As the Flyers inch closer to the midpoint in their grueling, 82-game march, coach Peter Laviolette looks at James van Riemsdyk's season in two distinct parts: from Nov. 18 until the present, and the first chunk of games prior to that.
Van Riemsdyk's stats paint a clear enough picture, with just four assists and no goals to show for his first 15 games and nine goals and five assists in the 20 games since.
On the ice, he looks like a totally different player.
"He's skating,'' Laviolette said. "He's working. He's trying to be physical. He's generating an awful lot of chances for us offensively. His line did a great job ; they matched up mostly against [Henrik] Zetterberg."
Van Riemsdyk added another goal in Sunday's win over the formidable Red Wings, helping snap an 0-14-2 streak in Detroit that began before the 21-year-old was born. The Middletown, N.J., native brings that confidence into New Jersey tonight, where he has scored five points in seven career games against his hometown Devils.
Laviolette said he has watched van Riemsdyk mature not just since he took over as head coach last December, but even since the start of this season.
"He's actually matured since this year," Laviolette said. "He came into camp and he started really well, he hit a bit of a patch there, and since he's come back from that, if you look at the scoring chances, he is our most consistent player."
Consistency is something van Riemsdyk, the second player chosen in the 2007 draft, talked a lot about in training camp. When he entered camp with an additional 10 pounds of muscle, JVR said his goal was to be one of the Flyers' top players consistently.
He followed that up with a relatively quiet preseason and went the first 17 games without a goal.
"I didn't contribute on the score sheet as much as I wanted to early on," van Riemsdyk said. "But, to be honest, I didn't really buy into the fact that I was playing that terrible at the beginning of the year. I think I had a lot of good chances but then I maybe started squeezing my stick too tight and that [finishing] part of my game was lost a little bit.
"I think I maybe hit the reset button and went back to what makes me successful - and I think that was the big key."
Van Riemsdyk realized that he is most successful when he uses his 6-3, 211-pound frame and natural speed in a combination of punches. He was the Flyers' second-fastest skater in their preholiday skills competition. And he also had the hardest shot, pinging the radar gun at 101.5 mph on a slap shot.
The challenge recently has been more mental - to enter each pregame stretching routine, each warmup and each faceoff with the same preparation. Skating regularly on a line with Mike Richards and Andreas Nodl can only help.
"Even in those games that I wasn't playing as well as I wanted, I still think I was preparing myself to play well and working hard," van Riemsdyk said. "I'll continue to learn about that as I go through my career, learning how to get yourself ready to play every night. You can't ever take nights off. I need to make sure I remember to bring the same effort and same play every night."
After a rocky rookie season, van Riemsdyk thought he had everything figured out heading into his sophomore season. Now, projected to finish with stats equivalent to what he put up last year, van Riemsdyk knows he has a lot more to learn.
"When you go through tough times like that, you learn a lot about yourself," van Riemsdyk said. "It's always good to go through that and see what you're really made of."
Chris Pronger was given the green light to resume light skating today by himself. He had two screws inserted in his foot on Dec. 17 to promote healing in a fracture from a blocked shot. He will be re-evaluated on Jan. 12 . . . Brian Boucher is scheduled to start in goal tonight against the Devils . . . The Flyers are 4-2-1 over the last three seasons at the Prudential Center, going 0-9-3 in their three seasons prior to that in New Jersey . . . The Devils' $100 million man, Ilya Kovalchuk, is a minus-29 . . . The Flyers-Blackhawks game Jan. 23 in Chicago has been moved from 4 p.m. to 12:30 and will be televised nationally by NBC.
"Since I've been in the league, I've never seen them anywhere close to the bottom half. They're always in the top half, even in their bad years. It's really weird to see them down there losing game after game after game.'' - Flyers forward Danny Briere, on New Jersey, the NHL's worst team, with a 10-27-2 record and 22 points through 39 games.
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