Del Zotto eager to prove he can be Flyers' No. 1 defenseman

Lightning Flyers Hockey
Philadelphia Flyers' Michael Del Zotto in action against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He'll return to the Flyers' lineup Sunday night against Calgary.

After three games as a healthy scratch, defenseman Michael Del Zotto will return to the Flyers' lineup Sunday night against Calgary, based on Saturday's practice in Voorhees.

Entering the preseason, Del Zotto figured to be the Flyers' No. 1 defenseman. But he injured his left knee against his former team, the New York Rangers, during an Oct. 6 exhibition and missed the season's first 12 games. The Flyers went 6-5-1 in that stretch.

Del Zotto returned to the lineup Nov. 5, but struggled and was benched last week.

"Any time you're not playing, you're not feeling the best about yourself," Del Zotto said after Saturday's practice. "But I've been in this situation numerous times. To me, I just look at it as another obstacle, another piece of adversity to overcome. Deal with it head-on and I'll be better from it."

Del Zotto had been paired primarily with Shayne Gostisbehere, but he will be with Mark Streit on Sunday.

Brandon Manning will miss the game with an unspecified injury. Sunday's other pairings: Gostisbehere and Andrew MacDonald, and Ivan Provorov and Radko Gudas.

"I come in every day and work as hard as I can," Del Zotto said."They'll never fault my work effort, and that's all I can control. I can't control what's going on with business decisions or personnel decisions within the team.

"That's Hak and Hex," he added, referring to coach Dave Hakstol and general manager Ron Hextall, "so if you want those answers, go talk to them."

The Flyers won just two of seven games with Del Zotto in the lineup. He returned after not playing for about eight months.

"Overall, I had some good minutes and good games, and obviously made some mistakes," he said. "I think it's just a timing issue and trying to get back into it.....It's no secret as to why I came out of the lineup. I got beat on a couple of goals _ some wrong reads. Mistakes are going to happen. It's part of the game.

"For me, I know I can be better and I know I will be better," he added. "It's just a matter of getting back in and proving to the coaching staff I can get back to where I was before my injury, being the No. 1 guy."

Del Zotto is excited for goalie Anthony Stolarz, who will make his NHL debut Sunday. Steve Mason has started six straight games.

"I know he's been waiting a while to get his start; Mase has been playing great for us. He's been standing on his head and keeping us in games," Del Zotto said. "Stolie is excited. It makes you think back to your first game and your first start."

Del Zotto said the key for Stolarz is "having the right type of excitement. Don't get too antsy or too nervous. Just have fun out there (because) it's going to be a moment you never forget."

Del Zotto, 26, was limited to just 52 games because of season-ending wrist surgery last February. After a grueling rehab, he suffered the knee injury last month and had a difficult time finding his rhythm when he returned to the lineup.

"It's tough. You don' want to make excuses, but you're out for nine months with back-to-back injuries, it's a long time," he said. "I've had injuries before, but not been out that long."

In July, Del Zotto can become an unrestricted free agent. He is earning $3.875 million this season. Will the Flyers try to extend him? The next four-plus months of the season will provide the answer.