Normally, the return of yet another defenseman to the Flyers' lineup would induce a quiet groan from the stall of Carlo Colaiacovo.
Just about every time one has healed up enough to get back on the ice, Colaiacovo would receive a tap on the shoulder, letting him know he's the odd man out.
But when Michael Del Zotto returned last night, Colaiacovo beat the numbers game for the first time all season. In fact, he has played so well over the past 2 weeks that he changed the numbers, with Craig Berube opting to go with seven defensemen and 11 forwards last night against the Flames rather than the usual six and 12. Vinny Lecavalier sat instead as a healthy scratch.
Colaiacovo, 32, skated in his 10th consecutive game last night at Scotiabank Saddledome - already his longest stretch in the lineup this season.
"He's good with the puck, jumping up and making plays," Berube said. "He could have had two goals in Vancouver. He hit the post early on. He's got a good offensive mind that way. And for me, he's defending with good gaps, a good stick. And he's not giving people a lot of room out there."
How tough has it been for Colaiacovo?
Down two defensemen in October, the Flyers signed him to a league-minimum contract on Oct. 30, desperate for a body. He played just two games before finding himself in the press box, after Braydon Coburn returning sooner than expected for injury.
Colaiacovo, nicknamed "Coco," then sat for a staggering 26 straight games. He didn't play a single game from Nov. 19 to Jan. 14. This is what followed: play eight games, sit for two, in for another two, out for another eight, leading up until this current impressive run.
There are two ways to look at his season: He is lucky to have found a home after the league played 3 weeks without him as a free agent. Or he's gotten a bit of a raw deal with the Flyers' abundance of healthy defensemen.
"For me, this year has been filled with a lot of mixed emotions," said Colaiacovo, who now has matched the 25 games he played last season for St. Louis. "There are days that go by that you're extremely frustrated. It was not easy at all, especially when you come in here and you expect to play right away, then you're part of a numbers game.
"Mentally, I think I've done a good job of being able to stay focused. It's knowing that I am a good NHL player, a really good NHL player. I've played in this league a long time and I still want to play as long as my body will let me."
The knock on Colaiacovo, a first-round pick of his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs in 2001, was never that he couldn't play. It was that he couldn't stay healthy.
R.J. Umberger was drafted the pick before Colaiacovo, held out in Vancouver and didn't make his debut until 3 years after Colaiacovo, and has still played 314 more NHL games than Colaiacovo.
Unfortunately for Colaiacovo, once the NHL labels you as a spare part, it is a tough mold to break. Even solid on-ice play isn't always enough to dispel that notion.
"It's a tough pill to swallow, for sure," Colaiacovo said. "You feel like you're doing everything you can with what you're given, then it's a numbers game that keeps you out. My focus is to be an everyday player. I know I am, I know I can be."
With just nine games remaining, it isn't a stretch to say Colaiacovo is playing for another contract - be it with the Flyers or another team that could use blue-line depth. It took a while, but he has earned the respect and confidence of Berube and his Flyers teammates, with Berube calling him a consistent "good pro" who prepares himself well.
"You're always thinking about [next year], but I don't want to look too far ahead," Colaiacovo said. "You don't want to slip and have an off night. For me, it's a matter of having that great feeling of knowing you're going to be in there every night. Good play rewards that."
Sad news rippled through the hockey world last night upon the passing of Matthew Wuest, the young Halifax, Nova Scotia, sports reporter who created the hockey website, CapGeek.com. He passed with his wife by his side after a 2 1/2-year battle with colon cancer. His age was not available.
Wuest truly revolutionized the way hockey is absorbed by the general public in the salary-cap era. His website tracked salaries, cap space, available free agents, minor league contracts, performance bonuses, buyout formulas, and no-trade clauses on a daily basis.
Initially, after being founded in May 2009, Wuest's site was met with friction by the NHL, whose member clubs wanted to keep salary data and cap space internal. By the end, the NHL was assisting Wuest at times and working with him to make sure his information was accurate, since he had gained such a large and loyal following.
Wuest closed CapGeek.com on Jan. 5 with a humble note about an unknown medical issue.
Since then, the same salary information is not as easily accessible or verified, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said he does not believe fans have an appetite for the numbers. Wuest's 105,000 followers on Twitter and more than 4 million visitors on the biggest hockey days of the year proved otherwise. Gone far too soon, he left an indelible mark on the game for both fans and front offices.