Giroux's faceoff practice paying off for Flyers

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Giroux's faceoff practice paying off for Flyers

One of the more startling stats following the Flyers' tense 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay on Tuesday was individual faceoffs.
 
Claude Giroux won 72 percent of his draws. He was a perfect 7 for 7 against righthander Steven Stamkos and won 6 of 9 from lefty Vinny Lecavalier.
 
“Didn’t know that,” Giroux said.

As of Wednesday, Giroux had taken the highest number of faceoffs in the league -- 242 -- with the best percentage of anyone who had taken more than 230 draws -- 55.4 percent.
 
Recall he led the team last season at 53.7 percent -- the only Flyer regular over 50 percent.
 
“It’s something that I have been working on a lot lately,” Giroux said. “It’s going to be up and down during the season.
 
“You have stretches where the bounces don’t go your way. The puck hits the ref's skate and doesn’t go on your side. Right now, I will take them for sure.”
 
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said he sees nothing really different about Giroux in the circle, other than maturity.
 
“As you get older and stronger and more experienced with the people you are taking faceoffs against, that can improve you through the course of time,” Laviolette said.
 
While Giroux is strong on the draws, overall, the Flyers as a team remain rather poor, ranked 27th in the league at 46.5 percent.
 
There was some genuine concern over the summer about Giroux’s faceoff ability this season following dual wrist surgery.
 
The assumption was that he had taken a couple slashes from Sidney Crosby during the Pittsburgh series in the playoffs.
 
While that was true, Giroux said it was actually something more basic that had occurred before that series.
 
“I went into the boards a couple times and rolled my wrists a couple times,” he said. “But it had been like that since junior. I wasn’t sure how the process would go with the rehab and such. It went very well and I had a good doctor (Thomas Graham), which made it easier.”
 
Even though he played a month in Germany during the lockout, Giroux didn’t know what to expect once the real games began in the NHL again.
 
“A month there, and knock on wood, I haven’t had any problems with it since,” he said. “I’m happy everything went well.”
 
Through 10 games, Giroux, who is right-handed, has been 65 percent or better three times. Ironically, his worst game came at Florida in late January when he won just four of 18 draws, and got cleaned by Tomas Kopecky, who was a perfect 8 for 8 against him.
 
Thursday night, Kopecky, a lefty, figures to matchup a few times in the circle once again with Giroux.
 
“Obviously, you look to see if he is a righty or lefty before a game,” Giroux said. “You see how he tries to win a faceoff. Yesterday, I was good on faceoffs, but I am going to have some bad games. [Tonight], who knows?”
 
Just like his teammates, Giroux has struggled to find consistency in the early going of this shortened season. He has just three goals and six points on a Flyers' squad that is goal-starved at the moment.
 
“Up and down,” was how he rated his season.
 
“Personally, I think I can play better. It’s just a process right now. We’re getting everyone on the same system and having fun doing  it. There’s a lot hockey left to play.”
 
Of the Flyers' shallow 23 goals, almost a third of them came during that 7-1 rout of the Panthers on Jan. 26.
 
Defensively and in goal with Ilya Bryzgalov, the Flyers have played well. A few more goals and the Flyers wouldn’t be looking up at nearly everyone else in the Eastern Conference right now.
 
“It’s funny, 10 games in, we’re looking at the standings every day,” Giroux said. “It’s going to be tight till the end. One win or one loss can be eighth place or 14th place. Every game is very important.”
 

2017 NHL draft prep: Options for Flyers at No. 2

2017 NHL draft prep: Options for Flyers at No. 2

The Flyers' long-term landscape changed Saturday night with a stroke of luck.

Facing long odds, the Flyers nearly won the NHL draft lottery, but will have to settle for the No. 2 pick (see story). Considering where they were projected to pick, this is a major win for the Flyers.

"We had a lot of bad luck this year," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Saturday night. "And I'm hoping this is a turning point. This is a big point for our franchise."

The Flyers came into the lottery most likely to draft 13th at 84.3 percent. Lottery rules dictated that they could only draft in the top three, stay at 13 or fall to 14 or 15th. They had a 2.2 percent chance at the top pick, 2.4 percent at the second pick and 2.7 at the third pick.

And the hockey gods were on the Flyers' side Saturday. Because of their current prospect picture — heavy on defensemen and goaltenders — the Flyers will have an opportunity to add an impact forward to their prospect pool, an immediate hole they will be able to fill.

Here are five prospects the Flyers could target with the No. 2 pick come June 23-24 at the NHL draft in Chicago.

(Note: Because the Flyers are heavy on defensive prospects, we're not including Miro Heiskanen, the consensus top defenseman in this year's draft class.)

Nolan Patrick, C, 18, 6-2/198, Brandon (WHL)
Patrick finished as the top-rated skater by the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau, a spot he has been in all year long despite dealing with a groin/abdominal injury throughout the 2016-17 season. He is touted as a two-way, right-handed center who does everything well but doesn't possess any one specific elite skill. Sportsnet's Jeff Marek wrote in March, "think Jonathan Toews-lite." Patrick has NHL blood in his veins, as his father, Steve Patrick (250 games), and uncle, James Patrick (1,280 games), both have played in the league. In 33 games with the Wheat Kings this season, Patrick scored 20 goals and 46 points. He missed 39 games. During the 2015-16 season, Patrick registered 41 goals and 102 points in 72 games. He played two seasons in Brandon with Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov.

