PHILADELPHIA -- Scott Hartnell clutched his black mesh laundry bag tightly in his hands as he swayed back and forth while backtracking toward the exit of the Philadelphia Flyers dressing room. He smiled, said three quick words -- "Everybody plays hard" -- and bolted through the back door.
After talking to the media for approximately five minutes following Philadelphia's 4-1 win against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday, Hartnell simply didn't want to answer the last question -- and it's hard to blame him.
Hockey players don't typically like talking about how much they mean to their team, about how much they're worth, about how much the team misses them when they aren't in the lineup.
Left Wing - PHI
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 4
SOG: 21 | +/-: 1
That's what was facing Hartnell late Wednesday night and he wanted no part of it.
The rest of the Flyers? They had no problem answering for Hartnell after a game in which he was front and center on the team's first two goals and played nearly 15 energetic, emotional, solid minutes.
"There are things you're working to get through through the first two months here and you take a guy who was leading the team in goals with 37 [last season] out of the lineup, out of the mix …," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said before tailing into his next point. "He brings a physical presence on the ice, and in the locker room his leadership as well. So to get all of that back is an addition to our club."
Talk about an understatement.
Hartnell missed 16 games with a broken foot and the Flyers were able to tread water without him, going 8-7-1 through a wildly inconsistent stretch when they scored as many as five goals in four games and gave up as many as five in five games.
Since he's returned, the Flyers are 2-1-0 with 11 goals for and eight against, including a window-dressing third-period goal by the Capitals that negated Ilya Bryzgalov's bid for a shutout Wednesday.
They're far from perfect, but they did play one of their most complete games of the season against the Capitals -- and it's no surprise it started with a couple of energetic shifts from Hartnell that resulted in a pair of goals within the first 4:04.
Hartnell had the primary assist on both.
"[The energy is] definitely up tonight," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren told NHL.com after the second period, when the Flyers were ahead 4-0.
"Obviously he's one of our energizers," Holmgren said of Hartnell. "We missed him tremendously. Claude [Giroux] missed him and our team missed him. He's become a very good player in our League. He takes the body, blocks shots, goes to the net for whoever he's playing with, he's good on the power play and obviously he's shown he can score."
Hartnell proved that last season with his career-high 37 goals, tied for sixth-most in the League. Giroux, the Flyers' captain, had 93 points in large part because he knew more times than not he could find Hartnell around the net, in prime scoring areas, willing to pay the price to get the so-called dirty goal that would elevate the energy level of the team.
"There are things you're working to get through, through the first two months here and you take a guy who was leading the team in goals with 37 [last season] out of the lineup, out of the mix ... He brings a physical presence on the ice, and in the locker room his leadership as well. So to get all of that back is an addition to our club." -- Flyers coach Peter Laviolette on the return of Scott Hartnell
Three games into Hartnell's return, Giroux said his linemate are starting to do all of that again -- and he and Jakub Voracek are benefiting.
Giroux, who went pointless in eight of the 16 games Hartnell missed, has two points in each of the past three games, continuing a hot streak that started when now-injured Matt Read was the left wing on the top line.
Voracek was held off the score sheet Wednesday, but had five points in Hartnell's first two games back, continuing his own torrid run that started with a four-assist game against the New York Islanders on Feb. 18.
"[Wednesday] was our first game that we had fun. Not that we didn't last game, but [Wednesday] it was clicking a little bit more," Giroux, who scored the Flyers' first goal and had the secondary assist on their second, said. "We're on the same page. He [Hartnell] tries to give me the puck, I try to feed him. It's like he knows what I'm going to do with the puck when I get it, so it's a lot easier for me and for [Voracek] too."
Holmgren said as the games ticked off the schedule, it became evident how much Giroux missed Hartnell.
"I think Claude is still the type of guy that needs somebody who takes up space, goes to the net for him and can knock pucks loose in the corner," Holmgren said. "He needs to have the puck, obviously, but he also needs space to make his plays and do the things he does well. So, yeah, he missed him a lot."
But, of course, Hartnell would never say that. It's not proper etiquette in a hockey locker room.
"It's easy when you play with a couple of the best players in the world," is what Hartnell did say about his reunion with Giroux and Voracek. "Jake is playing so good and [Claude], the player that he is, it's give the puck to them and try to get open. I thought [Wednesday] we were more in sync. The first couple of games, it was that I was a little rusty and I didn't want to affect them too much. I felt a lot better [Wednesday]."
That much was obvious early, when in less than five minutes Hartnell displayed the rare combination of energy, skill and toughness the Flyers were missing for 16 games.
"He's got that attitude that he's going to win that battle. Whatever you try to do he's going to win it," Giroux said. "When he's got that attitude going, he's on the puck and he's hitting and going to the net, he's hard to play against."