WHEN CRAIG BERUBE plugged Scott Hartnell to play alongside Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn last week, the critics came out of the woodwork to point out that it's a line full of similar playing styles.
Berube does not deny that. In fact, that's what he likes about his newest combination.
Last night, against the Capitals, they also happened to be one of the Flyers' best lines - until Schenn left the game late in the second period after a nasty charge from Tom Wilson.
"It's a big line," Berube said. "They handle the puck well. They can wear the defense down on the other team when they're playing their game with physicality. They all can move. And they can put the puck in the net."
Last Thursday's win over Montreal marked the first time Hartnell had not played a consistent shift alongside Claude Giroux since early in the 2011-12 season, when Jaromir Jagr was still in town.
"I think we needed a change after that game in Chicago," said Hartnell, referring to last week's 7-2 loss. "I played with Claude and Jake [Voracek] for a long time, but I like playing with 'Simmer' and 'Schenner.' It's different, but [Simmonds] is a guy who can bang and play in the corners with me and hopefully we can feed [Schenn] in front. We can all skate and score goals."
For Berube, placing Hartnell with Simmonds and Schenn was the only real option, since he didn't want to tinker with a third line (Matt Read, Sean Couturier and Steve Downie) that had clicked so well. Michael Raffl was bumped up from the fourth line to play with Giroux and Voracek, and that trio combined for six points on Sunday in Washington.
"I thought our first game we played together we had chances," Schenn said before last night's win over Washington. "Hartsy is obviously a big, strong guy who goes to the net and plays hard. We need to play a north-south game and get our chances by skating. For us to be successful, the three of us have to be moving our feet."
Last night, they were doing just that. Hartnell had a first-period breakaway that he nearly snuck through the pads of Braden Holtby. Prior to his injury, Schenn was also buzzing, creating scoring chances with Simmonds.
It's possible that Berube was also hoping to get all three players on Hartnell's line back in sync at once: Prior to last night, Schenn hadn't scored in 11 games, Simmonds hadn't scored in 10 games and Hartnell had six points in the last 12 games. They finally connected with Simmonds' third-period goal last night, but that came with Chris VandeVelde filling in for the injured Schenn.
The biggest change for Hartnell through the first game or two was workload. Hartnell skated just 13:19 on Sunday in Washington, his lowest total in a full game this season. In the 469 games that he's played since joining the Flyers via free agency in 2007, Hartnell had played less than 13:19 just 30 times.
Depending on the severity of Schenn's injury, Hartnell's goal must be to make it a tough decision for Berube when Vinny Lecavalier is ready to return from injury in the next 2 or 3 weeks. Because once Lecavalier, the Flyers' second-line center, is back, there won't be any obvious place for Hartnell in the top three lines with the other two playing so well.
Scott Hartnell enjoyed putting together a children's book with his sister, Kyla, this summer, but his work didn't actually resonate until he was able to grasp the final product earlier this week. His "#HartnellDown" book went on sale at last night's home game, with all proceeds benefitting his foundation.
The books are also available at www.hartnelldown.com.
"It's a pretty cool thing," Hartnell said. "We just kind of floated around other ideas besides selling T-shirts and doing dinners to try and raise money. I think even if you're not a Flyers fan or a Scott Hartnell fan, it's still a cool little book for a young hockey player to read."
The book, illustrated by Sean Thompson, is more of an autobiography of Hartnell's journey from youth player to the NHL. His favorite part of being an author so far? Watching Czech teammate Jake Voracek attempt to read it and having teammates take it home to read to their own kids.