Central Scouting director Dan Marr's take: "He has more than proven over the last three years that he is the real deal and will be an impact NHL player. The poise, the presence, the attention to detail, the way he processes and executes plays — everything has been far more precise, far more accurate and a lot quicker this season."

Nico Hischier, C, 18, 6-1/176, Halifax (QMJHL)
With Patrick the projected top pick in June's draft, Hischier checks in as the early favorite to become a Flyer on June 23. Hischier had a breakout performance as an underage player — he was 17 at the time — for Team Switzerland during the 2017 IIHF World Championships, posting four goals and three assists in five games. He will likely become the highest-drafted Swiss-born player in league history. Nino Niederreiter (fifth overall, 2010) currently holds that title. Per hockey guru Bill Meltzer, Hischier would qualify for the AHL because he was loaned to Halifax this season from Bern, a professional Switzerland hockey team. In his first season in the QMJHL, Hischier led all rookies with 38 goals, 48 assists and 86 points in 57 games, earning himself the league's Rookie of the Year award and winning the Mike Bossy Trophy, awarded to the league's best pro prospect.

Central Scouting director Dan Marr's take: "Hischier is definitely worth the price of admission. He has a high skill level, but what's most impressive is the way he competes, his drive and work ethic. He is a player who is first on the forecheck forcing a turnover and when the play transitions, he's the first player back. He's in that category as a special player."

Gabriel Vilardi, C, 17, 6-3/202, Windsor (OHL)
Vilardi battled a knee injury and appendicitis in 2016-17 with Windsor, but still finished more than a point-per-game player with the Spitfires. He recorded 61 points in 49 games this season. His 29 goals led Windsor and his 61 points were second on the club. Vilardi is an excellent puck-possession forward, which drives his and his linemates' scoring. Skating is an area he can improve upon. He is a right-handed shot with good size, something that could intrigue the Flyers. He compares his game to John Tavares, the New York Islanders' star captain. He finished as Central Scouting's fourth-best rated North American skater.

Central Scouting director Dan Marr's take: "Vilardi is a high-end possession center with excellent hockey sense and puck-handling ability. He plays a very composed game with the puck, using his vision and playmaking ability to influence the game in all three zones. Vilardi excels below the dots in the offensive zone, where he utilizes his size and reach to control the play and generate scoring opportunities."

Owen Tippett, RW, 18, 6-0/200, Mississauga (OHL)
What would intrigue Flyers fans about Tippett is his shoot-first mentality, a trait not many current Flyers own. A right wing with size, Tippett positions himself in scoring areas and has a desirable shot. He's described as a strong skater with great breakaway speed. He led the Steelheads with 44 goals and 75 points in 60 games this season. His 44 goals were fifth in the Ontario Hockey League. With Patrick and Hischier the cream of this year's average crop, Tippett at No. 2 might be a reach, but he fits the mold of what the Flyers need.

Michael Rasmussen, C, 18, 6-6/215, Tri-City (WHL)
Rasmussen is a centerman with above average skating for a player his size and a knack for knowing how to use his size to his advantage. He suffered a wrist injury this season and played in just 50 of Tri-City's 72 games. He netted 32 goals and 55 points and led the Americans with 15 power-play goals, an attractive trait for the Flyers. He compares his game to Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov and former Maple Leafs superstar Mats Sundin. He finished fifth among North American skaters in Central Scouting's final rankings.

Central Scouting director Dan Marr's take: "He's playing with much more confidence this season. He's adapted to playing a bigger role and playing heavy minutes against opponents' top lines and defense. The game has slowed down for him a little bit and he's just that much more poised. He can take that extra bit of time and understands he can take that time to make plays and score goals."

NHL Playoffs: Penguins chase Holtby, beat Capitals to take 2-0 series lead

NHL Playoffs: Penguins chase Holtby, beat Capitals to take 2-0 series lead

WASHINGTON -- Phil Kessel scored twice, Sidney Crosby set up more goals and the Pittsburgh Penguins chased Braden Holtby on the way to a 6-2 victory over the Washington Capitals in Game 2 Saturday night that gave them a commanding 2-0 lead in their second-round series.

Marc-Andre Fleury was brilliant again in stopping 34 of the 36 shots he faced for Pittsburgh, which also got goals by Matt Cullen, Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins scored three goals on 14 shots on Holtby, who was pulled in favor of Philipp Grubauer after the second period.

Grubauer didn't fare much better, allowing two goals on nine shots. Matt Niskanen and Nicklas Backstrom scored for the Capitals, who outshot the Penguins 36-23 but still face an uphill task of trying to become just the 19th team to win a series after losing the first two games at home.

Guentzel added an empty-net goal to seal it for the Penguins, his playoff-best seventh (see full recap).

Pageau gets 4th goal in 2OT to lift Sens over Rangers
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Jean-Gabriel Pageau got his fourth goal of the game in the second overtime after scoring twice late in regulation, lifting the Ottawa Senators over the New York Rangers 6-5 Saturday in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Ottawa leads the series 2-0 despite trailing by two goals after Brady Skjei's score with 14:50 left in the third. Pageau cut it to 5-4 with 3:19 left in the period, then tied it with 1:02 remaining.

Pageau scored again 2:54 into the second OT, snapping in a shot during a 2-on-1 rush alongside Tommy Wingels. Pageau is the first Senator ever with four goals in a playoff game.

Marc Methot and Mark Stone also scored for Ottawa, and Craig Anderson had 43 saves.

Skjei had two goals for New York and Michael Grabner, Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan also scored. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 28 shots.

The series heads to New York for Game 3 on Tuesday night (see full recap).