Danny Briere: Facing the Flyers won't be easy

slideshow-canadiens-danny-briere-uspresswire.jpg

Danny Briere: Facing the Flyers won't be easy

Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux both lived with Danny Briere for a time.
 
Couturier, however, was his housemate, along with Briere’s three boys, for 18 months.

“We talked once in a while and are still in touch -- he’s a good friend,” Couturier said. “It’s a special game for both of us.

“You are with him almost 24/7. Since Day One, he took me under his wing and kind of adopted me. I felt like a big brother to his kids, his boys. It was a fun experience.”
 
It’s one thing to go up against former teammates, but imagine how awkward it’s going to be Saturday in Montreal for all three players when the Flyers meet the Canadiens for the first time this season.
 
“Facing guys I have been with a lot of years, the past few seasons, guys I had a chance to live with, it’s kind of a weird feeling,” Briere said. “You’re excited to see them, but it’s also weird to face them. We all know when the puck drops, it gets competitive. I know these guys are the same way. They’re not going to give me an inch out there.
 
“It’s never easy when you face ex-teammates. I remember my first few games facing Buffalo with the Flyers, they were always tough games, mentally to get ready for and also on the ice. You have to shut off the fact they’re you buddies and try to move on for that three-hour span.”
 
The Flyers bought Briere out of the final two years of his contract last June. He was owed just $5 million in real dollars (not salary cap dollars). Briere ended up signing a two-year deal with Montreal worth $8 million overall.
 
“There’s no hard feelings,” he said. “I said it the day I talked to you guys after the Flyers bought me out. There are no hard feelings. They were very respectful ... Honestly, I have no complaints. It was agreed upon, it was fair and the Flyers needed to get under the cap. I understand. You move on.”
 
Briere spent much of August training with the Flyers at Skate Zone in Voorhees. His boys live in Haddonfield, NJ, with his ex-wife. They will get to fly back and forth to Montreal as their school schedule, plus the Canadiens' schedule, permits.
 
“It’s working out good,” Briere said. “In today’s world with all the communications that we have, it’s a lot easier to communicate and stay in touch. Last year, I got a little taste of it with playing in Europe during the lockout. It’s not ideal but we make it work.”
 
Briere had been the Flyers' biggest offensive threat in the playoffs during his six years here. Besides leading the NHL in the 2010 playoffs with 30 points, Briere compiled 37 goals, 35 assists for 72 points in 68 playoff games -- better than a point-a-game player as a Flyer.
 
Briere was minus-1 in Montreal’s season-opening 4-3 loss to Toronto. He played on David Desharnais’ line with Max Pacioretty.
 
He was honored pregame when Montreal allowed him to accept the torch from Habs legend Guy Lafleur, a tradition before every hockey season symbolizing handing the reins of leadership of the team.
 
“Yeah, it was a pretty special feeling and very special night,” Briere said. “I think the Montreal Canadiens organization showed a lot of class by giving me that chance to be the first one to get that torch from one of the all-time greats in Guy Lafleur.
 
It’s different being a French-Canadien playing in Quebec than being American or even a Canadian from another province.
 
When he didn’t sign with Montreal as a free agent after leaving Buffalo seven years ago, people in Quebec felt betrayed. Briere was booed every time he touched the puck during the six years he was a Flyer.
 
Back then, he was younger -- had not even turned 30 -- and admitted he didn’t want the pressure of playing in Montreal. Now it’s different. He’s older -- turns 36 in two days -- and far more mature.
 
“Everyone is different,” he said. “There are players out there that it doesn’t affect them. The media pressure just won’t affect them. Other guys would rather stay away from it. They’d rather play in a quiet place and do their job and not be bothered.
 
“We all have different personalities. It works for certain guys and doesn’t work as well for other guys. I really believe it is easier as you get older and get to know yourself better. You’re a little bit more mature.”
 
He’s had one major adjustment in Montreal from Philly.
 
