Among the first things Radko Gudas does these days when he gets to the rink is check that night's roster sheet. Not for his name, or that of any opponent.
He wants to know who his two referees will be.
"You know some games there are going to be more power plays; some games, no power plays,'' he said. "Some games are going to be a little more physical than the others.''
If Gudas had his druthers, every game in the NHL would have the last two characteristics. Even those games, though, have become less assuring for the 27-year-old Flyers defenseman, who sat out 10 games earlier this season for slashing Winnipeg's Mathieu Perreault across the back of the head.
Perrault had leaned on Gudas' neck and head during a multi-player battle behind the net, spilling Gudas' helmet to the ice. No matter. The slash looked bad enough even without the reputation attached to it, and so for the sixth time in his six-season NHL career, Gudas received a match penalty and subsequent suspension, his third in a Flyers uniform.
Each has doubled in length, and so the Radko Gudas out there in late February looks significantly different from the one who slashed Matthieu and received a 10-game suspension amid the Flyers' 10-game winless streak in November.
More than $400,000 in lost wages can do that to you, even if your salary is $3.5 million.
When he returned, he went 20 consecutive games without incurring a penalty. And since that fight and a minor in a Feb. 1 game against New Jersey, Gudas has spent exactly two additional minutes in the box.
All good, right? Not exactly.
"They're watching my every move,'' he said of the referees after practice Friday at Skate Zone, before the team boarded its charter for a matinee Saturday in Ottawa. `They're in my head. I have to stay smart and pick my moments and pick my spots. I thought I have done a pretty good job so far with that.''
But at what cost? Once a plus-7, Gudas is minus-2 these days. Forwards who once might have been distracted enough by the specter of one of his bone-crushing hits seem to play emboldened. And though Flyers coach Dave Hakstol praised Gudas for his "contained effective defensive style,'' Gudas and his partner, Brandon Manning, have registered minuses in four of the last eight games – all four being Flyers victories.
Hakstol's trust in Manning sent rookie Travis Sanheim first to the bench and later to Lehigh Valley, and in the early going, the pairing was solid. In fact, on Jan.20, Gudas was a plus-5. A seventh defenseman for much of his tenure with the Flyers, Manning seems to be wearing down with repeated usage.
Hakstol today insisted, "That pair is a real important pair for us,'' and appeared unconcerned with the taming of Gudas' physicality. "You're still seeing some big hits in his game,'' he said. "He's just managing that side more. But there are times — especially this time of year — that helps your efficiency in how you're defending if you're a little bit more contained.''