(Voorhees, NJ) – When Mike Richards, Scott Hartnell
and Steve Downie jump over the boards for a shift, there’s one thing you can be sure of. The effort is going to be there.
When three of the grittiest, toughest and most tenacious players on the Flyers roster were united on January 8 before a game in Atlanta, there was instant chemistry. They have combined for seven goals and nine assists for 16 points over the last four games. Not coincidentally, Philadelphia is 3-0-1 over that span.
Leading the charge has been Hartnell, who was named as one of the three Players of the Week in the NHL on Monday. Hartnell has eight points in the last four games (5g, 3a), after getting off to a slower start than he would have liked to this season.
All three players on the line are quick to credit the other two for that success.
|Scott Hartnell and Steve Downie celebrate a goal on January 10 in New York. (Getty Images) |
“Richie is so good on draws and plays great defensive hockey which leads to good offensive opportunities,” said Hartnell. “Downie, I don’t think the others teams like him and the league doesn’t like him, but he plays hard and he’s a hard guy to play against. He goes and gets the puck and heads to the net, and things are going in.”
“[Hartnell] is a big guy and creates a lot offensively in terms of grit,” countered Richards. “Downie is the same way. He plays really hard and creates a lot just because he gets on the forecheck really quickly. I think all three of our styles are pretty similar when we play with each other.”
While Hartnell and Richards played together earlier in the year, the rookie Downie is the new addition. He jumped up from the fourth line into his current spot after Joffrey Lupul went down with a spinal contusion and mild concussion on January 5 in Toronto.
Downie knows only one way to play . Fortunately for the Flyers, his aggressive style has helped him to replace the scoring touch of Lupul, who had been piling up the points himself before getting hurt.
“I’m on this line right now trying to do the things I did on the fourth line, which is just working hard and trying to get opportunities to score,” said Downie. “I’m still hitting and I’m still playing my game. I don’t think anything’s really changed.”
Seeing Downie on the ice reminds Hartnell a little bit of himself from when he broke into the league as a rookie with the Nashville Predators.
“He tries to hit everything that moves and tries to stir things up. That’s what I tried to do, to make a name for myself,” he said. “You need a guy like that on your team and you definitely don’t want to play against a guy like that every night.”
Of course, Downie has managed to make a name for himself in other ways after a preseason hit on Ottawa’s Dean McAmmond resulted in a 20-game suspension. Now, the league is starting to find out that the kid can, in fact, play the game.
“We knew he was a very skilled player, but I think the hockey world is finding out that he’s not just a physical player but he’s a very talented kid,” said John Stevens. “He plays with a lot of passion and competitiveness and that’s what makes him able to play on the line he’s playing on.”
|Opposing defenses have had trouble restraining Steve Downie and his linemates of late. (Getty Images) |
Downie is not the only player on the line who has had to sit out this season. Hartnell was given a suspension at the end of November when he hit Boston’s Andrew Alberts. Add to that the play of Richards, who is certainly no slouch in the hitting department, and Hartnell believes that fear could be a factor to the opposition.
“It’s good to have that reputation,” he said. “You still [play] within the rules, and if you take it above those rules you’re going to get reprimanded for it, which we have this year. We just have to watch our backs, play hard, and use that fear to our advantage.”Forsberg chatter resumes
Recent media reports of Peter Forsberg coming back to Philadelphia are not being taken very seriously right now in the Flyers' locker room. The coach and players don’t really concern themselves with the possibility of the return of the All-Star center, since all of the reports appear to be pure speculation anyway.
Still, Simon Gagne remains friends with his former linemate and has brought up the subject.
“Sometimes I try to call him and see what’s going on, but he changes the subject very quick when we’re talking about him coming back,” said Gagne. “He’s very good at keeping it to himself.”
Added Stevens: “I think he’d make any team better, but we’re not going to worry about that unless it is a reality. Why speculate on what might be in the future?”Niittymaki Wednesday, Biron Saturday
Stevens announced that Antero Niittymaki will start against Florida on Wednesday night
at the Wachovia Center (7:00 p.m., Comcast SportsNet). Niittymaki, who has all seven of his wins on the road this season, shutout the Panthers on December 30, making 38 saves in a 1-0 win.
“I think it’s important that we keep both guys playing, because they’re both playing well,” said Stevens of his goalie tandem.
Martin Biron will play on Saturday against the Islanders on Long Island (7:00 p.m., CW-57).