Improved Flyers look like a threat in East

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
11:58
AM ET
There was an enthusiasm in the voice of Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux we hadn't heard much last season or earlier this season.

But when you’re on a 9-2-1 run and you've rescued a season that began 1-7-0, you’re certainly in a better frame of mind.

"Man, it's been fun," the star center told ESPN.com by phone Monday night.

No time to rest, though, because a weekend home-and-home sweep of the rival Pittsburgh Penguins is already old news and the Chicago Blackhawks are in town Tuesday night, followed by other tough tests with the playoff-desperate Dallas Stars on Thursday and visits from Stanley Cup contenders St. Louis and Los Angeles.

Quite the home stand, indeed, for a Flyers team beginning Tuesday second in the Metropolitan Division but only three points away from the danger zone.

"It's going to be a good test for us," Giroux said. "I think it's good timing for those teams to come to Philly and play us. We're aware that all of those teams have been playing well this year. We need to get those wins if we want to stay in the playoffs. They’re going to be interesting games, and good games, too."

The sweep of the Pens, albeit against a Pittsburgh team missing some key injured players, gave the Flyers an emotional boost.

[+] EnlargeClaude Giroux
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteClaude Giroux has fueled the Flyers' resurgence this season.
"I think anytime you get a couple of wins in a row against a good team, it builds your confidence, you believe a little bit more in your play," said Giroux, the pride of Hearst, Ontario. "Anytime we play Pittsburgh it's always a good game and I thought we did a pretty good job of it."

Kind of amazing this team began the season 1-7-0, right? It's 34-18-7 since then.

"Once we won a couple of games we started getting our confidence back and we started to believe again," said Giroux, who wore the early season struggles heavily as team captain, just as he did last season when the team missed the playoffs.

No coincidence that the Flyers are soaring just as their top player is, with Giroux entering Tuesday tied for fourth in NHL scoring with 69 points (23-46), playing his best hockey in perhaps two years.

A little motivated after being overlooked by Team Canada for the Sochi Olympics?

"A little bit, but I try not to think about it anymore," said Giroux, who was crushed he didn't make the team that would eventually win gold in Sochi. "Obviously, I was disappointed and wanted to go to play for my country. But now that it's over with, I had a chance to get some rest, had a vacation, mentally and physically it was good and hopefully that’s going to help me for the stretch run and the playoffs."

Led by Giroux, the Flyers have been a dangerous offensive outfit and are keeping the opposition on its heels. It’s the kind of fluidity in their game that just wasn't there earlier in the season.

"They can get up and go offensively as good as any team in the league," said Ed Olczyk, who worked a pair of Flyers games for NBC over the past 10 days. "They're playing a much faster game. Their back end, too, is playing much faster which really helps the way that they’re built. That's the one thing that's been very noticeable, they're playing a much faster game. And they're finishing their chances, earlier in the year they were real fragile and weren’t doing that.

"The strength of their team is that they can get and up and go and play a real offensive game but they can also play a slugfest, too. If they find a way to make it, and I believe they will, they become a real dangerous team. The only question I have is whether they can defend enough."

Indeed, the team's Achilles' heel remains the blue-line, although veterans Kimmo Timonen and Mark Streit are playing their best hockey of the season right now and the acquisition of Andrew MacDonald has helped stabilize things back there a little.

Still, when push comes to shove, that's going to be their weak spot.

Which is why for the Flyers -- much like the Colorado Avalanche in the West -- it’s about keeping the puck on the stick of their forwards and spending as little time as possible in their own end.

The Flyers looked slow in transition in early October, but since Craig Berube was elevated to head coach three games into the season the club has improved its ability to transition out of its own end.

And it's quite obvious the players on this team are buying what Berube is selling.

"He's good with the players, he really wants to know what we think," said Giroux. "He's really strong on the system and how we play. He's also pretty relaxed behind the bench. People may not think that because of how he was as a player but he's really calm back there."

In a season in which the Eastern Conference appears to be wide open, don’t count out this hard-charging Flyers team, folks.

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