For two games, the Flyers played with a shorthanded roster and without the player that has been a fixture of the lineup for over a decade. It's certainly a rarity, especially after 328 consecutive games. The captain returned on Wednesday and had an immediate impact on the team.
The Flyers were able to open up leads in the first and second period with a pair of goals in each, before ultimately holding on for a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers.
It wasn’t a pretty win, and it wasn’t going to be pretty with the Flyers still plenty shorthanded from their COVID situation. But Claude Giroux marked the first player to return on a list that will only be increasing with each passing day, and he showed just how motivated he was to come back strong.
Here are five takeaways from Wednesday’s win.
1. Captain Claude Returns
Claude Giroux was placed on the COVID list on Feb. 9. From that day, he spent the next two weeks in Washington, where the team was at the time, away from his family. He returned home on Monday and returned to the ice for practice on Tuesday. The team has an optional morning skate that Giroux participated in.
So if Giroux wasn’t at his best after two weeks off and only two skating sessions, it would have been understandable. Instead, Giroux delivered arguably his best performance of the season.
Giroux was a man on a mission from the start, displaying a high energy level and really getting creative with his pursuit of the puck. In some cases, Giroux kept it very simple, notably in helping set up both first-period goals for the Flyers.
Giroux kept it up in the second period as well, helping set up Kevin Hayes off the rush. With almost no ice time in two weeks, Giroux delivered three assists to a team that desperately needed help up front and someone to help carry them to a win.
“I felt pretty good in the morning skate, so I wanted to play,” Giroux said. “It’s not that fun watching the guys play when you’re at home. To be back on the ice, it was very exciting.”
“Surprised would be an understatement. I didn’t really know what to expect,” Alain Vigneault said. “You could tell early on that he had his game tonight. He had a lot of jump. He had quickness to his game, he was making plays. So I used him and he didn’t seem to be fatigued at all. He’s a big part of us getting this win. I was able to use him 5 on 5, I was able to use him obviously on the power play and threw him out there a couple of times on the PK. This was one of his better games all year.”
One thing’s for sure from this win, the Flyers really needed to get their captain back in the lineup.
2. Two Sides to Special Teams
For a second straight game against the Rangers, special teams play dominated. In total, there were 14 penalties called in the game, leading to a lot of power-play time for both sides. Both teams cashed in for two goals on the power play.
On one hand for the Flyers, they did get the power-play going with some production. Two of their goals came on the man-advantage and another, their first of the game, came shortly after a power play. On the other, the Rangers were 2-for-6 on the power play, giving them a chance to remain competitive in the game.
Prior to this game, the Flyers had a penalty-kill success rate of 80.6 percent (29-for-36) against all opponents other than the Boston Bruins. Against Boston, they are 8-for-16. That kind of disparity brings down your percentage greatly. Factor in that the Flyers are also playing without Scott Laughton and Oskar Lindblom – who both get PK time – and just got Sean Couturier back in the lineup four games ago.
Similarly, the Flyers power play numbers in this game were solid. One power play lasted all of four seconds at the conclusion of the game. And while the Flyers did get a pair of goals, the 1:38 of 5-on-3 time came and went by the wayside. While the Flyers had some opportunities on the 5-on-3, that was a chance to really put the game away.
3. Top Line Keeps Rolling
Another game, another JVR goal and another brilliant set-up by Joel Farabee. The Flyers have something here with the way this trio is playing, so much so that as the other players on the COVID list return, this line should remain together.
Farabee, James van Riemsdyk and Couturier were at it again, being one of the Flyers top lines in generating possession time and offensive opportunities. Farabee had multiple opportunities, passing up on a potential breakaway, getting stopped on a later breakaway, and threading the needle on a nice pass to van Riemsdyk for another power-play tally.
If van Riemsdyk has been on a resurgence this season and continues to deliver, Farabee continues to break out as one of this team’s top players. Thursday just happens to be Farabee’s 21st birthday, and he’s up to 15 points in 16 games, near a point-per-game pace.
Meanwhile, van Riemsdyk might have been an after-thought coming into the season, especially with expansion looming, but he’s up to a team-leading nine goals, seven on the power play.
The Flyers also now have Couturier back in the mix and as they get everyone else back healthy, can start to showcase what this team’s full potential can be with a full lineup.
4. A New-Look Line
Back to Giroux, who was back in the lineup on a unique line. It wasn’t all that surprising to see Giroux with Hayes, but Nolan Patrick was on the other wing. Alain Vigneault had said he wanted to provide an opportunity for Patrick to spark his play.
Patrick was better in this game. His positioning remained solid and he was in position for more scoring chances and was winning more battles. He’s definitely having some tough luck right now and perhaps gripping the stick too tight, but he also probably played his best game in the last several weeks, much more noticeable this time around.
This is going to be a short-term experiment for Patrick, but don’t be surprised if it lasts through to the weekend, especially if the Flyers still have multiple players out while waiting to come off the COVID list.
5. Elliott Stands Tall
A 4-3 result doesn’t scream great goaltending, but Brian Elliott was very much a reason the Flyers got the win. This was a very wide open game with a lot of opportunities for both sides, and while the Flyers struggled to move Chris Kreider from the front of the net and it resulted in a hat trick, they got some timely saves from Elliott that kept them in the game from start to finish.
Elliott got a pad on a chance for Colin Blackwell, who whiffed with a wide open net and pushed the puck back into Elliott’s pad. Twice, Elliott stopped Mika Zibanejad on a breakaway. Elliott made an outstanding toe save twice on Ryan Strome cutting through the crease.
This was quality over quantity. A 24-save performance on a night when the Flyers dominated with 39 shots on goal isn’t anything spectacular to look at on paper. But a look at the saves Elliott was making, and this could have easily been a 6-5 result.
At a time when Carter Hart hasn’t been completely on his game and has needed a break after some rough outings, Elliott has been there as the steady veteran. It’s one of the key reasons the Flyers have the record they do.