Giroux, Berube share credit for Flyers' turnaround

ASSOCIATED PRESS Coach Craig Berube and Claude Giroux have the Flyers on a roll.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Coach Craig Berube and Claude Giroux have the Flyers on a roll.
Posted: March 25, 2014

THE QUESTION, posed last week on "Philly Sports Talk," was simple in nature.

Who is more responsible for the Flyers' success: Craig Berube or Claude Giroux?

Off the cuff, my choice was Giroux. The thought: Coaches don't score goals - and it isn't often in professional hockey that coaches win games.

Giroux has scored more points - 54 in his last 39 games - than any player in the league since early December. With his name percolating in the race to join Sidney Crosby as a Hart Trophy finalist, Giroux has played out of his mind over the last few months to turn the Flyers from a playoff joke to a playoff lock.

Remember when, back after that 1-7 start, Giroux boldly predicted the Flyers would be a playoff team? Half of the NHL snickered.

Surely, the Flyers' record of 34-15-6 since Nov. 9 has a lot to do with the fact that Giroux snapped back to form and scored his first goal of the season that afternoon.

Giroux's win-at-all-cost attitude has been contagious. His sheer exhaustion in postgame press conferences following wins over Pittsburgh, Chicago, Dallas and St. Louis this week are proof that his leave-it-all-on-the-ice determination is more real than cliche.

"Guys will follow him to the Ben Franklin Bridge and jump off if he is going to lead the way," Scott Hartnell said this week.

Yet, as hard as it is to figure where the Flyers would be right now without Giroux, I can't help but think I'd like to revise my answer to the original question.

The Flyers, playing their best hockey in nearly 3 calendar years, have taken on the calming personality of their coach. Berube has turned the once-fragile Flyers into a band of brothers that has the rest of the NHL on-edge approaching the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Having gone 15 games into the season without a goal, it's entirely possible the Peter Laviolette-proclaimed "best player in the world" could have been lost for the season without Berube's confidence. Yet, Berube settled Giroux, instilled confidence in his game and rallied the supporting cast.

The Flyers went from a "slow"-skating team to one so hungry that speed has been less of a factor. They went from a team used to blowing third-period leads to one that long-ago set a franchise record (11) for third-period comeback wins in one season.

All of a sudden, the Flyers have become one of the best passing teams in the NHL over the past 6 weeks. Now, after a confused sophomore season, Sean Couturier is back to being one of the best shutdown forwards in hockey.

Wayne Simmonds has added an off-the-rush element to his game. Matt Read is closing the gap on his fantastic rookie-year numbers - and he's playing a much more complete style of game.

Why are these things happening? Berube is comfortable in his own skin.

Why is that important? Each player has found his "chair" in the lineup. Rather than try and mold players into roles they might not be built for - like Couturier in one without a defense-first assignment - Berube has simply asked his players to be comfortable with what they do best.

There are exceptions to the rule. Vinny Lecavalier admittedly hasn't enjoyed the adjustment from a 14-year career at center to the wing. Berube has taken the long (season) view, remaining largely patient with Lecavalier and others, rather than flip-flopping lines to produce a win for the short (game) view.

I can't help but wonder if James van Riemsdyk would still be a Flyer if Berube had been calling the shots 3 years ago?

One or more doubts were surrounding the game of every player on this roster at one point or another this season. Those seem light-years away now. Steve Mason has 30 wins. A seemingly stone-handed group of defensemen has 30 goals.

Berube's straightforward style still demands growth, but the demands have been much more realistic and attainable. He won't win the Jack Adams Award this season, but Berube is getting the most out of the roster given to him - instead of asking for it to be shaped in a different style.

The end result is a close-knit group of 23 players brimming with the confidence that an intriguing playoff run is not just a tease but a reality.

"I don't really care what anyone thinks," Berube said Saturday. "We know where we are and we know where we're trying to get to. We're coming. We've beat a lot of real good teams lately and we've got to beat some real good teams next week. It doesn't end."

Slap shots

The Flyers have listed Steve Downie as day-to-day with an upper-body injury after he appeared to suffer a concussion just 45 seconds into Saturday's win over St. Louis . . . To take Downie's place in the lineup, the Flyers recalled forward Tye McGinn for the fifth time this season. Usual call-up Chris VandeVelde is out with an injury. McGinn played with the Flyers on Jan. 12 . . . The Flyers signed forward Michael Raffl to a 2-year extension worth $1.1 million per season Saturday.


On Twitter: @DNFlyers

Blog: ph.ly/FrequentFlyers

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