DENVER - When Claude Giroux returned to practice yesterday for the first time since sustaining a concussion on Dec. 10, he was zooming around the Pepsi Center ice in a bright yellow, "non-contact" jersey.
While the jersey's color is to remind teammates of his fragility on the ice, Giroux probably surprised a few of them when he was pushing, shoving and battling in drills.
"When you get back on the ice, you want to get back into the rhythm," Giroux said. "I tried to go as fast as I could."
Giroux said he couldn't even compare how he felt yesterday to the general fogginess that enveloped him when he tried to skate by himself for 15 minutes last Monday in Philadelphia.
"It's a different story," Giroux said. "I really didn't feel good the last time. I was kind of dizzy and stuff. Today I felt good. I understand it's just a process and we've got to be patient with this."
Giroux knows firsthand, from two teammates in the last week alone, that his symptoms will ebb and flow over time. Just last Wednesday, Brayden Schenn - also out indefinitely with a concussion - skated in a full practice in Montreal.
Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said there is no change in Schenn's status, but he must have suffered a setback. He has not skated since Wednesday and is not even on this week's three-game trip to Denver, Dallas and the New York Rangers.
Giroux pointed to Sidney Crosby for further proof, as if it were needed, since Crosby missed 68 straight games before returning on Nov. 21. The game's best player lasted just eight games before symptoms reappeared after a collision with a teammate.
"Even with Crosby, you see what happened," Giroux said. "You want to be careful and you want to make sure that when you come back, you're 100 percent.
"I think it's early in the season to jump when you're not feeling 100 percent. I want to play and I want to help the team, but I've got to just to be patient."
Yesterday's call-up of center Ben Holmstrom, which subsequently moved Giroux to the injured reserve retroactive to Dec. 10, tells us how slow the Flyers are willing to take this process. The injured reserve only requires a player to miss at least 7 days. Tonight in Denver will be Giroux' fourth straight game out of the lineup.
Some of the battle, Giroux says, is mental. Athletes are hyper aware of their bodies, and sometimes with concussions, normal aches and pains can be construed as something bigger than they are. For example, if Giroux slept funny or woke up in a fog in the middle of a dream.
"It's hard to explain," Giroux said. "I think it's important to get rest and eat well. I think a lot of it has to do with the mind-set, to stay positive and to think that it will go away."
This is something Giroux has been through before. He missed five games and 13 days in January 2009 with a mild concussion.
Still, many questions linger: How are his headaches, which he said are "pretty much done," affected by the rare Rocky Mountain air? Will he be back in time for the Winter Classic? Giroux couldn't say. With concussions, there are no definitive answers.
"I don't want to go into too much details, I just want to get back into my routine," Giroux said. "It was a great feeling to get back on the ice with the boys, to get a little skate and a little sweat. If I keep feeling like I am right now, I will go back, get on the bike, get in shape and hopefully get back on the ice soon."
Rookie Sean Couturier was released from Pennsylvania Hospital yesterday morning after spending the night for observation as a result of a shot he took to the back of the helmet in Saturday's loss to Boston. Holmgren said the doctors were examining Couturier for a possible skull fracture and internal bleeding, which were not found.
Couturier is not with the team in Denver and will remain "day-to-day" with a head injury. Couturier did pass his baseline concussion ImPACT test - he actually scored better on Saturday than in training camp - but that does not mean much. Both Schenn and Chris Pronger passed their initial tests.
Tonight, Danny Briere will fill in for Couturier - who was replacing Giroux - on the Flyers' top line with Scott Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr.
The NHL's annual holiday roster freeze, which prevents teams from making trades, using waivers and loaning players back and forth to the AHL, kicks in tonight at midnight. It expires on Dec. 27 at midnight. Holmgren said the freeze does not apply to defenseman Andreas Lilja, who practiced with the team yesterday in Denver. Lilja completed a one-game conditioning stint with the Phantoms in Binghamton, N.Y., on Friday night. He is eligible to return to the active roster on Wednesday in Dallas from the long-term injury list.
Ilya Bryzgalov tried to break in a retro, brown glove and blocker yesterday at practice, which will go with matching leg pads for the Winter Classic . . . Boston's Milan Lucic will have a hearing today with the NHL for supplementary discipline for his hit from behind on Zac Rinaldo on Saturday. Rinaldo said yesterday he "had no problem with the hit, it was shoulder to shoulder and Lucic is a big guy."
5: Years since the Flyers had a lopsided home loss equal to Saturday's 6-0 shellacking from the Bruins, which snapped their seven-game win streak. The last defeat as bad was a 6-0 loss to Tampa Bay on Jan. 28, 2006.
5: Games Claude Giroux missed when he sustained his first career concussion on Jan. 2, 2009, from the elbow of Anaheim's Corey Perry, who was suspended four games. Giroux returned from the mild concussion on Jan. 15.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Tonight, 9 o'clock
Tonight marks the Flyers' first game in Denver since Nov. 23, 2009, nearly 2 weeks before Peter Laviolette was hired. Only six current Flyers were in the lineup that night. The young Avalanche (15-17-1) are 9-9-0 at Pepsi Center, 5-5-0 in their last 10 games, and have given up 12 more goals than they've scored this year. Backup J.S. Giguere has a stellar 1.86 GAA and .927 save percentage in nine starts. He beat Washington on Saturday night. Matt Duchene leads the team with 11 goals.
Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
Few could have predicted that the Stars would have been atop the Western Conference through the first 20 games of the season, but they've since fallen back to eighth place. The Flyers pick up the special 6:30 p.m. start in Central time because the game is televised nationally on Versus. Forwards Jamie Benn (27 points) and Loui Eriksson (25 points) are the real deal. Goalie Kari Lehtonen has been fantastic so far but has missed the last eight games with a groin injury and isn't expected to return this week.
HBO's "24/7" Episode 2
Wednesday, 10 o'clock
at N.Y. Rangers
Friday, 7 o'clock
Friday night will be the Flyers' last crack at the Rangers before the Jan. 2 Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park. The Flyers have been shutout, 8-0, over their last two trips to Madison Square Garden - dating back to last season. The Rangers and Flyers are two of just four teams with eight regulation losses this season.
After wrapping up practice yesterday about 1:30 p.m., about 15 of the Flyers' players and staffers hustled across the street from the Pepsi Center to Sports Authority Field at Mile High for the 2:15 p.m. kickoff between the Broncos and Patriots.