Scott Hartnell was never much interested in what he'd look like in a police lineup, but he couldn't resist a laugh yesterday when someone showed him a cartoon in ESPN magazine depicting him and four other Flyers under a caption that read "Five Flyers suspended for dirty hits."
"You don't want to joke about it too much because it was a serious situation," Hartnell said, alluding to his dangerous hit on Boston defenseman Andrew Alberts that got Hartnell a two-game suspension in late November. "But there we are lined up like we're going to prison."
At the time of the suspension, the 25-year-old left winger, who was acquired from Nashville, along with Kimmo Timonen, couldn't escape a scoring drought after netting 47 goals for the Predators the previous two seasons.
Now, the hard-charging Hartnell is on a roll with six goals and three assists in the last five games as the Flyers try to continue their rise toward the top of the Atlantic Division tonight against the Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum.
"It was a tough period, a little frustrating," said Hartnell, who has 12 goals and is responsible for numerous welts on opponents with his checks and his fists. "Things weren't going in. Then, the last game [Wednesday against Florida], I tried to make a pass, and it goes off their defenseman and goes in. But you take them any way they come."
Hartnell's recent flurry of goals came after coach John Stevens put rookie Steve Downie on the second line with him and Mike Richards, the all-star center, after Joffrey Lupul was injured against Toronto on Jan. 5. All three forwards combine physical play with offensive skills, making it the Flyers' most entertaining line. In the five full games they've been together, Hartnell, Richards and Downie have combined for 20 points on eight goals and 12 assists.
"I think we're all similar players. We're all physical guys," Hartnell said. "We're pretty aware of our defensive responsibilities. Coach will put us out in tough defensive situations. He's not afraid of that, and offensively we're getting chances off the rush. It's everything you want to accomplish offensively. We're having some success right now, and we don't want to change anything and keep it going."
Hartnell's fingerprints were all over the 5-3 win against the Panthers. He did his part to make certain the Flyers broke their habit of starting slowly at home by duking it out with Florida captain Olli Jokinen in the opening minute. He drew a penalty that resulted in a power-play goal by Simon Gagne. He scored. And he kept his teammates' juices flowing by getting into a fight with Richard Zednik as the Flyers were protecting a one-goal lead late in the third period. He ended up with five stitches on a knuckle on his right hand.
"Might have been his helmet, I don't know," he said. "It hit something."
In the locker room, Hartnell keeps things loose with his effervescent personality. Hartnell, who was Nashville's first-round pick (No. 6 overall) in the 2000 draft, is in his seventh NHL season, but he has yet to play beyond the first round of the playoffs. He wants that to change this spring.
Meantime, Hartnell is the elder statesman on the line even though he's 25. Stevens said Hartnell's experience should have a calming effect on Downie, who has a history of on-ice transgressions, one of which drew a 20-game suspension at the start of the season. Downie is also in the magazine cartoon.
"[Richards] is obviously playing like he's 28," Hartnell said. "He has a lot of charisma out there. He's a tough player to play against. Downie is in his first year. He had a little setback at the beginning of the season, but he's on a roll. He's just got to watch himself and not do anything stupid out there and play the way he's capable."
Martin Biron will be in goal tonight against the Islanders. Stevens said he had yet to decide which goalie would start tomorrow against Ottawa at the Wachovia Center, the first of six consecutive home games, three of which will be played after next weekend's break for the All-Star Game. The only time Biron started on back-to-back days he lost the second game at New Jersey, 4-1. . . . Scottie Upshall returned to practice yesterday after sitting out Thursday with a sprained ankle.