Rinaldo aiming to improve PK with Phantoms
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VOORHEES -- Zac Rinaldo is on mission for as long as the Flyers’ 22-year-old, high-strung winger is with the Phantoms during this NHL lockout: Become a more useful player for Peter Laviolette.
Laviolette and Phantoms coach Terry Murray have a mission in mind for Rinaldo, as well: Teach him to become a disciplined penalty killer.
“We didn’t use him there last season because it was at the end of the season,” said Laviolette, who was observing the opening of the Phantoms training camp Saturday at Skate Zone.
“But we do see Zac hopefully, expanding into that role. This is an opportunity for him [with Phantoms] to show what he can do.”
Rinaldo is one of five Flyer regulars on the Phantoms this fall through the lockout. Laviolette and Murray have already talked about what each of these players can improve upon during their AHL stay.
With Rinaldo, it’s special teams.
Granted, he’s never going to get on the power play. Yet his defensive aggressiveness, if harnessed correctly, could make Rinaldo useful on the penalty kill.
“My experience on penalty kill was I did a lot of it in the OHL,” Rinaldo said, referring to his stints with Toronto, Mississauga, London and Barrie.
“Not such much in the AHL and not last year, at all. I think I’ll be a good penalty killer just because of the different assets I have. I like penalty killing and the more that I do it, I think I’ll be a good. Terry Murray is a good teacher. He can help me out.”
Murray and Laviolette talked about Rinaldo during a game of golf last week in South Jersey. You can get a lot accomplished on a golf course.
“Zac has a lot of NHL games under him,” Murray said. “This is a good opportunity for him to come and build on his NHL game in the American Hockey League and get into critical situations.
“Get on the ice in penalty kill. Get on the ice on the power play. I can push the envelope here. I can get him ready for those situations in the NHL. Use him with the Phantoms in those critical moments in the game.”
Rinaldo admits he likely won’t ever make even a second unit power play with the Flyers, but having responsibility on the PK is an achievable goal.
He also believes this is an opportunity to work on his overall development as a player, perhaps even show Laviolette he can handle something more than third or fourth line duties with the Flyers.
“I wouldn’t say [I’m] turning my game around or anything like that, but just becoming a better hockey player,” Rinaldo said of his overall objective this fall.
“I will still have the hitting ability. I will still have that edge. It’s part of my personality. Becoming a better hockey player is what I’ve always wanted to do. I’m still young. I have a lot of learning to do. Me going down is going to increase my learning ability.”
His attitude is very good in this camp.
“It’s building my confidence, play hockey and keep everything simple,” Rinaldo said. “Stay positive. Not get kinda pissed off that I’m going down to the AHL and not being in the NHL because of the lockout. I am taking the positives – I will become a better hockey player because this is what I want to do.”
Murray, much like Ken Hitchcock, demands defensive awareness and discipline on the ice.
Do something reckless, and you’re going to hear about it and it will be reflected in your ice time.
Rinaldo, who came to the Flyers as a ticking time bomb two seasons ago, had made enormous strides to harness his on-ice anger into doing positive things. Seldom did he fly off the handle last season.
Until. ... Game 4 against Pittsburgh in the first round.
Trailing 3-0 in the series, the Penguins were routing the Flyers late in the second period when Rinaldo came onto the ice shortly after Jordan Staal’s goal made it 9-3 in what would be a 10-3 loss.
Rinaldo needlessly cross-checked Zbynek Michalek, then piled on with a roughing call, a game misconduct and misconduct penalty. Automatic ejection.
Laviolette wasn’t happy and it was plainly evident because Rinaldo didn’t play another minute the rest of the playoffs.
Part of that, however, was because after the game, Rinaldo told reporters he felt he had done nothing wrong which in the coaching staff’s mind meant he didn’t see the larger picture of what the playoffs are about and how such antics can turn a series around.
Just ask Dan Carcillo about his fight with Max Talbot that turned around a Flyers series in 2009, and led to Pittsburgh’s third Stanley Cup.
In hindsight, Rinaldo says last spring’s incident bothers him and says it won’t happen again.
“It kinda got out of hand there,” he said. “I did whatever I did, we were down. ... I wasn’t playing much. It was just me, my personality, we’re down. ... like why not get the guys going?
“I should have let up on that. Sometimes you have to learn the hard way and I did. I’m back on a positive track now.”
One thing about the lockout. Every NHL club will have a half-dozen players in the AHL. Rinaldo will see ample time against fellow NHLers.
Murray will likely give Rinaldo some time on a top line to see if he can push his skill level up.
“Playing with skill guys will bring my skill up, too,” Rinaldo said. “Get a different outlook on first and second line than a third or fourth line guy.
“I got to pass the puck more, shoot the puck a lot more and not concentrate on just hitting and draining a lot of energy. I would create energy by scoring and getting a lot of assists.”
Rinaldo has already spent time this past summer training/skating/playing with Sean Couturier, one of those skill guys who is among the five Flyer regulars in this camp.
Maybe some of Couturier’s work with Rinaldo will pay dividends.
“Even if the NHL started, this is what I would be doing -- focusing on parts of my game to become a better hockey player,” Rinaldo said.
“Doesn’t matter if I were in the AHL or the NHL.”
In the first group, Sean Couturier centered Tyler McGinn and Luke Pither; Garrett Roe centered Brayden Schenn and Jason Akeson. Schenn also took shifts at center. ... Erik Gustafsson and Marc-Andre Bourdon worked as a defensive pair. ... In the second group, Rinaldo skated on an NHL line with Eric Wellwood and Ben Holmstrom as the center. ... Three goalies were Niko Hovinen, Cal Heeter and Scott Munroe. ... Brandon Manning worked on defense with Danny Syvret. ... Harry Zolnierczyk skated on Rob Bordson’s line with Matt Mangene. E-mail Tim Panaccio at firstname.lastname@example.org