- The Washington Times - Friday, December 30, 2011

PHILADELPHIA — In October, Scott Hartnell was a bottom-six forward for the Philadelphia Flyers. His name surfaced in trade rumors, with his $4.2 million cap hit seeming like an albatross for a strapped team.

Hartnell’s days on the fourth line didn’t last long. What’s down is up for the 29-year-old left wing, who’s enjoying undoubtedly his best NHL season.

“Every night you’re hopefully going to be on the scoresheet and help the team win,” Hartnell said. “It’s been fun every practice playing with these guys, not taking it for granted, working hard, and I’ve been able to put some goals in the net.”

Hartnell has 17 goals, 17 assists and a plus-21 rating in 36 games and goes into Monday’s Winter Classic against the New York Rangers as one of the biggest surprises in the league. He’s also a major reason why the Flyers (22-10-4) are rolling along as one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams despite various injuries.

Explaining this success isn’t hard for Hartnell, an affable guy in the locker room, but one who has also has gotten into more scuffles than he has goals. The gritty winger has been accused of biting Penguins defenseman Kris Letang’s finger in 2009.

This season has been different, thanks in large part to center Claude Giroux, who leads the league with 45 points, world-class winger Jaromir Jagr, who has 31 points, and others.

“It’s a lot about taking advantage of opportunity,” Hartnell said. “I started the year not playing power play or playing a lot of minutes, really. I ended up going up with Giroux and Jagr, and obviously playing with those guys you’re going to get lots of chances.”

Hartnell’s numbers have him ranked 10th in the league in goals and 41st in shooting percentage (19.1) going into Friday night’s slate of games.

But he might lead the NHL in falling down.

Flyers fan Seth Hastings started counting the number of times Hartnell fell down in a game, with the number shared on Twitter so often that it became a popular hashtag: “#HartnellDown.” Hartnell and his agent, Dean Grillo, liked it so much that they promoted it and even made up a “Hartnell Down” shirt with the proceeds going to charity.

“It’s hilarious,” Hartnell said. “It started last year — I saw it in a warmup — Hartnell Down 125 times, I think it was. I said, ‘What the heck does that sign mean?’ The number kept going up, and I found out it was the number of times I fell during games.”

For someone whose game has been reinvigorated this season, a phenomenon like “Hartnell Down” just adds more entertainment to a career year.

“It is funny. You’ve got to embrace something like that. You can’t not like it, because it’ll keep bothering you and bothering you,” Hartnell said. “I guess it’s catching on pretty good.”

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