There’s a way general manager Chuck Fletcher won’t need to make a trade and the Flyers can probably be sitting in a great playoff spot when their regular season ends April 4 in Buffalo.
All he needs is for center Claude Giroux and defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere to return to form.
Hey, it’s not far-fetched for that to happen. If it does, it would be better than any trade Fletcher can make before the Feb. 24 deadline.
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Thanks to a 6-1-1 run, the Flyers (29-17-7) have climbed to the top wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference , which is fairly amazing when you consider Giroux is goal-less in his last 12 games and is having his worst season, statistically, since he had 47 points back in 2009-10, his second year in the NHL.
Gostisbehere, who is scheduled to return to the lineup Thursday against visiting New Jersey — he has missed the last 10 games after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery — is also having a disappointing season. He has just 12 points in 40 games and, before his injury, was demoted to the second power-play unit.
Both players are pivotal as the Flyers jockey for a playoff spot in the highly competitive Eastern Conference.
Giroux, 32, concedes that he has been pressing, but he showed some positive signs in Monday’s 3-0 win in Detroit, creating several good scoring chances for himself and his linemates, James van Riemsdyk and Travis Konecny.
As for the 26-year-old Gostisbehere, it’s fair to wonder if his knee problems have hurt his effectiveness over the last two seasons. He doesn’t appear to have the same lateral quickness that made him one of the league’s most dangerous offensive defensemen as a rookie (17 goals, 46 points in 64 games in 2015-16) and in 2017-18 (13 goals, 65 points).
Maybe his recent arthroscopic knee surgery will help restore his quickness, which would be a big boost to the Flyers, especially on their inconsistent power play.
Giroux is on pace for just 20 goals and 54 points, and his power-play numbers have dipped considerably. When Giroux had a career-best 102 points in 2017-18, he was sixth in the NHL with 36 power-play points. Last season, he finished with 85 points, and was 38th in the NHL with 23 power-play points.
This season, he has been used on both the right and his normal left side on the power play. He is tied for 57th in the NHL with just 13 power-play points.
With Nolan Patrick sidelined by a migraine disorder, Giroux has lately been at center in five-on-five action, playing there in 19 games so far this season. The Flyers are 12-3-4 with him at center, his usual position, and 17-14-3 when he plays left wing.
To his credit, Giroux has done a lot of little things that have helped the Flyers, such as his strong defense at even strength and on the penalty kill, and his dominance in the faceoff circle.
Still, it would help the Flyers immensely if he regains his scoring touch. Ditto for Gostisbehere. If they did, Fletcher just might be able to stand pat at the trade deadline and not even think about dealing a valuable draft pick or a prospect — or even a player such as Gostisbehere, who has been rumored in numerous trade scenarios.
Here are some links to stories surrounding the Flyers from recent days:
Wingers Tyler Pitlick and rookie Nic-Aube Kubel have quietly made important contributions that have helped the Flyers climb the standings.
Pitlick, 28, has been used mostly as a third- and fourth-line winger and has chipped in with five goals, a plus-7 rating, lots of physicality, and solid defense. With goalie Brian Elliott out of position, he even saved a goal by blocking a shot with his skate in the third period of the win in Detroit.
“I’m a firm believer if you compete hard, you work hard and prepare yourself, you’re going to be able to help contribute to the team at the right time, and that’s what Tyler does," coach Alain Vigneault said. “He’s a hardworking young man who comes to play.”
Keep an eye on Pitlick and New Jersey’s Wayne Simmonds in Thursday’s matchup at the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers were able to acquire Pitlick because of Simmonds. They acquired Pitlick from Dallas last summer for Ryan Hartman. Last February, the Flyers acquired Hartman and a fourth-round 2020 draft pick by sending the highly popular Simmonds to Nashville.
Simmonds has five goals and a minus-15 rating for the lowly Devils this season.
As for Aube-Kubel, 23, he has played up and down the lineup, but recently has been the fourth-line right winger. He has contributed five points in 20 games and, like Pitlick, has been one of the team’s most physical players.
Aube-Kubel, a rookie who was drafted by the Flyers in the second round in 2014, says he is motivated to remain with the Flyers.
“I try not to feel too comfortable,” he said, adding he knows he can be sent back to the Phantoms at any point. “I don’t take anything for granted.”
Aube-Kubel said the players play with “way more poise” on the NHL level.
“In the American League, it’s like you have your head down and it’s run, run, run. Here, it’s more of a controlled game," he said.
Thursday: New Jersey at Flyers, 7 p.m. (NBCSP)
Saturday: Flyers at Washington, 7 p.m. (NBCSP)
Monday: Florida at Flyers, 7 p.m. (NBCSP)
Next Tuesday: Flyers at New York Islanders, 7 p.m. (NBCSP)
Thursday, Feb. 13: Flyers at Florida, 7 p.m. (NBCSP)
Saturday, Feb. 15: Flyers at Tampa Bay, 4 p.m. (NBCSP)
Monday, Feb. 24: Trade deadline, 3 p.m.
Question: Any update on Carter Hart? How far is he away from playing? — @andy_goldenberg via Twitter
Answer: Thanks for the question, Andy. Hart took a step forward Tuesday, practicing with the team for the first time since he suffered his lower abdominal strain on Jan. 14. He is getting close to returning — it could be as early as Thursday against visiting New Jersey — but no firm date has been given. His return will be dictated by how he feels after the next couple days on the ice, Vigneault said.