-- Late in Sunday's on-ice session, Flyers forward Scott Hartnell
caught a rut in the ice and crashed into the boards.
Hartnell crashed a lot last season, literally and figuratively. But after a sensational playoff run, he's hoping to stay on his feet a lot more this season.
After reaching career highs of 30 goals, 30 assists and 60 points in 2008-09, Hartnell suffered through a difficult 2009-10 season, scoring just 14 goals. He had three goal droughts of at least 12 games, including a 17-game run from Dec. 7 to Jan. 7, and a 21-game skid from March 20 that carried to Game 3 of the second round of the playoffs.
Hartnell was healthy, playing in 81 regular-season games, but on- and off-ice issues caused his confidence to erode. Confidence is a big thing, especially for goal-scorers, and for a long time last season Hartnell was missing his.
"Confidence has a lot to do with how you play, on and off the ice," he said. "When confidence is high, like that last month of the playoffs, it seems like everything was almost easy out there. You're skating well, your passes are on the tape, you're getting bounces and you're putting it under the bar and in the net. When things weigh on you, on the ice you grip the stick a little tighter, off the ice it seems like the world is collapsing on you."
Prior to scoring that goal against Boston, Hartnell had a meeting with coach Peter Laviolette
, and both men got to speak their peace.
"When you talk sometimes you get a chance to say things," Laviolette said. "The players get a chance to say things, usually here's a lot of honesty both ways. Maybe I get an understanding better of him, maybe he gets an understanding better of me."
Hartnell wouldn't talk about the meeting, but something definitely changed.
"You get a lucky bounce or a lucky play, just something clicks inside you," he said. "You're a good player, you can make plays, you can make that pass. You get a big hit, your chest puffs out a little bit. It can be a big thing or a little thing. Those little things add up to produce big things."
Hartnell did a lot of big things the second half of the playoffs, finishing with 8 goals in the final 14 games. Against the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final he was one of the club's best players; he had 5 goals and 9 points in six games, capped by a pair of goals in Game 6, including the third-period goal that forced overtime.
"I thought he played his best hockey down the stretch," Laviolette said. "He seemed to be getting stronger as the season really wore on in the end, to the point where he was one of our players that factored most in the opportunities we got."
"It was nice to have those things (off-ice issues) away," Hartnell said, "and help your team win. Everyone's smiling, patting each other on the back. That's the nice part."
The key now is making sure those nice moments carry over to this season. Part of that is staying with the linemates he finished last season with, Danny Briere
and Ville Leino
. Leino is recovering from offseason hip surgery, but the Hartnell-Briere partnership remains, with Daniel Carcillo
on the line Saturday and Bill Guerin
on Sunday. Laviolette said he's looking forward to the Briere-Hartnell-Leino group getting together again at some point during the preseason. Hartnell feels the same way.
"Danny, you know where he's going to be on the ice. He's always in good position," Hartnell said. "Offensively he's right around the net all the time. If you're cycling, you know to throw it behind the net. He's so quick with the puck, he's good at finding sticks in front of the net where you can make plays out of nothing, and you get him the puck in the slot, he's got one of the best shots in the League, I think. It's pretty cool to play with him. To play with players like that, it's a good feeling -- makes you a better player. Hopefully Leino's back, or if it's (Guerin) or Reemer (James van Riemsdyk
), we're just excited to get out there and play together."
Hartnell is all smiles now, despite his tumble into the boards Sunday, which drew a big gasp from the packed crowd and some chuckles from Hartnell.
"You've got to look at the positives," he said. "You don't want to think about bad things going into the season. Everyone's starting with a fresh slate this season and we're ready to go."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com