2013 Year in Review: Zac Rinaldo

Image courtesy of Philly.com

For a franchise that is known and loved for their pugilistic dominance, it’s not surprising that one of the team’s favorite players amongst the fans is a fourth-line pest that always picks on somebody bigger than him. Winning the Gene Hart Memorial Award, helping to put one of the league’s best power plays on the ice, and leaving the goal scorers in a favorable position to start their shift is a good summary of Zac Rinaldo’s season.

In terms of goals and assists, Rinaldo was on a similar pace as to what he posted in 66 games for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2011-2012. After he had two goals and seven assists last year, Rinny potted three tallies and recorded two helpers in 32 contests in 2013, as he missed 12 games due to a high left ankle sprain and four games due to a lower-body injury.

Goals and assists aren’t why a player like Rinaldo is on the team. A player like #36 is on the roster to get under the skin of the opposition and to get the squad going from a motivational standpoint, both of which Rinaldo did very well this season.

After he had 15 fighting majors in 66 tilts in 2011-2012, Rinaldo had only five fights in 2013. Although his pace of dropping the gloves decreased from last season, each of Rinny’s five bouts came with a purpose.

His first came against Matt Hendricks in the Flyers’ 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals on February 1st. Shortly after John Erskine injured Wayne Simmonds with an elbow, Rinaldo engaged in a fight with Hendricks, as the gritty Flyers’ forward pummeled the hulking Caps’ enforcer. Both players earned majors for fighting and game misconducts for fighting before the puck was dropped for a faceoff. Philly dictated play for the remainder of the first period and a majority of the second period to earn a 2-1 lead.

Rinaldo’s second scrap came four days later in Philly’s 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Just minutes into the contest, Rinaldo knocked out B.J. Crombeen in his most decisive tilt of the year. His victory in the scrap didn’t have an immediate impact, but the Orange and Black did showcase a lot of energy against a high-scoring Lightning team and helped the Bolts to just one goal.

Thanks to Hockeyfightsdotcom

His third bout wasn’t much to talk about, as he abused Kaspars Daugavins following Harry Zolnierczyk’s illegal charge on Mike Lundin against the Ottawa Senators on March 2nd.

Rinaldo lost his fourth fight of the year and arguably lost his final fight of the year, but both scraps produced results from the rest of his team.

In a 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins on March 9th, the Flyers’ only true scoring chances came after Rinaldo dropped the gloves with Shawn Thornton. Boston’s enforcer had the biggest size advantage on Rinaldo out of all of Rinaldo’s opponents this year, as he is three inches and 37 pounds bigger, but the fact that Rinny challenged the heavyweight motivated the Orange and Black, even if the effort didn’t result in a single goal.

He threw a lot of punches, but landed very few in his final fight of the season against Brandon Prust on April 3rd. However, Sean Couturier gave Philly a 2-1 lead over the Montreal Canadiens less than three minutes after the fight in what turned out to be a 5-3 win for Philadelphia in what was, at the time, a crucial game in their hopes to make the playoffs.

With 85 PIMs, Rinaldo led the team in time spent in the sin bin and finished 12th across the league in the category. It seems like a large amount, but when one takes into consideration that 35 of those PIMs came due to fights, five for each of his fights and an additional 10 for his pre-faceoff bout with Hendricks, that leaves 50 minutes, or 25 power plays, Rinaldo would have put the Flyers on the penalty kill.

Of those 50 PIMs for Rinaldo that came outside of fighting majors and his game misconduct against Hendricks, only 24 PIMs resulted in putting the Flyers a man down. Since he also earned a 10-minute misconduct against the Buffalo Sabres on March 10th, Rinaldo handed the opposition seven power plays over the 2013 season. Of those seven man advantages, the Flyers were only scored on once.

With the exchanging of PIMs, Rinaldo finished first overall on the team in both penalties drawn/60 minutes and penalties taken/60 minutes. He also finished third in the NHL in penalties drawn/60 minutes and eighth in the league in penalties taken/60 minutes.

Along with the PIMs come the hits for Rinaldo, as the pest posted 143 hits in 32 games to serve as the highest-hitting forward for Philly this year. His total was good enough to let him finish 16th across the NHL in the category, as he was the only player in the top 75 for the category to have played in less than 37 games.

Thanks to Fred Murtz

Aside from the fighting and the hitting, Rinaldo also did a good job of putting the Flyers’ top lines in good position to start their shifts. With an offensive zone starting percentage (or percentage of shifts starting in the offensive zone) of 39.3, which was the fifth lowest total on the team, Rinaldo’s offensive zone finish percentage (where the puck ended up in the offensive zone at the end of their shift) was 52.8, which was good enough for third on the team behind Jakub Voracek and Erik Gustafsson.

Rinaldo’s future with the club looks bright. After not playing in 2009-2010 or 2010-2011, Rinaldo suited up for several games in 2011-2012. In 2013, the gritty skater evolved into a scrappy pest that can show discipline and ignite emotion from his teammates when the club needs it. He signed a two-year contract this year where he will earn $750,000 in 2013-2014 and 2014-2015.