The heart and soul of the Flyers' top line, Scott Hartnell, hasn't played since January 22, and underwent surgery to repair a broken left foot three days later.
Recovery time was originally 4-to-8 weeks, downgraded to 4-to-6, and well, that four is almost up.
Just ahead of the club's monster road game in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said: "Scott Hartnell saw the doctor today and was given the okay to take part
in practice. He will likely be out of the line-up for another 7-10
By "the doctor," we can only assume it's the same man who performed the procedure, Dr. Steven Raikin.
Hartnell has been out for the last 14 games, and no one has felt the effects quite like top-line center and captain Claude Giroux, who had been mired in a scoring slump across the board until Monday's season-best two-goal, one-assist performance in an historic 7-0 rout of the Islanders on Monday in Uniondale.
A conservative estimate places Hartnell's return on February 27 when the Flyers host the Washington Capitals; the more liberal estimate would be a March 2 home contest against the Ottawa Senators.
That most certainly means an additional burden on Giroux will be lifted, with Hartnell's play, personality and leadership ready to infuse a struggling club just barely treading water at 7-9-1 with the conclusion of a brutal six-game road trip against a bitter rival.
"Everybody knows it's been a little rough for him, the puck isn't going
in, but one thing you can't fault with him is his effort every single
night," said Danny Briere to NHL.com on Tuesday about Giroux. "He had total rights to do what he did because for him to be
successful he needs all of us to play as hard as we can, to open up some
lanes for him, to make room for him out there."
If Briere's answer is any indication, a corner may be turned tonight in the Steel City in the wake of such a dominant road win no matter the outcome:
"The one thing I'm not worried about
for the game on Wednesday is if the guys are going to get up for the
game. I think everybody will be ready. Everybody will be fired up for it
because, I mean, we know, it's the rivalry and that's the way it is.
But now as the game progresses and it gets tough in the game, that's
when we have to keep that same attitude moving forward. Instead of
backing down and playing it safe, we need to want it there."
Knowing Hartnell, it's absolutely killing him that he can't be there in the rematch of a season-opening 3-1 home loss to the club they dumped out of the first round last April.
And that's the kind of spirit this club needs to compete in a playoff race during this truncated season.