Inside the Flyers: Giroux powering Flyers offense

Career years all around: Center Claude Giroux is flanked by Scott Hartnell (left) and Wayne Simmonds.
Career years all around: Center Claude Giroux is flanked by Scott Hartnell (left) and Wayne Simmonds. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 11, 2012

TORONTO - Thanks to goalie Ilya Bryzgalov's revival, most of the attention lately has revolved around the Flyers' improved defense.

Rightfully so.

The Flyers, despite numerous injuries to defensemen, began Saturday having allowed a total of six goals in their last five games. That's their best five-game stretch of the season.

Byzgalov has his groove on. The defense, even though shorthanded, has made strides. And the offense has been the most productive in the NHL.

Put it all together and - dare we say it? - there are rekindled Stanley Cup dreams in Flyerdom.

The offense, surprisingly, has always been Cup-caliber. It has carried the Flyers all season, winning a lot of 5-4 and 4-3 games while Bryzgalov searched for answers.

Somehow, the Flyers attack hasn't skipped a beat. Somehow, they have replaced the offense provided by Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Ville Leino. Somehow, they lead the league in goals per game (3.27), even though Danny Briere may not score half the goals he produced last year (34).

Scott Hartnell, who had 32 goals entering Saturday night's game in Toronto, is having a career year. Ditto Wayne Simmonds (22 goals) and Max Talbot (18). Oh, and Matt Read (19) could become the first rookie-of-the-year winner in Flyers history.

And then there is Claude Giroux.

Quite simply, Giroux is putting together one of the best seasons in franchise history. He entered Saturday third in the NHL with a career-high 79 points, behind only Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos (82) and Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin (81). Giroux has developed into one of the league's most dependable face-off men (52.6 percent success rate), while Malkin (46.4 percent) and Stamkos (48.8 percent have struggled on draws.

Giroux said his main goal is helping the Flyers finish in the top four in the Eastern Conference.

"But if I'm in range," he said of the scoring race, "I don't see why not go for it."

Giroux, who has played five fewer games than Stamkos because of a concussion earlier this season, could become the first Flyer in history to win the league's scoring title.

Pressed, Giroux admitted he follows Stamkos' and Malkin's production every night.

"I take a look at it. It's pretty cool to be up there," said Giroux, who leads the NHL with 55 assists and could become the second Flyer in 35 seasons to accumulate 70 assists. "When I was a kid, if you would have told me this, I would have been pretty happy. But I don't really control what the other players do, and I really believe a good player finds a way to focus on the things he can control.

"Obviously I can control the way I can play and the way I can help the team win - and if that's my having points, that's good. I just have to focus what I have to do."

Giroux, 24, wants the Flyers to have the home-ice advantage in the opening playoff round - and never mind that they have a better road record.

"We're starting to find our game at home," said Giroux, whose team has won three straight at the Wells Fargo Center. "We just have to find a way to be comfortable in front of our fans. They're pretty intense."

Giroux could become the first Flyer to win the Hart Memorial Trophy, awarded to the league's MVP, since Eric Lindros in 1994-95. Bobby Clarke, a three-time winner in the 1970s, is the only other Flyer to be named the league's MVP. (Malkin will get a lot of consideration for picking up the offensive slack with Sidney Crosby sidelined for most of the season.)

Mark Howe, the Red Wings' director of pro scouting, was asked to compare the 5-foot-11, 172-pound Giroux with the two players he was chasing in the scoring race: Stamkos and Malkin.

"The one thing he doesn't have that they have is the size," Howe said. "But he has all the smarts. He started to really emerge at the start of last year. I know when I put my reports in last year, he was 22 or 23, I said he was already the Flyers' best player."

Since then, Richards and Carter have been traded, and Giroux has become the team's go-to guy.

"I always think a player's prime years are 25 to 30. The older he gets the more mature he's going to be physically, and it's just going to add to his game," Howe added. "What you see now is just kind of the beginning. I expect him to be actually a much better player in three more years, which is hard to believe, but a good thing for the Flyers. He's going to learn more and physically get stronger."

Howe paused.

"If I had a chance to start a franchise, would I start it with a guy like that? Yeah, he's one of those guys," said Howe, a former Flyers great. "We have [Nicklas] Lidstrom in Detroit and Pavel Datsyuk who are those type of guys."

In a players poll conducted recently by the Hockey News, Crosby was rated No. 1 in the NHL, followed by Datsyuk and Giroux.

"The only thing going against him is his size," Howe said. "I had it going against me, too, but I know he has the smarts and the skills."

Like the guy who had his No. 2 banner hoisted to the Wells Fargo Center rafters on Tuesday night.


Inside the Flyers: Chasing 100

Claude Giroux had 79 points with 16 games left entering Saturday. He was on pace for 98 points, and could become the sixth Flyers player to reach 100 points in a season. Five players have done it a total of eight times. Here is the list:

SEASON   PLAYER    POINTS

1972-73    Bobby Clarke    104

1972-73    Rick MacLeish    100

1974-75    Bobby Clarke    116

1975-76    Bobby Clarke    119

1975-76    Bill Barber    112

1992-93    Mark Recchi    123

1993-94    Mark Recchi    107

1995-96    Eric Lindros    115

- Sam Carchidi


Contact Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com or on Twitter @BroadStBull.

 

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