Frank Seravalli: Flyers' Giroux can use the break

Posted: January 24, 2012

SUNRISE, Fla. - With eight rookies in the Flyers' shorthanded lineup on Sunday, the general consensus around the locker room is that the 5-day All-Star break that starts after tonight's game against the Florida Panthers could not have come at a better time.

Jaromir Jagr's nagging groin injury will finally get the rest it needs to heal properly.

Zac Rinaldo will continue to rehab his neck pain after suffering a similar upper-body injury on Saturday in New Jersey.

Forwards James van Riemsdyk and Danny Briere - still out indefinitely with concussions - can rest without the pressure of missed time and missed points hovering over them.

Even with nearly a week off for van Riemsdyk and Briere, there is no way of telling whether the break will be beneficial for them.

"Who knows?" general manager Paul Holmgren said yesterday. "I don't know how you measure progress with these things. I could say he's better today but I don't know how he's going to feel tomorrow."

None of the Flyers' four injured players will benefit from the break as much as Claude Giroux, even though he won't be getting much of a break, as one of the four Flyers heading to Ottawa for the All-Star weekend festivities.

No player on the roster has gripped his stick as tightly as Giroux since Christmas. Giroux has gone the last 14 games with just one goal.

This past weekend, Giroux posted five assists on linemate Scott Hartnell's five goals. For most, that would be a career highlight. Young teammate Brayden Schenn doesn't have five assists in his 28-game career.

For Giroux, the uneasiness lingers. While he admitted the weekend was "better" - the Flyers picked up three of a possible four points against the Devils and Bruins - Giroux said he "still needs to build from there."

That's why the All-Star break's timing is impeccable for Giroux. So is the location. Anywhere other than Ottawa, where he maintains his offseason residence and where his family and friends have permanently migrated, and the weekend - jam-packed with sponsorship, league and business obligations - might have bogged down Giroux even more.

Take Friday, for instance, when Giroux is tabbed as the lone presenter for Bauer's new, revolutionary helmet, designed to minimize blows to the head and potential concussions. In Tampa Bay or Denver, that would be the start of a long day. Instead, Giroux will enjoy the day with his closest confidants.

Growing up in the far-north, French-speaking town of Hearst, Ontario, nearly anyone wishing to go to a major French-speaking university would migrate 10 hours south across the river from Ottawa in Gatineau, Quebec - where Giroux also starred for 4 years in the Quebec Major Junior League.

In fact, Thursday's All-Star Fantasy Draft will take place in the same Hilton Lac-Leamy Casino where Briere hosts his annual charity event.

On the ice, there is little pressure to perform. It's an event for which players show up 20 minutes before the game - instead of the usual 3 hours - and are more interested in socializing than producing.

"It's just a fun time," said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, who led one All-Star team last year in Raleigh, N.C. "You get to go on the ice with some great players and see some great talent, but it's a far different situation than what we saw [Sunday] on the ice. The game [Sunday] and the All-Star Game, I don't think that they're going to resemble each other."

This weekend, perhaps, Giroux will finally get the chance to pick the brain of Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, whom he admired throughout his junior career. At the very least, when Giroux lines up next to the likes of Datsyuk and Henrik Sedin for the second year in a row, he'll do so with the reaffirmation that he belongs with the league's elite.

"I'm not really getting away from hockey, but I think just getting away from [the day-to-day] will be good," Giroux said. "Any time you get 1 or 2 days off, you kind of miss the game a little bit. I think it will just be good to have that hungry feeling again."

HARTNELL SNUB:

The NHL announced the first round of injury replacements for this weekend's All-Star Game - and yet Scott Hartnell was not one of the two new invitees.

Edmonton's Jordan Eberle, who probably should have been an original All-Star, and Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang will replace Minnesota's Mikko Koivu and Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien.

Koivu, who has 11 fewer points than Hartnell's 44, had been chosen to be the the Wild's lone representative. The NHL didn't even replace him with another Wild player. Hartnell, who has 25 goals, has the most points of any player not heading to Ottawa this weekend.

The NHL really swung and missed yesterday when it didn't include the All-Star Game in the three-game suspension it handed Washington's Alex Ovechkin for his hit Sunday on Pittsburgh's Zbynek Michalek. Ovechkin should not have even been selected in the first place, since he has had a marginal first half with 39 points. Hartnell could have been the replacement had the ban included the All-Star Game. Hartnell, 29, said he has other plans for the weekend but would cancel them "in a heartbeat" to go to Ottawa.

SLAP SHOTS:

Paul Holmgren said there are no new updates for the team's four injured players. Jaromir Jagr and Zac Rinaldo are day-to-day. None of the four has a chance to play tonight. Danny Briere is the only one who flew to Florida with the team - and that's because his father is along on the trip. James van Riemsdyk, out since Jan. 14, has not yet resumed skating.

THE WEEK AHEAD:

at Florida

Tonight, 7:30, CSN

The season is more than halfway over, yet the Panthers are still clinging to a slim Southeast Division lead over the struggling Capitals and Jets. Still, it's a welcome sight in South Florida, where the Panthers have rejuvenated a fan base that hasn't seen its team make the playoffs since 2000. This year's crop of Panthers, retooled by Dale Tallon, seems poised to end the longest playoff drought for one team in one city in NHL history. It's a slippery slope in the second half, though, with little room for error. By falling out of the division lead, the Panthers would slide to eighth place in the East. Kris Versteeg, an All-Star snub, leads the team with 44 points after a fruitless 27-game run with the Flyers last season. Florida has struggled with injuries lately, losing leaders Ed Jovanovski and Marco Sturm.

All-Star Break

Jan. 25-30

Players will scatter across the globe, with some returning to their hometowns, others to tropical islands and some remaining in Philadelphia with their families. Practice resumes at 4 p.m. on Monday.

All-Star Fantasy Draft

Thursday, 8 p.m.

NBC Sports Network

With captains Zdeno Chara and Daniel Alfredsson leading the way, the remaining 38 All-Stars will be divided into two teams on live television. Toronto's Phil Kessel was last year's Mr. Irrelevant, winning a car in the process. The last player picked this year will also win a brand new car.

Skills Competition

Saturday, 7 p.m.

NBC Sports Network

Flyers rookies Matt Read and Sean Couturier will be picked to skate in no more than three events during the always-entertaining Saturday night Skills Competition. Some of the contests include a breakaway relay and fastest skater, and Boston's Chara will try to defend his hardest-shot record of 104.1 mph, which was clocked last year in Raleigh, N.C.

59th NHL All-Star Game

Sunday, 4 p.m.

at Ottawa

NBC Sports Network

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