line center Adam Hall. He said he'd love to return to the Flyers, but the fact that a deal has not been negotiated is probably not a good sign for him.
This week will be a particularly big one for Downie, asked to play in a shutdown role with linemates Sean Couturier and Matt Read against both the NHL's leading scorer in Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and the NHL's hottest scorer in New Jersey's Adam Henrique. Tonight's opponent, Henrique, tallied a league-leading five goals last week. He is riding a six-game goal-scoring streak, with a chance to match the NHL's longest streak of the season against the Flyers.
"This time of year, it's about keeping it simple and doing a role," Downie said. "We need to stay within our system. It comes down to the last 20 games and everybody doing their role and helping this team win."
Downie missed Saturday's game in Toronto with an illness, but returned to practice yesterday and said he felt fine. Berube said he's been more satisfied with Downie's game since Downie had a chance to rest over the Olympic break. Prior to that, Downie was not winning very many puck battles. He was hardly noticeable and producing offensively at a rate (0.40 points per game) that is his lowest since 2008-09. Downie said his confidence "has been a funny thing that comes and goes."
"I think he's done a real good job," Berube said. "He's [got] good energy, a good, physical player, he's been strong on the puck. His intensity is way up. I've liked his game since the Olympic break. For me, it's about intensity and energy and stuff."
With Downie's intensity and energy comes untimely penalties, something Downie recognized needs to change at this point in the season. He has 102 penalty minutes in 54 games and just 20 of those are fighting majors. Downie has been whistled for 14 minor penalties in 21 games since Dec. 30.
Against the Capitals last Sunday, Downie had four minor penalties, including a high-sticking call that was a double-minor. A third-period call, when the Flyers were attempting a comeback, nearly proved costly. The next game, also against Washington, featured a nearly crippling third-period call that resulted in an Alex Ovechkin power-play goal.
"He's probably taken too many penalties at times, but he's playing on the edge a little bit, and that's his game. He has to," Berube said. "I think that line can produce more for us. I think they will. They're trying, but I'd like to see a little more production out of them on a consistent basis. On the other hand, they have a job to do and they're doing that job."
Backup goaltender Ray Emery (lower-body injury) returned to practice yesterday for the first time in a week. He hasn't played since removing himself from the Feb. 27 loss against San Jose.
Craig Berube said he was "80 percent sure" that Phantoms goalie Cal Heeter will remain Steve Mason's backup tonight against New Jersey, but that Emery was progressing.
"I've gradually felt better and better," Emery said. "Today felt better than yesterday."
The Flyers will immortalize Hall of Fame coach Fred Shero with an 8-foot, 1,300-pound bronze statue outside of XFINITY Live! before Saturday afternoon's game against the Penguins . . . At the NHL's GM meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., minor tweaks to overtime are being considered for recommendation. In addition to a dry Zamboni scrape of the ice to improve conditions, teams could switch ends - like in the second period - to require a "long change" and theoretically induce scoring. The NHL says second periods already account for 36 percent of all goals and 37 percent of all penalties. A push for 10-minute overtime lost steam at the meetings because GMs fear overuse of their star players through the course of a season . . . The March 30 home game against Boston was changed to a 12:30 p.m. start and will be televised on NBC.
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