SAN JOSE, Calif: For the floundering Flyers, the benchings of their big-name players keep on coming.
For Tuesday night's game in San Jose, coach Craig Berube will bench Michael Del Zotto, who has struggled lately but was arguably the team's best defenseman in the season's first month, and veteran Vinny Lecavalier, a 405-goal scorer who will get strong Hall-of-Fame consideration when his career ends.
Berube said Del Zotto has "played some really good hockey for us, but the last little while I find that he wasn't moving the puck. He was trying to do too much himself. To me, his defensive play has dropped off a little. I talked to him today about getting back on track, moving the puck, joining the rush not leading the rush, and playing better defense."
Del Zotto said he was surprised, disappointed, and frustrated by his demotion. "Things obviously aren't going as well as the team would like as of late," he said, "and we're trying to find a way to get some wins, so it's the coach's decision. All I can control is how hard I work each day."
Lecavalier, 34, is goal-less in his last 12 games, and Berube said it was "very difficult" to tell him he was being benched.
"He's a respected hockey player that's been around a long time. He's done a lot. It's not easy for him," Berube said. "It's not an easy conversation, but it's part of being a coach."
Lecavalier, visibly upset by the coach's decision, was asked if he thought the benching was justified.
"I'm not going to start arguing. It's his decision," he said. "There's nothing I can do about it, so I'm going to work hard in practice and when I get back, I'm going to do my best to help the team."
Added Lecavalier: " Obviously, when you don't play – not just tonight but the previous games, playing 10 minutes and 5 minutes and stuff like that, it's definitely hard to produce and show what you can do. At the same time, I don't want to give excuses.… I just want to go out and play and help the team out."
The Flyers tried to deal Lecavalier but were unsuccessful in the summer. Before last season, he signed a five-year $22.5 million deal to play for Peter Laviolette, who was fired three games into the campaign.
"I'm not going to lie and say I didn't go here for Lavy. Of course I did," Lecavalier said. "I met him and Homer (Paul Holmgren, then the GM) and had a great meeting. I liked what he said to me. It was obviously a surprise (he was fired), but that's last year and it's a different system and it is what it is. Nothing's always going to be perfect. It's my job to try to work with it and do my best at it."
In the Flyers last game, a 5-2 loss to the Rangers, Berube benched first-pairing defenseman Andrew MacDonald _ he of the six-year, $30 million contract _ and center Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare. Both will return to the lineup Tuesday against the Sharks.
All four of those players were healthy scratches for the first time this season. Lecavalier had never been a healthy scratch in his 16-year career. MacDonald is a healthy scratch for the first time since his rookie season with the Islanders.
Clearly, Berube is trying to light a proverbial fire under a team that has lost eight of its last nine games.
"That's a sign that everyone has to be held accountable and responsible," Del Zotto said.
Referring to MacDonald and Bellemare, Berube said "they've got to understand that they came out of the lineup for a reason. They weren't playing good enough. I expect them to both go in there and, again, the intensity level has to come up on both their parts. Their intensity level wasn't good enough for me."
The lineup tonight is expected to look like this:
Claude Giroux centering Michael Raffl and Jake Voracek.
Scott Laughton centering Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds.
Sean Couturier centering Zac Rinaldo and Matt Read.
Bellemare centering R.J. Umberger and Chris VandeVelde.
Defensive pairings: MacDonald and Luke Schenn; Braydon Coburn and Nick Schultz; Mark Streit and Nick Grossmann.
Steve Mason will be in goal.