PHILADELPHIA – One conclusion we definitely ascertained from this game: Claude Giroux does not need a lot of rehearsal time to turn in a command performance.
Coming off a two-week COVID quarantine with only one practice (plus a morning skate) under his belt, the Flyers captain put on a show against the visiting New York Rangers on Wednesday night.
Giroux’s stat line read like this: Three assists, plus-2, eight shots, a 73-percent faceoff winning percentage and probably could have sold a few boxes of popcorn if there were any fans in the Wells Fargo Center stands.
Then again, what else would you expect from a player now regarded as one of the best in team history – and beginning to be mentioned in the same sentence with names like Clarke, Barber, Lindros, Parent and Howe?
Good thing Giroux hit the ice skating because they needed his timely help for a 4-3 win over the Rangers, ending a two-game losing streak.
Giroux helped set up goals by Erik Gustafsson, Shayne Gostisbehere and Kevin Hayes to spark the win and avenge last Thursday’s shootout loss to the Blueshirts.
On top of that, Giroux played five minutes of power-play time and nearly two minutes on the penalty kill. The Flyers scored two power-play goals, marking the first time they had scored multiple goals with the man advantage since a game against the Devils back on Jan. 26.
Was coach Alain Vigneault surprised Giroux returned to the top of his game so quickly?
“Surprised would be an understatement,’’ Vigneault said. “I didn’t really know what to expect. But you could tell early on he had his game tonight.’’
Giroux’s best play of the night game on a goal that turned out to be the game-winner.
With Kevin Hayes breaking to the net, Giroux threaded a pass across the slot. Hayes caught it in stride and drilled a shot off the crossbar and past goalie Igor Shesterkin at 14:37 of the second period for a 4-2 lead.
Despite Chris Kreider’s goal at 3:27 of the third period for a hat trick, the Flyers clamped down and used Brian Elliott’s stellar goaltending to hold on for the win.
“He (Giroux) had a lot of jump,’’ Vigneault said. “He had quickness to his game, he was making plays. So I used him and he didn’t seem fatigued at all.
“I think he was a big part of us getting this win. I was able to use him five-on-five, I was able to use him on the power play and the PK. This was one of his better games all year.’’
Giroux said there was never a doubt he was going to play. Any sign of rust was gone just moments into the game.
“When you come back from a long time like that, you try to keep your shifts short,’’ Giroux said. “Keep it simple, you don’t want to get caught out there. It turned out good tonight.
“I felt pretty good in the morning skate, so I wanted to play. It’s not that much fun watching the guys play when you’re home. To be back on the ice, it was very exciting.’’
The new line of Hayes-Giroux-Nolan Patrick seemed to be clicking all night.
“I wasn’t thinking too much out there, I was just playing the game,’’ Giroux said. “Having fun.’’
Of note in this game: Joel Farabee, who recorded an assist on James van Riemsdyk’s team-leading ninth goal (and seventh power-play goal) was able to celebrate with a drink at midnight when he officially turned 21.
>Power play looks better
Although the numbers might not reflect it, the Flyers’ power play is starting to show signs of life again.
“I think both units played well tonight,’’ Giroux said. “We both got a goal. We moved the puck well and supported each other.
“When you have a guy in front of the net shooting pucks and retrieving them, you’re going to get scoring chances.’’
>Elliott to the rescue
With Carter Hart struggling at times this year, Elliott has shined as a relief goalie. He’s 4-1-0 and with the Flyers about to play 40 games in 80 days, he’s going to be needed.
“We have a lot of confidence in ‘Moose’ (Elliott),’’ Giroux said. “He’s playing great. He’s giving us a chance to win. Tonight he made some backdoor saves. Every time you have a goalie that’s going to battle every game and make those big saves for you, it gets you going.’’
Added Elliott: “It is important in this league right now to have two guys going, when you can count on both guys to go out there and give you a chance to win.’’
>Season high for shots bodes well
Going into Wednesday night’s game, the Flyers’ season high for shots was a paltry 31.
In this match, they blew that number away with 39.
Given as how the Flyers’ negative shot total is the worst in the league, this was probably a good sign.
“We’ve talked about it before,’’ said Gustafsson. “We need to shoot more pucks on the net. We’re probably the worst team in the league putting shots on net (he’s right, the Flyers are just averaging around 23).
“Also, the last game we played against them (the Rangers) they blocked a lot of shots. We talked about doing a lot of one-timers, getting pucks quickly to the net.’’
>Flyers primed for a run?
With Giroux and Couturier back in the lineup and Jake Voracek and Justin Braun expected back for Saturday’s game at Buffalo, are the Flyers on the verge of making a run here?
“It’s huge for us when they’re coming in,’’ Gustafsson said. “The guys coming back are going to help us play better. We haven’t played our best hockey the last four or five games. The guys coming back are going to help us win some games.’’