Flyers put Giroux, Briere on same line

Posted: February 01, 2013

IT HAS COME to this:

Peter Laviolette is mimicking Doug Collins.

Last week, Collins surrendered to the reality that his Sixers team, fatally flawed without the presence of Andrew Bynum, has to try to outscore its opponents. That meant gutting his bench and ruining his rotation.

Collins craves the predictability of prescribed roles, but the Sixers had lost 19 of 26 games, and Collins was desperate. Collins' team now is improved, if imbalanced, and, above almost all else, Collins worships balance.

So does Laviolette.

But, like Collins, Laviolette worships winning above balance, or defense, or defined roles.

Like Collins, Laviolette understands that his team needs to score to win. His team is 25th in the NHL at 2.00 goals per game. It is 2-5. Laviolette is desperate.

In the third period Tuesday against the Rangers, Laviolette removed Matt Read and inserted little scorer Danny Briere onto the line centered by smallish center Claude Giroux, with toothpick Wayne Simmonds on the right wing.

This trio, this Lollipop Guild, will remain together for a while.

The combination did not score Tuesday but it looked good enough to intrigue Laviolette.

"We had some success with Matt Read on there," Laviolette said, but, "we weren't generating as much offensively as we would have liked, in New York, so we put Danny there. There's probably going to be more switches, even if we reel off 10 in a row."

Actually, if they reel off 10 in a row and stay healthy, nothing will change. Not on the first line, anyway.

Any talk of reeling off 10 in a row, for this team, is premature.

Reeling off two in a row would be a godsend.

They lost their first three, beat the Rangers and blew out the Panthers, then lost their next two.

Most notably, in the last five games Giroux has not scored a goal and has just two assists.

"Obviously, I'm not happy with my game. It's only seven games," Giroux said. "I'm staying positive."

That was the third time in 2 minutes Giroux referenced the fact that the Flyers had played only seven games. In a regular year, that's less than 9 percent of the season. This year, it's almost 15 percent.

That is why Laviolette made the move to put two smallish offensive weapons on the same line instead of spreading their talent through the lineup. You know, the way he has done for most of his tenure as Flyers coach.

The instincts and skill of Giroux and Briere magnify the talents of players around them. They are best used separately, so they can occupy the effort and attention of defenders.

Also, together, they could fit into the sweater of 230-pound Capitals defenseman Jeff Schultz, whom they will see Friday night.

Briere is listed as 5-10 and 179 pounds, but obviously was wearing his skates at the time. He is maybe 5-7, maybe 170 pounds.

Giroux is closer to his listed 5-11 and probably weighs 172 pounds, as is Simmonds, at 6-2 and 183. Consider that physical winger Scott Hartnell, not a behemoth bruiser by any means, is the same height as Simmonds . . . and almost 30 pounds heavier.

Let's hope, for the sake of their health, that they are a nimble trio.

Certainly, Giroux and Briere have made their living avoiding the worst contact. They also were protected.

Hartnell provided Giroux's protection last season as Giroux made an MVP run. Both benefited from the NHL comeback of Jaromir Jagr, a 6-3, 240-pound savant even at age 40 last season.

Jagr was overpaid to leave, for Dallas.

Hartnell is down for at least another month, with a broken toe.

Read has three goals, but all came in the blowout at Florida, the 84th game of his young career. He will skate with Sean Couturier and Mike Knuble.

"Lavvy's job is to find those combinations," Briere said. "When you're 2-5, things are going to change. The cycle has not been really good. Part of it is the chemistry, the combination."

Combining a team's most gifted players, especially on a team of questionable depth, is so counterintuitive as to nearly be heretical. Unless that team is desperate.

This manifestation of desperation could be a blessing.

Accidental genius.

Giroux and Briere have similar temperaments. They have devilishly good hands. They are familiar. Giroux lived with Briere and Briere's family for the 2010-11 season. The pair often trains together.

For a month during the lockout this fall, they played on the same line for Eisbaren Berlin before a neck injury sent Giroux back to the States. Giroux, a wizard with the puck, loved playing with Briere in Germany (Briere even got to kill a few penalties with Giroux). They played together for a bit in Giroux's rookie season of 2008-09, and they are eager to skate together again for the Flyers.

"I know where he is on the ice," Giroux said. "I know what kind of player he is. We can feed off each other."

Briere sounded giddy at the prospect, possibly because, for once, he won't be the skater with the target. He referenced his successes with former Flyer Ville Leino, with Jason Pominville and Jochen Hecht in Buffalo, and, before that, with Shane Doan in Phoenix.

"I expect good things to happen," Briere said. He wants to give this a long look.

"You want to keep it going as long as you can," Briere said. "It's not an easy thing to find."

Even if they are pushed together as the Flyers' first panic button.

"I think it's a nice complement," Laviolette said. "One sees the ice really well. One can put the puck in the back of the net really well . . . Because [Giroux] does see the ice and can make a lot of plays, when you get someone who's a natural goal-scorer like Danny, it could be a good fit. We'll try it and see where it goes."

For what it's worth, since Collins gave in, the Sixers are 2-1.


Email: hayesm@phillynews.com

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