VOORHEES - Scott Hartnell had an eight-month offseason that just ended this week, so excuse him if he's not quite at his best yet.
"I'm a little winded out there even after a quick burst up and down the ice," Hartnell said this week after a practice at Flyers Skate Zone. "You can definitely feel the lungs burning a little bit."
In shape or not, Hartnell and the Philadelphia Flyers start their season today when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Wells Fargo Center (3 p.m., NBC).
During the 113-day NHL lockout, imposed by owners to negotiate a new labor deal, many players across the league played either in juniors, the minors or overseas. Players 20 or younger were eligible for juniors, players on entry-level contracts could be reassigned to the minors, and many veterans chose to play abroad.
But some, including Hartnell, stayed home. He and a few teammates paid for ice time at Flyers Skate Zone during the lockout to skate and stay in shape.
Informal workouts, though, aren't quite the same as games.
"I think those guys that had that competitiveness, the one-on-one battles, 'D' zone, all that kind of stuff, even if it's been a few weeks since they've played, they've had that game-like conditions or whatever a bunch of times," Hartnell said. "For us, we're going to be thrown right in the fire."
Fortunately for Hartnell, he will have several teammates who have been playing.
Each of the Flyers' top two lines early in camp featured a player who had been playing in the American Hockey League this season: Brayden Schenn on the top unit and Sean Couturier on the second line.
Schenn had a team-high 33 points in 33 games for the Adirondack Phantoms of the American Hockey League. Couturier had 28 points in 31 games for the Phantoms. Zac Rinaldo and Eric Wellwood, both expected to play on the Flyers' checking line, also were with Adirondack, and rookie forward Scott Laughton was in juniors.
"It's midseason for us," Couturier said. "We're in pretty good game shape. Maybe some (other) guys will have to find their game shape, like we say, and we feel good out there."
By comparison, the Penguins have a few players who spent time in the minors, but they're all rookies, whereas Schenn, Couturier and Rinaldo spent almost all of last season in the NHL.
Schenn said he doesn't feel extra pressure, but he does expect the team to count on him more.
"I think it's just for us guys that have played, just to go out there and be ready and be sharp," Schenn said. "We've already got our legs and wind underneath us from playing so much hockey already."
They're not the only ones. Forwards Claude Giroux, Danny Briere and Wayne Simmonds played in Germany during the lockout. Forwards Ruslan Fedotenko and Jakub Voracek played in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League. Forward Matt Read and defenseman Nick Grossmann played in Sweden, and newly signed defenseman Kurtis Foster played in Finland.
"I didn't see too much rust, obviously, on a lot of the guys (in the first few days of camp)," Simmonds said. "The intensity of our practices has been pretty high."
Hartnell said he could tell which guys had been playing competitively and which had not.
"I haven't really talked to too many of the guys that have played, but they're not bending over their sticks and things like that," Hartnell said with a smile.
Everyone needs to get up to speed quickly, though. Training camp was only six days long, and the Flyers open today against the rival Penguins, whom they beat in an epic first-round playoff series last season.
"I think that's a great game to get into it with," Simmonds said.
The entire season is condensed, as the Flyers will play 48 games in 98 days. They will play on back-to-back days 10 times. There will be no interconference play, meaning a large chunk of the games will be against intense rivals.
"It's what's laid in front of us," defenseman Braydon Coburn said. "It's the schedule ahead of us. Everybody in the league has the same thing."
One way to deal with the hectic schedule, Hartnell said, is to have shorter shifts early in the season. But that doesn't mean he plans to pace himself at all.
"It's just going to be an absolute sprint," Hartnell said. "You're basically playing every other day for a few months. And the team that can be consistent, that can play great defense, that is disciplined, that doesn't lose their top guys is going to be, I think, the team on top."
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