NASHVILLE - The situation is deliciously ironic.

Flyers coach Craig Berube, a one-time NHL bad boy who finished his career with the seventh-highest penalty-minutes total in league history, steadfastly insists his team does not need an enforcer.

The subject came up again after Winnipeg's Dustin Byfuglien threw his 6-foot-5, 260-pound frame at Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Brayden Schenn, et al in the Flyers' 4-3 overtime win last Sunday.

Giroux, a 5-foot-11, 172-pound center who has been the NHL's leading scorer over the last four-plus seasons, absorbed at least a half-dozen hits from Byfuglien, who weighs 88 pounds more than the Flyers' captain.

The Flyers never retaliated, though it seemed Berube wanted a piece of Byfuglien. Incensed at what he perceived as a "high elbow" thrown at Giroux, he got into a shouting match with Byfuglien on the ice after the game.

Instead of getting chippy with Byfuglien that night, the Flyers played smart hockey, and Giroux forced the defenseman into a mistake behind his net that led to Voracek's goal 10 seconds into overtime.

Berube wants the Flyers to play with physicality, not stupidity. He wants them playing a "hard game" - like Byfuglien, a player he admires - but doesn't want them worrying more about avenging a hit than setting up a scoring chance.

Still, it's fair to wonder whether Giroux can keep absorbing such punishment and whether the Flyers could use someone to protect him. Last year, they had tough guy Jay Rosehill on the roster, and he was inserted into the lineup when the Flyers played a physical team.

Berube says the game has changed, that there's no need for the Flyers to use, in effect, a bodyguard for their high-scoring forwards. The days of having, say, Dave Schultz to protect Bobby Clarke are ancient history.

"It's not about getting an enforcer; it's about playing physical hockey," Berube said. "It's about hitting players and getting involved out there. I'm not asking anybody to go and fight or anything. Those days are over."

The coach sounded very un-Berube-like.

"I've changed," he admitted, adding: "It's about playing the game [aggressively] and sticking together as a team."

The Flyers have been smarter this season. They have reduced their penalties, going from a league-high 14.4 minutes per game last year to 9.1 minutes per game (seventh-fewest in the league) this season. But they haven't always played with the aggression Berube wants.

Giroux, despite his small stature, said he enjoys when games get physical. Even though he was thrown around a like rag doll by Byfuglien, he said it was a "fun game" and that the hits made him more focused and determined.

Asked how he thought the Flyers' season was going without a heavyweight enforcer for the first time since the early 1970s, Giroux interrupted the question.

"That's not true, we've got Razor," he cracked, referring to sometimes-combatant goalie Ray Emery.

Giroux said the Flyers have "guys who can drop the gloves," and he mentioned Zac Rinaldo, Wayne Simmonds, Braydon Coburn, and Nick Grossmann.

The Flyers' captain conceded going without an enforcer is "something new for the Flyers. We just kind of play the game and get the two points."

Voracek said that "sometime you wish you had [an enforcer], sometimes there are games where you don't need one. . . . Sometimes there are games where you get pounded around, like in Winnipeg. Sometimes, it's just a skill game, and you don't need one."

Voracek, the league's leading scorer, said he doesn't have problems with teams taking shots at him, trying to throw him off his game.

"It's hockey. You're always going to get hit. It's been like that forever," he said, adding that guys like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, and Sidney Crosby "always find a way to help a team win a game, and it shouldn't be any different with us. It shows how hungry a player you are if you get through all those tough checks."

scarchidi@phillynews.com

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