GLENDALE, Ariz. – When Matt Read went out of the lineup in Calgary with an upper body injury after the first period, Zac Rinaldo was called into third line duty.
When the same thing happened to Michael Raffl in Denver, Steve Downie moved up to the top line and Rinaldo jumped into his spot on that third unit with Sean Couturier and Vincent Lecavalier.
Rinaldo is often the guy the Flyers turn to as the X-factor in times when the bench is shorthanded. It’s no question that he is a physical presence, and just the notion of him skating hard into the zone has forced some defensemen to dish the puck to early in anticipation of a check that will never come, resulting in a turnover.
It’s his forte. Separate the puck from the defenseman, whether by force – or even the threat of it.
But, the Flyers wanted his game to grow in other areas too so Rinaldo didn’t become just a one-trick pony.
So, he spent long minutes in practice earlier this season working with assistant coach Ian Laperriere on the fine art of penalty killing. Now, Rinaldo is in that mix of killers, usually on a third forward pairing.
But the coaching staff believes he can do more – and it’s why he’s being given a chance to fill in with the top-9 forwards when there is an injury.
A lot has to do with the fact that he’s probably the fastest skating forward on the team, something that is a bit unheralded in his game. But the Flyers think there is even more there.
“He’s coming,” said coach Craig Berube. “He’s been good without the puck. He skates hard and he’s physical and he’s been staying out of the penalty box, which is good.
“He just needs to keep working on his game. He needs to start doing more with the puck. I don’t mean trying to make plays. Just get more shots on net and get to the net where there’s opportunity for some greasy goals. It’d be nice for him to get a couple that way.”
Rinaldo, 23, hasn’t scored a goal this season and has one lone assist. He also only has five goals in 139 career NHL games, so scoring hasn’t really been listed on his calling card.
Yet, it’s something the coaches want to see if he can do, when given the opportunity, and Rinaldo is hoping to take advantage.
“I’m all for being called upon,” Rinaldo said. “Whether I get three minutes, six minutes or 11 to 13. I’m going to go out there and play every shift like it’s my last and be ready when he calls upon me.
“[When you are on the top three lines] you have to keep your head up, your eyes open and your ears open too. Whenever I get the puck, they’re calling for it and they’re open in different spots. It’s a privilege playing with those guys. Sometimes it’s easier playing with those guys to be honest.”
Those guys, for tonight, will be Sean Couturier and Vinny Lecavalier although Rinaldo did get a couple shifts replacing Raffl on the top line too against Colorado.
Needless to say, if the Flyers want to come home with an impressive 4-1-0 record on the first part of this road trip and a chance to be in second place in the Metropolitan Division (assuming they get help from Minnesota tonight against the Capitals) then they are going to need guys like Rinaldo to step into the role of an injured teammate and perform at a high level.
NOTES: Read tried to give it a go at the morning skate, but left the ice early and won’t play again tonight against Phoenix… Raffl was a full participant in practice and even stayed on the ice at the end to skate with Hal Gill, the lone healthy scratch. Raffl said he is symptom-free from the concussion he suffered in Colorado and that if he is cleared by doctors and passes his baseline test in the next two days that he should be ready to play in New Jersey Tuesday. The requirement of missing seven days with a diagnosed concussion is no longer in place, having changed prior to last season… In lieu of the absence of Read and Raffl, Berube had to juggle his lines a bit. Here’s how they’ll line up to start tonight from left-to-right: Downie-Giroux-Jake Voracek, Scott Hartnell-Brayden Schenn-Wayne Simmonds, Rinaldo-Couturier-Lecavalier, Adam Hall-Chris Vandevelde-Jay Rosehill… Because of the television conflict with the Philadelphia Eagles playoff game, the Flyers have worked out an arrangement with Comcast to re-air tonight’s game on television tomorrow. The first airing will be at 5 p.m. on the Comcast Network and then again at 8 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet.
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