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NHL holiday freeze interrupts Flyers' road trip

No league activity from Dec. 24-26

Flyers chairman Ed Snider. (Steven M. Falk/Staff file photo)
Flyers chairman Ed Snider. (Steven M. Falk/Staff file photo)Read more

BARRING A last-second move, the Flyers' roster will be the same today as it is through the holiday season - for better or for worse. That's because the NHL's roster freeze begins tonight at 11:59.

Players are not permitted to be traded and minor league transactions are prohibited from today through the end of Dec. 27, with the exception of emergency condition recalls.

The rule is designed to prevent disruption of families through the holidays. Some teams, like the Calgary Flames, implemented their own freeze a week earlier than the league-mandated blackout dates.

The NHL is the only major professional sports league in the United States to not play games during Christmas. There are no games scheduled from Dec. 24-26. Nearly halfway into their eight-game road trip, the Flyers will return home from Minnesota in the wee hours of Christmas Eve and fly to Nashville in the afternoon on Dec. 26.

One of the last trades to go through before the freeze was Carolina sending defenseman Jay Harrison to Winnipeg for a sixth-round pick yesterday.

The Jets, clinging to a playoff spot in the West, are without their top four defensemen all due to injury. The Flyers will make their lone stop of the season in Winnipeg on Sunday evening.

For Flyers general manager Ron Hextall, watching Harrison find a landing spot had to be an eye-opener. Harrison, of course, has a connection to Jets coach Paul Maurice, but he has missed games this season and has another year left on his contract but still found a home.

The Flyers have eight healthy defensemen, including Michael Del Zotto and Carlo Colaiacovo, both of whom were healthy scratches last night. For Del Zotto, it was his sixth scratch in the last eight games.

Fan apathy?

With another listless performance, another apathetic crowd filled the Wells Fargo Center last night.

Despite huge swaths of empty, burgundy seats in sections, the Flyers announced a sellout crowd of 19,582. That number included tickets distributed, not butts in seats. It was one of the smallest Flyers crowds, absent of a snowstorm, in years. (For the Panthers, last in attendance, it was still a big night.)

Technically, it was the Flyers' 165th consecutive sold-out home game, including every regular-season game plus playoffs over the last three seasons. The streak began on Nov. 18, 2010, vs. Tampa Bay with 19,672.

Recent attendance figures have only been 20 or 30 fans over the required sellout attendance number. To be clear: Fans are starting to voice their displeasure with the Flyers. Groans, and not boos, echoed in the building after a brutal first period last night.

Vinny returns

Embattled veteran Vinny Lecavalier returned to the Flyers' lineup last night for his first game since Nov. 29. He sat the previous seven games as a healthy scratch, including Dec. 2 in San Jose, which was the first healthy benching of his illustrious career.

"It was really tough, especially that first game," Lecavalier said. "It was more when you're told for the first time that you're not going to play, that's the toughest. After that, it was kind of a mental game to stay positive and be ready as much as possible."

Lecavalier, 34, entered last night with 72 points in 83 career games against the Panthers - his second-highest total against any opponent. He scored one of his two goals this season against Florida on Nov. 1.

He was positioned on the fourth line at right wing with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Zac Rinaldo, despite a claim from Craig Berube that Lecavalier would be at his natural center position.

Lecavalier replaced rookie Scott Laughton on the second power-play unit, but he didn't actually see any time with the extra attacker because the Flyers didn't have many opportunities. He finished with 11:48 in ice time, 10th among Flyers forwards.

Berube's rationale with Lecavalier on the wing was that Bellemare would be more efficient carrying the puck up the ice with speed. Theoretically, that would allow Lecavalier space on the wing to come off the boards with his strong shot.

"If you look at the fourth line the last couple of games, they've been getting their minutes," Berube said. "Vinny is going to get his. I expect them to get momentum for our team. Like all of our guys, I want them to skate and work hard. I want them to be on the right side of pucks."

Lecavalier's line was on the right side of the puck more often than not last night. In fact, it was one of Berube's better units against Florida at generating chances.

Bellemare set up Jake Voracek in front of the net for the Flyers' first goal in the second period. Lecavalier had already skated off, making room for Voracek, but the goal was created by Bellemare and Rinaldo's grunt work below the goal line on the boards.

"I don't mind playing the right wing, I'm really comfortable there," Lecavalier said. "I told teams when they signed me that I could play center or right wing. Obviously, I was at left wing last season. It's nice to be back. It's been a long time - too long - but I'm playing. I'm happy to be here with the guys."