In years past, if Claude Giroux had gone through a 13-game scoring drought in the middle of January, it might have been lethal for the team’s postseason hopes. He’s never been a sniping, 40-goal scorer, but Flyers clubs before might not have survived without his producing for a month.
But there’s something about this team that feels different.
“We come to the rink, and I don’t know one person who doesn’t have a good time,” the Flyers captain said after Tuesday night’s 5-1 victory over Columbus. “We know we have to play a team game to win. Everybody has a role. Everybody knows their role. And everybody has fun doing it.”
The Flyers were in third place after beating Columbus. They have 73 points through 60 games (33-20-7). A year ago at this time, they had 10 points fewer.
Giroux broke a modest team record Tuesday with his 235th power-play assist. It was a mark Bobby Clarke, who played more than three full seasons’ worth of games than Giroux, had set 36 years ago.
Clarke, though, has two important things that Giroux would give all 235 of those assists for: championship rings. Giroux told Alain Vigneault last summer that his only professional focus was taking this team on a playoff run. His legacy, the coach said, is foremost on his mind.
“He’s an impressive player,” said first-year teammate Kevin Hayes. “He demands perfection from himself, and when your best player demands perfection and is one of the hardest-working guys, it’s easy to follow.”
The record-setting assist was inconsequential to the outcome of the game, but it was still pretty. Giroux, on his knees, stickhandled for several moments before feeding a pass to Travis Konecny. Konecny went tape-to-tape to Jake Voracek, who fired it into an empty net.
Giroux has three goals and eight assists in his last six games. This run followed a career-high-tying 13-game skid without a goal. The Flyers persevered with a 7-4-2 mark during the drought.
“He’s our leader, right?,” Konecny asked rhetorically. “He’s doing all of the things that he needs to do to set an example for everyone following him. I mean, if G’s in on the forecheck, hitting guys and back-checking, then everyone else follows.”
“But it’s not like he hasn’t been doing that throughout the year. There was a stretch where he didn’t score for maybe 15 games and he was still one of our most effective players doing all of the little things.”
On Feb. 8, the Flyers started a stretch of seven consecutive games against Eastern Conference playoff contenders. They are 4-2 heading into Columbus on Thursday night — with their two losses being virtually by one goal (save for empty-netters).
Giroux has gotten hot, the game has gotten fun, and young goalie Carter Hart has returned to provide stability and optimism that have often been elusive heading into the final stretch of the season.
“It’s great to [set a record]. It really is,” Giroux said. “But we’re focused on the team that we’re playing [right now]. I think that’s why we’re successful right now. We’re looking at the next shift. We’re not looking at who we’re going to play next week.”
Or, for that matter, who their opponent will be in mid-April. By the way, after Tuesday’s results, that team would be Washington.