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.”
 

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane scored three goals for his third career hat trick to lead the surging Chicago Blackhawks past the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Thursday night for their third straight win and eighth in nine games.

Kane has 23 goals to lead Chicago, which closed within three points behind first-place Minnesota in the Central Division and Western Conference.

Rookies Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman each had a goal and assist. Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival scored his first goal of the season in his first game since Jan. 15.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews added two assists to extend his points scoring streak to five games and increase his output to 22 points in his past 13.

Jakob Chychrun, Ryan White and Radim Vrbata scored for the Coyotes. Chychrun and Vrbata each scored for the second straight game (see full recap).

Rangers outlast Maple Leafs in shootout
TORONTO -- Mika Zibanejad scored the shootout winner and the New York Rangers continued a strong February with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves and J.T. Miller scored the game-tying goal in the third period for the Rangers, who improved to 8-1-1 this month.

New York moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division with 80 points.

Connor Brown scored for Toronto, which fell to 1-7 in shootouts this season. Frederik Andersen had a stellar performance in defeat with 37 saves.

The Leafs hold the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division (68 points), two points back of Ottawa (70) and four back of Montreal (see full recap).

Islanders shut out Canadiens
MONTREAL -- Rookie Anthony Beauvillier scored in the first period, Thomas Greiss made 24 saves, and the New York Islanders beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 Thursday night.

Anders Lee scored in the second period and John Tavares added an empty-netter in the final minute to seal the Islanders' third straight win. New York has won the first two games on a crucial nine-game road swing and improved to 12-4-2 since interim coach Doug Weight replaced the fired Jack Capuano.

Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each had two assists, and Greiss got his third shutout of the season.

Carey Price finished with 21 saves as the Canadiens lost coach Claude Julien's 1,000th NHL game. Montreal is 1-2-0 since Julien replaced Michel Therrien last week and has totaled just 14 goals while going 2-7-1 in the last 10 games, including four shutouts (see full recap).

Flyers' outdoor game vs. Pens different because of football stadium

Flyers' outdoor game vs. Pens different because of football stadium

VOORHEES, N.J. -- He grew up as a youngster in Judique, Nova Scotia, as a Toronto Blue Jays fan even though the Boston Red Sox were closer geographically.

“My brother was the Red Sox fan,” Andrew MacDonald said.

While hockey was his passion, MacDonald loved to watch baseball. Joe Carter’s walk-off home run in the 1993 World Series clinched it for Mac, then a 7-year-old.

“Didn’t see it for a while though because we only had two TV channels,” MacDonald laughed.

“Yeah, I was Blue Jays fan from Canada.”

On Saturday, the Flyers visit Heinz Field for an outdoor game against their most bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2017 Stadium Series.

MacDonald was a starter for the Islanders during the 2014 Stadium Series game held at the new Yankee Stadium against the Rangers. He likes outdoor games in baseball stadiums even though that is not where this game will take place.

“When I had been to New York, I had gone to a few Yankee games at Yankee Stadium,” MacDonald said Thursday after practice. “Obviously, I got to take in the experience of being a fan there. It’s a pretty great stadium. To be on the field, although it’s a different sport and setting, it was pretty special.”

Michal Neuvirth was the backup goalie for Washington in the 2011 Winter Classic held at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

“It’s just as big as if you played inside for two points,” Neuvirth said. “I just backed up that game there but it was awesome. The big crowd and we won the game with Washington. A good feeling afterward.”

MacDonald said his experience at Yankee Stadium was similar.

“It was great,” he said of the Bronx affair. “Not everyone gets to play in one of those games, so it was special. Just being in that outdoor environment and the capacity of the crowd. Really like a center stage, special experience.”

In both previous Winter Classics involving the Flyers, they were held in baseball stadiums -- Fenway Park in 2010 and Citizens Bank Park two years later. Incidentally, Claude Giroux is the only Flyer to have played in both of the franchise's two Winter Classics.

This “Stadium Series” game will offer a different “look” for players and fans because it occurs in the Steelers’ football stadium.

“Obviously, the setup of the ice surface will be right in the middle of the field as a rectangular field as opposed to baseball where it’s kind of on a different angle,” MacDonald said.

“It’s good. We’ll get a good skate in. A family skate. Yeah, I hope [weather cooperates]. It might not be the best ice, but hopefully, it goes according to plan and go off without a hitch.”

Hot temperatures Friday followed by heavy rain on Saturday could make things difficult.

“Tough to say as to what to expect,” said Neuvirth, who will start in goal. “For me, I am going to prepare myself for 8 o’clock and play my game.”

The most unusual thing that players say affect them during outdoor games is not having fans on the glass. They’re far away in the stands.

Yet in a baseball stadium, some of those fans are a lot closer to the ice than the setup in a football stadium.

“Yeah, it was kind of unique and took a while to get used to,” MacDonald said. “There’s no fans on the glass. You are kind of isolated by yourself there on the middle of the field.

“It’s not until the TV timeout where you can look around and take it all in. It's almost a practice-type mentality when you are first on the ice and then you get acclimated.

“Obviously, once the puck drops you are ready to go and know what to do. It’s definitely a unique experience once you get going.”

When he played at Fenway Park as a freshman at Union College, Shayne Gostisbehere said his only regret was not taking time out to just stop and absorb what was happening around him.

He was so focused on the game against Harvard that day in 2012, he forgot to cherish the moment.

MacDonald said that is something NHL players sometimes forget to do, as well. Take it all in because it might never occur again.

“Everyone is a little different,” he said. “You do have to play it as if it’s like every other game. There is a little adjustment period there with the fans so far away.

“That being said, you have an opportunity to embrace the moment. At the same time, you have to focus on what we’re trying to accomplish out there. Try to get the win like any other time.”

Loose pucks
• Flyers forward Jakub Voracek left the ice early Thursday with a slight limp. He was not available after practice but general manager Ron Hextall confirmed Voracek is fine and will play Saturday. The Flyers' leading scorer was hit with a deflected puck earlier this week in practice in his groin area but played without incident during Wednesday's game against Washington. 

• The Flyers left for Pittsburgh this afternoon.