Giroux to realize hoop dreams this weekend

Posted: March 10, 2014

PLASTERED HIGH on a beige cinderblock wall along the bowels of the Wells Fargo Center, there is an orange basketball rim that strangely blends in. There is no backboard, no glamour of a big stage - though it is positioned down the corridor from where the Sixers' court is kept.

It is a few feet from the loading docks, where you might think it was installed so arena workers could shoot a few hoops while on break.

You probably wouldn't have guessed that Flyers captain Claude Giroux asked for the hoop to be set up. Shooting hoops is as much a part of his pregame routine as grilled cheese sandwiches - a chance to decompress before taking the ice. Part of that is because he isn't as talented a soccer player as some of the Flyers' European players, as one-touch soccer games are an NHL pregame staple.

Tomorrow afternoon, Giroux will show off his basketball skills with teammate Wayne Simmonds, when he suits up against the Harlem Globetrotters at the Wells Fargo Center. Simmonds said he's bringing his Air Jordans so he can try to dunk.

Don't worry. The basketball court isn't the golf course - and Giroux is only toying around for a couple minutes, in a playful fashion with the tricksters from Harlem.

"But I do get hurt in weird ways, so I have to be careful," Giroux said smiling, quelling the fears of a paranoid group of reporters. Remember, he hurt his hand playing golf last summer.

The reason Giroux was so relaxed - and perhaps an entire fan base was on edge when the Flyers publicized his appearance - is because he has played on the ice like, well, a Globetrotter.

Because of his magic, Giroux has better than a point-per-game stat line with 64 points in 63 games for the first time this season. It's an impressive feat, considering he has roared back from only seven assists in 15 games, which undoubtedly kept him from winning a gold medal with Canada in Sochi. Giroux has 44 points over his last 33 contests, the most in the NHL since Dec. 11.

It is no coincidence, then, that the Flyers have won seven of their last eight games. As usual, though, Giroux remains humble.

"Every time the whole team plays well, individually, guys have played better," Giroux said yesterday. "Confidence is higher. We're making plays that maybe we weren't at the start of the year. When you have confidence, you also play better."

Has Giroux played well enough to sneak into the conversation for the Hart Trophy, as the NHL's most valuable player? We know Sidney Crosby will lock that up. But is Giroux worthy of being in the top three?

Giroux is only six points behind Phil Kessel, who is second in the league's scoring race, now ahead of Corey Perry, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews entering play last night. He will finish in the Top 5, since the Islanders' John Tavares is out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury suffered during the Olympics. Yet, Giroux received very little buzz leaguewide. Peter Laviolette's dub of Giroux as "the best player in the world" has unfairly hung over his head.

Unlike Ryan Getzlaf, Toews or Patrick Kane, Giroux doesn't have as much talent around him. He carries the Flyers on his back some nights. And it will be hard to vote for Alex Ovechkin if the Capitals don't make the playoffs.

Giroux finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting in 2011-12. A quarter of the season remains to be played, but ballots come out in 3 or 4 weeks. Where will the Flyers be then?

"We don't want to be satisfied," Giroux said. "I think we want more. We want to keep winning, keep getting better. I think the main thing is to work on our game and make sure we get better."

For most players, the days surrounding the trade deadline are incredibly stressful. Those players who know they have a good likelihood of moving keep a suitcase and equipment bag packed, ready to go on a moment's notice with no return ticket planned. Some even make arrangements in advance with their landlord.

Then, there's Flyers forward Michael Raffl - who didn't think he was changing teams, but ended up changing cities, at least temporarily.

When the Flyers acquired Andrew MacDonald from the Islanders on Tuesday - a day before the trade deadline, when rosters are no longer subject to a 23-man limit - Paul Holmgren needed to make room. Raffl, still skating on an entry-level deal, was the only player on the team who could be moved to the AHL without being subjected to waivers.

So, the Flyers assigned Raffl to the Adirondack Phantoms, with the idea of recalling him the next day for their game against the Capitals. The only problem was that Raffl couldn't sit on his couch and enjoy a "paper transaction." He physically had to report to Glens Falls, N.Y., to fulfill the requirements of one of pro sports' most arcane rules. The Flyers were at least nice enough to hire a driver for him.

"I left here around 6 o'clock, sat in the car for 5 hours, slept in the hotel, woke up the next morning and drove home," Raffl said, laughing. "It was a great day. Lots of fun."

Since he was in the car, Raffl was forced to miss the Flyers' morning skate on Wednesday. It must not have affected him, since he scored against Washington that night.

The Flyers agreed to pay half of Andrej Meszaros' $1,128,205 salary for the remaining 40 days of the season while he plays for the Bruins, as first reported by the Boston Globe . . . Ray Emery did not travel to Toronto for tonight's game. Emery declined to comment for an update on his injury yesterday. There is no official timetable for Emery's return . . . Cal Heeter will back up Steve Mason. Craig Berube said he's paid attention to Heeter a little more in practice recently. "If we have to use him, we'll use him. We're confident in him" . . . The Flyers haven't faced the Maple Leafs (33-23-8) since a 3-1 loss on opening night. Berube said the Flyers will keep a close eye on Toronto's top line of Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, which has combined for 73 of their 189 goals (39 percent).

"We want to keep things in perspective. It's about working and being competitive and playing the system. That's basically the three things it boils down to. If you bring those three on any given night, you've given yourself a chance to win. If one of them is missing, you're probably not going to win."

- Coach Craig Berube when asked whether his Flyers can sense they are heating up, with seven wins in their previous eight games.

On Twitter: @DNFlyers


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