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January 3, 2014 | 10:04am ET
Giroux prime catalyst in Flyers' rise
By David Strehle, TheFourthPeriod.com

PHILADELPHIA, PA -- There was something very noticeable about the Philadelphia Flyers during their awful 4-10-1 start, and that was the general lack of production from their top players.

All the pressure that comes along with being the on-ice leader of a sinking hockey club was being magnified upon Claude Giroux during the Flyers' early-season struggles.

Having failed to dent the twine even a single time and contributing just seven assists through the first 15 contests, to say that Philadelphia's top offensive player was pressing would be an extreme understatement.

The constant post-game inquiries as to how and when the team would finally break free from the season-long funk became something of an albatross. It was obvious that the downward spiral that was gaining momentum weighed heavily on his performance, as he appeared to be attempting to single-handedly rectify the team's inability to beat opposing goaltenders.

There was also the matter of a spot on the Team Canada roster in the Winter Olympic Games this coming February. Once thought to be a shoo-in for Sochi, many questioned whether or not Giroux's horrific slump would affect the chances of representing his country.

Through it all he never lost faith, and in fact made a bold prediction that Philadelphia would make the postseason even when it appeared as though everything was falling down around the club.

The Flyers have not so coincidentally made a dramatic turnaround to what was looking like a lost year, and have been one of the NHL's hottest teams over the past 25 games. They have posted a sparkling 16-6-3 record during that span after defeating the Calgary Flames 4-1 on New Years' Eve, and there's a pretty good connection as to why they've been able to turn things around.

Philadelphia has won nine consecutive home contests, but was having difficulties bringing victories back from the road. That is, until the most recent road trip.

"You want to be the dominant team at home," Giroux said just before heading out for a six-game road trip. "Anybody that comes in your house, you don’t want to let them push you around. Obviously we want to be a good team on the road, too."

"It shouldn’t matter if you’re playing at home or away. You need to play with the same intensity and play the same way. I think we just need to focused when we play on the road."

Just like that, the Flyers played with an extreme focus that led to a sweep of the three games on their annual late-calendar year western Canada swing for the first time since 1996.

There have been several keys to the rejuvenation of the Philly lineup; the addition of Michael Raffl to the top line, Jake Voracek's prodigious jump in productivity since finally getting over the lasting affects of a pre-season back injury, the recent resurgence of Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, and the concentrated effort head coach Craig Berube has made in getting his defenseman to join the offensive attack.

But look no further than the club's captain as the ultimate catalyst to Philadelphia's rise from the ashes since the quarter-season mark.

He managed his initial goal against the Edmonton Oilers on November 9, and it seemed to give him -- as well as the entire Flyers' offense -- a huge kickstart. In the 25 contests following his goalless drought, Giroux has put up 11 goals and 30 points to give him a near point-per-game pace with 37 for the year at the halfway point of the campaign.

Prior to being held without a point against the Flames the Hearst, Ontario-native had put together a career-high nine-game points streak in which Giroux notched six goals and 17 points. He posted six multi-point outings during that stretch, which included a couple of highlight-reel goals.

In a December 19 tilt against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Giroux scored twice and added a pair of assists during a furious third-period Philadelphia comeback from a 3-0 deficit. After tying the game just moments earlier, the 5' 11", 172-pounder capped the dramatic run with an amazing game-winning tally with just 1:38 remaining in regulation to forge a 5-4 win. Giroux corralled a shot that end wide at the bottom of the right wing circle and as he was checked, whipped a wicked no-look backhander past a surprised Curtis McElhinney and under the crossbar as he was falling to the ice. The tally had instant classic written all over it, and will almost certainly be one of the finalists for the NHL goal of the year.

The contest was reminiscent of the 2011/12 season, when no lead was safe against a resilient group of Flyers being led by the creative brilliance of their captain.

The goal he scored late in the second period in Vancouver to tie the Canucks bore a striking resemblance to some of the incredible markers registered by the legendary Mario Lemieux. Sprung on a breakaway by a beautiful Raffl pass, Giroux had Dan Hamhuis draped on his back and Chris Tanev tripping him from behind as he broke in on the Canucks' cage. Giroux somehow managed to push the puck past goaltender Eddie Lack as he was being taken down, knotting the game in spectacular fashion.

With 254 points in 247 games since the beginning of the 2010-11 season, Giroux has proven to be one of the most consistent point producers in the league. For whatever reason the slump in the early-going this year was part of a learning curve, both for the captain and the Flyers as a club. The fact they lifted themselves out of the NHL's last-overall spot and to within one point of the second-place Washington Capitals in the Metropolitan Division before the calendar flipped to January is nothing short of miraculous, but it makes more sense with a veritable magician like Giroux leading the way.

David Strehle is the Philadelphia Correspondent for The Fourth Period.


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