UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Vinny Lecavalier doesn’t want to talk about vindication.
He doesn’t want to prove anyone wrong or rub anything in anyone’s face.
Yet, he is a competitor. And people that are driven with an edge and are executing at the highest level of their craft will sometimes find ways to use the smallest things as motivation.
So, after a storied career in Tampa Bay where he hoisted the Stanley Cup and later served as captain, a career that was 15 seasons in the making and had 874 points and counting was suddenly halted when the only franchise he ever knew decided he wasn’t worth their money any longer and paid him to go away.
And no matter how many times he, or anyone else in his position, will publicly declare that its part of the business, the human side of a person hurts. To suddenly be told you don’t belong in the place you call home is a very difficult pill to swallow. It knocks you down, sometimes hard.
But life moves on, not waiting for you to catch up, so it’s imperative that you dust yourself off and try to make things better.
For Lecavalier, that opportunity has come in Philadelphia. And before Saturday, it was an opportunity that was rooted in promise. Promise that at 33-years-old, with the shine seemingly fading from his once-gleaming star, that he could find a little of that old magic dust inside his hockey gloves and make for a nice completion to his noted career.
But that promise was quickly cooling on the backburner. A 1-7 start by the Flyers and an injury that cost Lecavalier three games almost made people forget what could be, what might be, what they hoped for.
Instead, lost in the murkiness of a terrible start, expectations quickly dissipated. The “What-have-you-done-for-me-lately” sort were marching toward the negative extreme.
But Lecavalier knew otherwise. He knew that despite an unexpectedly poor start that patience was key. He knew that if things were going to get better there could be no panic at this disco.
And so Saturday at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, a place that seems to always offer that special elixir to cure any Flyers-related malaise, one game after returning from an undisclosed lower-body injury, Lecavalier emerged from the settled dust and had the kind of performance that is usually reserved for players far from the end of the line.
Which is to say, that Lecavalier is nowhere near cooked, as that buyout may have suggested.
In classic Vinny-style, Lecavalier registered the seventh hat trick of his career, spearheading a spirited Flyers effort that resulted in a 5-2 win over the New York Islanders marking the first game this season the Flyers have scored three goals or more in a game and the first time they won back-to-back outings.
His goals came with a bit of flair and panache:
A power play one timer that deflected off a defenseman’s stick and into the net.
A follow up of his own shot batting the rebound out of the air and past the goalie.
And finally, a brilliant individual effort where he laid out to keep a play alive only to get to his feet in time to score on a return pass.
“Overall this was a great confidence booster,” Lecavalier said. “It’s still the beginning of the season and we’re not where we want to be. We have to be happy with tonight. As a line with [Claude Giroux] and [Michael Raffl] we connected. We got to keep it going and keep playing the same way.”
And not just Lecavalier… everyone.
A lot of players put together their best performance of the season – and you could see them skating better, faster and making quicker decisions – all of which has to make coach Craig Berube feel like what he is instituting every day in practice is working.
“They played a solid game without the puck,” Berube said. “To understand that you can still score goals instead of just sitting back and playing defense… I really liked our skating legs tonight. We had a lot of jam left in the third period. Everybody.”
Sean Couturier had perhaps his best game, leading all forwards in ice time (20:03), was the top forward in penalty killing (the Islanders No. 1 ranked power play finished 0-for-4) and won 60 percent of his faceoffs, taking more draws than any other center.
Defenseman who have struggled took positive strides. Kimmo Timonen had a solid game. Luke Schenn looked better, and was rewarded with more ice time. Mark Streit picked up two assists in his return game to Long Island.
Up front, Jake Voracek got his first goal of the season, Michael Raffl earned his first NHL point.
But the player who made it all go, and was better than anyone except his three-goal scoring linemate, was Giroux.
The captain looked so much more like himself. He had good jump. He was creating more offense. He played hard-nosed and determined and finished with his first multi-point game of the season.
“He had a really good game,” Berube said. “I think it had a lot to do with him playing on the penalty kill regularly. He likes doing that. He’s been wanting to do that. I hadn’t really been using him a lot there, but I did tonight. He got more into the game and I think that made a big difference.”
If it was, and if Giroux is on the precipice of breaking out, that can only be seen as a boon for the Flyers.
And if that happens, it could lead to more consistent offense and more consistent winning.
And if that happens, it’ll be more than just Vinny with vindication.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers
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