“Having to do interviews in French and English,” he said. “Whatever it takes, 15-20 minutes, you have to double that. I was coming in knowing that and expecting it from the start. At my age, too, it might be easier to face that, deal with that than if I were 20, 21, 22 years old.”
 
The Flyers had trouble scoring goals last season, had trouble scoring goals this preseason, and got just one against the Maple Leafs.
 
Briere said there was too much offensive talent on the Flyers for scoring to become a serious issue with them. He did add …
 
“Hopefully, it lasts one more game."

Pressing too hard? Claude Giroux realizes less can be more

Pressing too hard? Claude Giroux realizes less can be more

NEW YORK — Ron Hextall admitted there’s a bit of a double-edged sword to Claude Giroux.
 
“I think he’s pressing too hard,” Hextall said before Sunday night’s game. “It’s what you like about him; there’s a few guys like that. You like that [competitiveness] about them, but sometimes you become your own worst enemy because they beat themselves up.”
 
The captain was entering the day with a goal drought of 12 games, his longest since Oct. 2-Nov. 7, 2013, when he opened the season goalless in 15 contests.
 
“G wants to be successful at everything,” the general manager said. “Hopefully something good happens for him and he gets rolling. He’s too good of a player to play like this.”
 
Hextall got his wish.
 
Nearly four hours later, Giroux buried the game-winning goal of the Flyers’ 3-2 overtime win against the Islanders at the Barclays Center. Not only did it relieve Giroux of his funk, but it also did the same for the Flyers, who had lost three straight and 12 of their last 15.
 
"It's been tough the last couple of weeks,” Giroux said. “We know we're a better team. 
 
“Obviously we can still be better but we needed this win tonight.”
 
And Giroux needed that goal. Over the previous 12 games, the Flyers’ second-leading scorer was a minus-13 with seven assists and just one even-strength point. It’s no coincidence the Flyers went 2-8-2 in those 12 games.
 
Giroux didn’t disagree with his boss.
 
“You want to succeed and you want to play the best you can,” he said. “Sometimes you push it a little too much. When you sit back and kind of look at the big picture, sometimes I think that's when you kind of realize you need to relax and just go out there and play.”
 
Before the game, head coach Dave Hakstol made a change that reaped the rewards. He decided to put Jakub Voracek back on the top line with Giroux and Michael Raffl. Giroux finished with six shots, his most since Dec. 21, while Voracek put up four and assisted the overtime winner.
 
“Well, I mean there are a lot of things that go into that,” Hakstol said of the move. “Those guys have success together, but more importantly, you look at some of the combinations as you go through the year when you’ve had success. Sometimes one change gives you a little bit of a jump-start. Those guys did a good job.”
 
Giroux’s goal was emblematic in a way that he simply planted himself in front of the net and tapped in Shayne Gostisbehere’s wraparound pass. There was no highlight-reel deke or miraculous shot.
 
Keeping it simple — as players often say — did the trick.
 
"Sometimes you don't need to try so hard,” Giroux said. “You need to go about your job and make sure you do the right things out there. Make sure you help your teammates and linemates. Just go out there and play hockey. We're supposed to have fun doing it, right? So sometimes you need to relax and kind of look at how you can get better.”
 
Sunday was a start.

Flyers Weekly Observations: Snowball effect avoided Sunday

Flyers Weekly Observations: Snowball effect avoided Sunday

There wasn't any Flyers hockey to talk about during the bye week, but this past weekend’s back-to-back set still left us with plenty of material.

It was an up-and-down weekend for the Flyers. They fell at home, 4-1, to the Devils during an ugly showing on Saturday but rebounded with an exciting 3-2 OT victory over the Islanders Sunday in Brooklyn thanks to Claude Giroux’s game-winning tally that snapped a 13-game goalless drought.

