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Scott Hartnell: Riding the wave

by John Kopp / Philadelphia Flyers
Scott Hartnell darted to the net during a fast-break against the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this month, arriving just as Andrej Meszaros sent a backhanded pass his way. Hartnell immediately deposited the puck into the net, falling to the ice in the process.

The scene was emblematic of Hartnell’s season, one in which he is tallying points at a career-best pace despite a penchant for wiping out that has both fans and Hartnell laughing.

Hartnell ranks second on the Flyers in scoring, but his accomplishments have been somewhat overshadowed. Playing on a line with Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr will do that.

The evolution of Giroux and the resurgence of Jagr have captured much attention – and rightfully so. Giroux quickly has joined hockey’s elite and Jagr has shown flashes of his youth after a three-year stint in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. Those storylines are impossible to ignore.

Yet, Hartnell, whose flashiest trait might just be his shaggy mop of hair, has silently pieced together one of the best seasons of his career.

Having overcome a sluggish start, Hartnell is scoring at a rate of nearly a point-per-game. He is on target to surpass many of his career highs.

“The first six games, I was only playing about 10 minutes a night,” Hartnell said. “I wasn’t 100 percent healthy. It was frustrating, but I got put with Giroux and Jagr and it seemed like we clicked right from the get-go.

“So, it was a good feeling when you get a line that can produce and we’re playing lots of minutes, back on the power play and all that kind of stuff. We’ve been making things happen out there.”

While Giroux and Jagr fill the highlight reels with dazzling plays, Hartnell handles the line’s layman duties. He forechecks, screens the goaltender and knocks in rebounds. It’s rarely pretty, but it’s essential to the success of his line.

“A lot of people don’t understand the little details that he does out there,” Giroux said. “I think he’s up there, for sure, for underrated player in the league.”

Both Giroux and Jagr praised Hartnell’s ability to draw defenders and create open space for them to work their magic. That open ice has helped Giroux contend for the league’s scoring title with 43 points.

“He’s a big body, kind of rolls around everywhere,” Giroux said. “He makes sure he goes around, hits some guys. When you’ve got a guy like that going to the net – and he’s a pretty good skater, too – it gives us a lot of room.”

Jagr, who has tallied 29 points, lauded Hartnell’s checking, but could not resist a playful jab.

“You know what I like about him?” Jagr deadpanned. “He doesn’t want the puck much. That’s what I like the most.”

Wisecracks aside, Jagr said Hartnell has a good sense of where he needs to be for scoring chances to develop.

“He doesn’t just sit on the boards,” Jagr said. “If he stands there, he’s easy to cover. He’s got a good sense where to go. He knows how to score goals. He knows when to go in the hole.”

Hartnell is quick to acknowledge his success is partly due to being matched with two prolific players. He said Jagr particularly has been helpful in sharing the wisdom gained from an acclaimed career.

“Before games, during games, between periods and stuff, he just talks to me about what I need to do here or vice versa,” Hartnell said. “He’s very smart about the game. He thinks the game out there.

“It’s been a real privilege and a real honor to play with him. I think his focus to the game, his passion for the game has rubbed off on me big time.”

While Jagr notoriously holds two-a-day practices, Hartnell said he’s also taken steps to better prepare himself.

“Not that I wasn’t prepared prior to this season, but I’m trying to get myself as focused and prepared for the games as much as possible,” Hartnell said. “I make sure I get my feet going, get emotionally into the game right off the bat and it doesn’t hurt playing with Giroux and Jagr.”

Though Hartnell arguably is playing the best hockey of his career, he’s had fine seasons in the past with both the Flyers and the Nashville Predators, where he began his career in 2000. He particularly shined during the Flyers’ run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010, totaling 17 points in 23 playoff games.

“You got to ride the waves,” Hartnell said. “You’re not going to score every night, but you try to make plays and help the team win every day. I think I’ve been a hot and cold player in the past, where I’d score five or six goals in a ten-game period and get one in the next ten games. So, I’m trying to keep this hot streak going, contribute and get wins.”

With both the Flyers and his line playing well, Hartnell has opened himself up to some good-natured ribbing from his fans.

Fans on Twitter have started chronicling Hartnell’s habit of falling down on the ice. It’s not uncommon to see Hartnell literally crashing the net or sliding into the boards. He’s even wiped out during a pregame skate.

Thus, fans have started counting the number of times Hartnell falls down during a given game, tagging Tweets with the hashtag #hartnelldown.

“I think it’s absolutely awesome,” Hartnell said. “I could have hated it and it could have bugged me for the rest of my career or I could have embraced it. I think it’s a funny thing.

“People have some pretty funny jokes on there about when I’ve fallen and (that) I’ve got to wear elbow pads and knee pads when I leave the house, all that stuff. It’s a pretty cool thing.”

Sometimes, as evidenced by his game-winning goal against the Penguins, he even provides the jokes and the goals at once.
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