Wait till Claude Giroux is 100 percent.
Playing his first game in 17 days after testing positive for the coronavirus, the Philadelphia Flyers captain fired a team-high eight shots on goal and collected three assists on Wednesday at Wells Fargo Center. He was also named first star after leading his team to a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers.
Giroux Shines On New-Look Line
“Didn’t feel that great,” admitted Giroux, who was symptomatic during his time away from the team. “But when you come back from a long time like that, you’re trying to keep your shifts short. Keep it simple. You don’t want to get caught out there. It turned out good tonight.”
It’s been awhile since Giroux has had to ease himself back into action. Since February of 2016, he had played 328 consecutive games played before being sidelined by the coronavirus.
On Wednesday, Giroux skated on a new-look line. At center, Kevin Hayes scored his seventh goal of the year and added six more shots. On the right side, Nolan Patrick moved over from his usual spot in the middle.
“I liked that line,” said coach Alain Vigneault after the game. “I thought that line tonight had a lot of offensive zone time. They had quite a few looks.
“We don’t really play, other than right off the faceoff, a center position. It is first forward, second forward, third forward. So as a player, I think you have to be able to do that. Being able to play more than one position is a bonus — being versatile out there.”
Offense From The Defense
The Flyers also took advantage of eight minor penalties against the Rangers — including two too-many men calls and two minors for shooting the puck over the glass. James van Riemsdyk scored his team-leading ninth goal of the year with the man advantage, while defensemen Shayne Gostibehere and Erik Gustafsson both connected for their first goals of the year. Gostisbehere’s goal also came on the power play, while Gustafsson’s was scored 17 seconds after a penalty expired, with the Flyers continuing to press offensively.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) February 25, 2021
With their high-energy approach and all those power plays, the Flyers finished the night with a season-high 39 shots on Rangers netminder Igor Shesterkin.
At the other end of the ice, Brian Elliott was solid. With Artemi Panarin out of the lineup on a personal leave of absence and youngsters Kaapo Kakko and K’Andre Miller in Covid protocol, Chris Kreider stepped up to do all the scoring for the Blueshirts, recording his third career hat trick.
Returning Players Will Provide A Boost
Postgame, Elliott spoke about the big hole that’s left when players like Giroux and Jakub Voracek are absent.
“When you have guys like that, that you are missing in the locker room, it feels weird in there,” he said. “Luckily, they didn’t miss too many games and hopefully we will be getting back more guys here to come. It’s big. The experience that all of those guys bring is big. We will welcome back with open arms.”
It’s expected that most or all of the players who have been on the Covid Protocol list are close to returning. Defenseman Justin Braun was cleared on Wednesday and Voracek, who was said to be asymptomatic, came off the list on Thursday. Both those players could be available as the Flyers kick off a stretch of five road games with back-to-back matinee games in Buffalo this weekend.
Puck drop is set for 1 p.m. ET on Saturday and 3 p.m. ET on Sunday.
As of Thursday, three Philadelphia forwards remain on the NHL’s Covid list: Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton and Oskar Lindblom.
Penguins Claim Friedman
On Tuesday, the Flyers placed defenseman Mark Friedman on waivers. It was hoped that he would clear and be placed on the taxi squad. Instead, the 25-year-old was claimed on Wednesday by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Of course, new Penguins general manager Ron Hextall drafted Friedman for the Flyers in the third round, back in 2014. After coming out of Bowling Green in 2017, Friedman has played 186 games with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. He collected 61 AHL points.
Friedman had one assist in 11 career NHL games with the Flyers, including four this year. He’ll be missed going forward, as a reliable right-shooting depth option.
Friedman is listed as a scratch for Pittsburgh’s Thursday game against the Washington Capitals.
The Penguins and Flyers will face each other three times next week. Those will be the first meetings between the two cross-state rivals since the Ron Hextall/Brian Burke era began on February 9.
The Flyers kicked off their season with a pair of wins over the Penguins back in mid-January.