Let’s take a look back at the weekend that was for the Flyers:

• That showing against Jersey on Saturday night? Let’s just say that’s not the way one hoped the Flyers would look coming off an extended break. The Flyers were outplayed again by the Devils, just like they were during a 4-0 loss to New Jersey in late December. I get the theory that they needed to knock the rust off after such a long break. But you also wanted to see some energy and it just wasn’t there. Give the Devils some credit, too, as they played well. Of course, there was that terrible call against Radko Gudas that really shifted the game in the Devils’ favor (more on that in a bit). But still, it wasn’t an inspiring performance overall and still had more of the same defensive breakdowns that have plagued the Flyers in recent weeks.

• That said, the Flyers had a great bounce-back effort Sunday night against an Isles team that has been revived after head coach Jack Capuano was fired and came into the contest on a three-game win streak. The Flyers fell down 2-0 and were victims of another questionable call during a pile-up at the front of the Isles’ net when the puck crossed the line but no goal was rewarded, but they showed something they haven’t shown over the past few weeks: resiliency. Over the last few weeks, when something has gone wrong for the Flyers, it’s all gone wrong for the Flyers. It’s been a troubling snowball effect. But that trend came to a halt on Sunday and the Flyers earned two much-needed points. It was encouraging, to say the least. The goal now is to find that kind of consistency again. Easier said than done.

• What a spectacular play by Ivan Provorov on the Flyers’ tying goal Sunday night. He took a pass at the Isles’ blue line, weaved his way around a defender to create space and then sent a centering pass to the crease area. Sure, there was some puck luck involved as it hit a defender’s skate and went in the net, but sometimes a player gets rewarded like that when making a great play. It was the kind of play that a lot of veterans wouldn’t have the poise to make, let alone a rookie who just turned 20 a few weeks ago. The kid is so impressive and he’s just going to keep getting better.

• Alright, alright, alright ... let’s discuss the Gudas clipping penalty against the Devils on Saturday. First off, it shouldn’t have been a penalty. It was a classic, hard hip check and a good, physical hockey play. Is Gudas not given the benefit of the doubt sometimes because of his reputation and suspension history? Probably so. But there was no gray area to discuss on this hit. It was a clean hockey play. And then if we’re to believe Wayne Simmonds, his unsportsmanlike call to give the Devils a full 5-on-3 advantage was for protesting a lack of explanation for the call. If true, that’s pretty weak from the official. Like we discussed earlier, it was one of the things that didn’t go the Flyers’ way and sent everything else crumbling down afterward. The Devils scored on the ensuing power play to take a 2-1 lead and it was game, set, match.

• Notice Dave Hakstol's finally using Travis Konecny during a 3-on-3 overtime on Sunday night? That’s a good thing to see. I get that a big part of the 3-on-3 OT is defensive responsibility and that Konency is still working to complete that part of his game. But sometimes when the game is on the line, you have to take the good with the bad. Konecny’s got the offensive arsenal to win a game in the blink of an eye. He should get more chances in OT as the season goes on. Nick Cousins saw the ice during Sunday’s OT, too. Good for him. Having more fresh legs and energy out there during those frantic overtimes never hurts.

• You guys peek at the Eastern Conference standings lately? If not, here’s a spoiler: The standings are a jumbled mess where parity is king. As of Monday morning, the Capitals, Blue Jackets, Penguins and Rangers are ahead of the field. But after those teams, it’s anyone’s ballgame. Heading into Monday night’s action, the Flyers hold the last wild-card spot with 52 points. The eight teams behind them are all within five points them, with last-place Tampa Bay (!) bringing up the rear with 47 points. So that’s 12 teams fighting for four playoff spots. It’s further proof that there are no nights off or easy games in the NHL. Every point matters. It should be a hell of a playoff race over the next few months.

Coming up this week: Wednesday at NY Rangers (8 p.m./NBCSN), Thursday vs. Toronto (7 p.m./CSN), Sunday’s NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles (3:30 p.m./NBC)