Giroux, Crosby at center of Flyers-Penguins weekend

Back in 2012, in a moment of post-game euphoria, then-Flyers coach Peter Laviolette called Claude Giroux the “best player in the world” after the center helped eliminate heavily favored Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Since then, Laviolette has taken lots of criticism for that statement, especially from those who believe the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby is head and shoulders the class of the NHL.

Fast-forward to this season. Crosby _ whose Penguins visit the Flyers in a Saturday matinee _ leads the NHL with 88 points, while Giroux entered Thursday tied for 10th with 65 points.

After failing to score a goal in his first 15 games, however, Giroux has resembled the player Laviolette was gushing about.

In his last 50 games, Giroux has 23 goals and 58 points.

Crosby has 23 goals and 65 points in his last 50 games.

The 26-year-old captains/centers will be the focal points when the teams meet for the third time this season Saturday, the first of two matchups on consecutive afternoons.

“Both teams like playing each other,” Giroux said after Thursday’s practice in Voorhees. “It’s intensity, and it’s almost a playoff game every time. It’s a good test for us to see where we stand against one of the best in the East.”

The Penguins (44-17-4), who are minus injured defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin, are running away with the Metropolitan Division.

“You’ve got to beat the best to be the best,” winger Wayne Simmonds said after “We seem to play better when we play teams that are atop the conference or are doing well.”

Giroux’s line figures to be matched against Crosby’s unit, while Sean Couturier’s line is expected to face Evgeni Malkin and his linemates.

“It’s always fun playing Crosby and Malkin,” winger Scott Hartnell said. “I think it brings out the best in a lot of guys. Coots plays his best games against Malkin, and G always plays his best games against Crosby. I think if we have a supporting cast with those two guys, and bang away, we’re going to have some success.”

The Flyers (33-25-7) have 17 games left, including the next 12 against teams currently in playoff spots.

“We believe we’re a playoff team. We believe we’re a contender,” Hartnell said. “..I don’t think we’ve had any ‘off’ games in a long time, so we have to continue to work hard, play the right way, play defense, and (have) the special teams kick in with a couple power-play goals every game.

“It’s going to be a good ride here.”

Crosby, a certfied Flyer-killer, will try to derail that ride. In 45 career games against the Flyers, Crosby has 30 goals, 74 points and a plus-10 rating.

Giroux has nine goals, 21 points and a minus-3 rating in 25 career games against Pittsburgh.

Breakaways.  Winger Zac Rinaldo will return to the lineup Saturday after missing one game with an undisclosed injury, and backup goalie Ray Emery (groin) is healthy again and expected to start one of the two games this weekend….The teams are 1-1 against each other this season, with the visitors winning each game. The Flyers are 4-9-2 in home games against the Penguins since 2008-09. The Flyers are 7-1-1 in Pittsburgh since the Consol Energy Center opened in 2010-11....Hard to believe, Harry: The Flyers were 36-0-3 at home vs. the Penguins from 1975 to 1988.

Follow Sam Carchidi on Twitter @BroadStBull.