Mucking and grinding . . .

WHEN SCOTT HARTNELL went under the knife on Friday to repair his fractured left big toe, he joined a long list of Flyers to undergo a similar procedure as a result of a blocked shot.

From Simon Gagne and Chris Pronger to Jeff Carter, Brayden Schenn and James van Riemsdyk, the Flyers have had quite a few unlucky breaks. They have affected forwards and defensemen equally?

Are protective, plastic shields for skates an option to keep the Flyers just a little more healthy in the shortened season? Yes and no. The Flyers cannot make players wear them.

"It's an issue right now and we're trying to deal with it," general manager Paul Holmgren said. "I've talked to them about them, yeah, but it hinders the guys a little bit. I don't know how to explain it other than you don't want to mess with a player's skates. It's a little bit of an issue."

You may not notice them during games, but Braydon Coburn, Brayden Schenn and Nick Grossmann regularly wear them. They come in clear and black varieties to blend in with skates.

The problem is that they also add bulk to the side of a skate, causing players to sometimes slide out when making a turn as plastic hits the ice. Next time you see a still photo of a player making a turn, notice how close the side of his skate is to the ice and you'll understand why they are not a reality for all players.

"Whether they can make these protective devices smaller or lighter, I don't know," Holmgren said. "But we haven't found the right formula yet in order to get all of our players to wear them."

Laughton's eye-opener

When the Flyers landed in New York early Monday morning, rookie Scott Laughton gathered his bags in preparation for his journey back to Oshawa, Ontario.

Laughton, 18, was impressive in five contests - at least creating a conversation for him to stay with the big club when one wasn't a figment of anyone's imagination months ago. Only Brayden Schenn registered more hits among Flyers forwards.

Still, Laughton didn't seem quite strong enough yet to handle NHL defensemen in front of the net. He had no problem muscling his way along the boards and in the corners, but goals are scored in a 10-square foot area near the blue paint. It's a different world there.

It's fair to wonder, too, whether Laughton would have been able to acquire both the meat and skill to battle there in the final 43 games of the season, seemingly with less ice time as the games grow more important.

"It's definitely strength, getting bigger for the next level," Laughton said. "I thought my speed was pretty good here but definitely strength. I'm 190 [pounds] and want to get to 195, build strength. [I need to] get bigger in the upper body."

Penalty shot

The Flyers are 2-4-0 through six games, yet some fans are calling for a lottery pick to target U.S.-born defenseman Seth Jones. Are you kidding me? In a normal, 82-game season, any judgments made before 20 games are premature. The same rule applies here, even in a shortened campaign.

By the way: Word from scouts on the ground in Ufa, Russia, during the World Junior Championships, is that Jones wasn't even the most impressive draft-eligible defenseman playing for the gold medal-winning Americans. Careful what you wish for.

Slap shots

This time around, New York will be well-rested. The Rangers were coming off back-to-back games before last Thursday's 2-1 Flyers win. The Flyers are 0-2 in the second game of their 10 back-to-back sets so far, outscored by a 10-3 margin. That's an early-season, league-wide trend, as all teams are a combined 9-16-1 so far in the second game, according to Elias Sports Bureau . . . Defenseman Luke Schenn finished off a strong weekend for the Flyers after two or three tough first games. The elder Schenn leads the team in hits with 19. Younger brother Brayden is three behind . . . Zac Rinaldo is eligible to return to the lineup Tuesday night after a 7-day run on the injury list for a leg laceration suffered in Buffalo on Jan. 20.

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