DALLAS - Sidelined for the last four games with a concussion, Claude Giroux has watched Phil Kessel and Henrik Sedin pull into a tie with him for the NHL lead in points.
Barring any last-minute setbacks, Giroux appears ready to rejoin the Art Ross Trophy chase tonight against the Stars.
It has been only 11 days since Giroux suffered his second career concussion on Dec. 10, but Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren revealed yesterday that his star player was cleared for all full-contact activities on Saturday. Officially, Giroux' status changed from "out indefinitely" to "day-to-day."
In an hourlong practice yesterday at American Airlines Center, Giroux skated in a full-contact practice and resumed his place between Scott Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr on the first line and his regular spot on the power play.
It was the third day in a row Giroux skated in a full practice and reported no ill effects. Yesterday was also the first time Giroux absorbed a true hockey hit.
"I felt good," said Giroux, who was hurt when he was accidentally kneed in the head by teammate Wayne Simmonds. "It's pretty much the same [as before]. I went in the corners with 'Coby' [Braydon Coburn] and told him to hit me a little bit. And that felt pretty good, too."
Giroux' prediction is that we will see him back on the ice "soon, probably." If those signs weren't enough, the Flyers quietly cleared a roster hurdle on Monday - and still haven't released the move to the media - by sending defenseman Kevin Marshall back to Adirondack before the holiday roster freeze kicked in at midnight Monday.
Without first sending Marshall to the Phantoms, the Flyers would have needed to wait to activate Giroux until the freeze is lifted on Dec. 27.
Though any judgment call lies in the hands of Giroux, Holmgren and the Flyers' training staff, coach Peter Laviolette was pleased with Giroux' progress. In 2009, Giroux missed five games and 12 days with his first career concussion.
"These decisions, with regards to whether a player is healthy and ready, go far beyond a coach," Laviolette said. "But it was good to see him out there banging [yesterday]. That's the first time that he took some contact. He looks really good."
With no pregame skate this morning, the Flyers will undoubtedly keep Giroux' status under wraps until just before the 7:30 p.m. puck drop.
"If you see me in the warmup, I think that's a pretty good sign that I'm going to play," Giroux said. "If I keep feeling like I do, I think it will be pretty soon."
Another player who figures to return to the lineup tonight against the Stars is defenseman Andreas Lilja, who has not played since Nov. 25 because of a high-ankle sprain.
Lilja, 36, got in one game Friday with the Phantoms on a conditioning stint, which he said helped his rehab process. Should Lilja be in the lineup, Matt Walker - who played his fourth game of the season on Monday - would be the likely candidate to sit out.
"I feel great," Lilja said. "To get that rust off from not playing for 3 weeks, that's definitely a good thing. I feel better every day. I'm off the [long-term injury list], so I'm close."
After the Flyers dropped a point Monday night against the Avalanche in the shootout, Laviolette was asked about his team's struggles in the shootout. The Flyers are now 0-2 this season and 19-36 all-time (34.5 percent) since 2005, the worst win percentage among all 30 teams.
He was also asked why Jaromir Jagr, the NHL's active leader in goals with 656, was left on the bench for the second straight shootout.
"I think a player's comfort level with doing it plays into it, with what we see in practice, their history throughout the course of their career," Laviolette said. "We have conversations with all of our players and find out what they're comfortable doing. That's not to say he wasn't going to be on the docket somewhere."
Jagr's numbers in the shootout aren't pretty. Among the Flyers who have taken at least six career attempts, Jagr ranks last (behind defenseman Kimmo Timonen) with a 22.7 percent success rate. He is 5-for-22.
At the same time, it's hard to question Laviolette's decision. Both Danny Briere and James van Riemsdyk scored, and Matt Read hit the crossbar. Colorado scored on three straight shots to nab the extra point. Laviolette said "too much thinking" and "too much time" makes shootouts different from in-game breakaways, especially for highly skilled players.
Yesterday, Jagr was quick to point out that he hasn't gone in on a shootout attempt "in 6 years" - though it appears that this is by choice.
"How do you know I am not good on the penalty kill?" Jagr asked. "I haven't played it in years. I started playing it before most of these guys were born. I'm not saying I'm in favor of it, but it's the same thing, I don't like backchecking. It's part of the game."
Jody Shelley is nursing a minor injury, thus the reason Tom Sestito made his Flyers debut on Monday in Denver. Shelley's status is unknown for tonight . . . The Flyers are looking for their sixth straight win against the Stars and their third win in as many trips to American Airlines Center over the past three seasons. Dallas last beat the Flyers on Dec. 1, 2007 . . . The Stars are 4-1-0 in their last five games, sitting atop the Pacific Division . . . Goaltender Richard Bachman is expected to start his sixth straight game in place of the oft-injured Kari Lehtonen.