Players are always upset when the NHL playoffs begin and they're the odd man out. In the Flyers' case, two players were upset going into tonight's opening game of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Washington Capitals.
Forward R.J. Umberger was bumped to Jimmy Dowd's fourth line, while another forward, Sami Kapanen, was bumped out of the lineup altogether.
Umberger had been part of Danny Briere's top line, with Vinny Prospal, until suffering a sprained left knee that caused him to miss six games.
"I don't know what he thinks because I haven't talked to him," Umberger said, referring to coach John Stevens. "Apparently, he doesn't think I'm good enough. I don't know."
Umberger moves around on different lines on many nights. Stevens said he envisioned him doing just that in this series.
Still, it was puzzling as to why a 50-point player would be dropped to the line with the fewest minutes - six per game.
"Right now, I like the way the other lines have meshed in, and Umbie is the kind of utility guy that moves all over," Stevens said. "Before the game is over, he could be on all four lines. It's a role we used him in before and have gotten a lot of production out of R.J."
Umberger plays all three positions on a line as well as on special teams. His forte is the wing.
"I don't like putting this first-, second-, third-, fourth-line tag on a guy where it diminishes his value, because it doesn't," Stevens said. "There are very hard decisions to be made right now as far as who plays and who doesn't. There's no disrespect or dislike to any player."
Try convincing the player of that.
"The knee feels great," Umberger said. "I guess this is just the way he sees the lines. My first game back in Pittsburgh, I felt a little tentative just making cuts and stuff. The next game in Jersey, I felt great. I played with the most emotion all year. I went all-out. I was excited and confident with the way I played.
"But I want to see the team do well and go deep in the playoffs. We'll see what happens."
Kapanen has been bothered by the flu, a sinus infection, and a stiff neck, all of which caused him to miss two games last week and some practice time this week.
"Ask Johnny," Kapanen said of his status, referring to Stevens. Stevens said he had not made up his mind, but Kapanen was without a line at yesterday's practice.
Loose pucks. Defenseman Jason Smith (right shoulder) practiced and will play tonight. "I felt fine out there today," he said. "I'm confident I can go out and play and compete at a high level. I was a little sore upper-body-wise, but nothing major. I feel way better today than three days ago." . . . Defenseman Derian Hatcher did not look sure on his skates trying to navigate around stationary cones. He did not seem anywhere near ready. . . . Defenseman Randy Jones and forward Steve Downie missed practice again with the flu. Defenseman Nate Guenin took practice in case Jones' health is an issue.