Inside the Flyers: Giroux, Berube have guided Flyers to postseason's doorstep

Winger Wayne Simmonds is right: The Flyers have put themselves in a good spot, and, with nine regular-season games left, they do control their playoff destiny.

Considering the disastrous manner in which the season started, that's an amazing development, one for which the Flyers deserve credit.

But their great turnaround - they are 38-20-7 since their franchise-worst 1-7 start - won't mean a thing if they don't have a strong finish and secure a playoff spot.

The Flyers know that, know they must continue to be a hard team to play against, know they have created some good chemistry the last several months.

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That's why it was surprising that coach Craig Berube rolled the dice by changing three of his four lines - and demoting Vinny Lecavalier, a former goal-scoring champion, from second-line winger to fourth-line center - Friday night against Toronto.

It worked, just like almost every move the no-nonsense Berube has made since replacing Peter Laviolette three games into the season.

Berube is demonstrating that a former, um, goon (and I use the word respectfully) can flat-out coach. He has set the tempo with his approach, and has let his players know exactly where they stand. If someone isn't playing well, he tells him, and he isn't reluctant to demote or bench players for the good of the team.

Accountability has become his trademark, and the players understand and have bought into his defense-first system.

Berube and Claude Giroux - the diminutive center who has orchestrated the team's climb - should be in the top three in coach-of-the-year and MVP voting. If the voting was done today, Colorado coach Patrick Roy and the Penguins' Sidney Crosby would easily win the respective awards. On merit.

But that doesn't diminish what Berube and Giroux have done.

Giroux entered Saturday No. 3 in the NHL scoring race with 78 points. Since Dec. 11, he leads the league with 58 points.

His preseason golfing injury, which required finger surgery and clearly hindered his effectiveness as he went goalless in his first 15 games, is in the rearview mirror.

Giroux's numbers are eye-opening. So is the fact the Flyers are 19-2-1 when he scores a goal, and that he has at least one point in each of their last 16 wins.

"When he's going, we're going," Simmonds said after practice Saturday in Voorhees. ". . . Everyone else has just followed him."

His emergence in the MVP talk, however, is also about his growth as a leader.

Now in his second year as the Flyers captain, Giroux has become more vocal with his teammates. Example: On Nov. 7, with the Flyers owning a 4-10-1 record and sitting last in the league with just 22 goals, a players-only meeting was held, and Giroux was at the center of things.

Since that meeting, the Flyers have gone 35-17-6.

"G always speaks his mind, no matter what - whether it's at a meeting, or between periods, or just something on the bench," Simmonds said. "He's obviously grown into the role; it's not only his on-ice play, but he speaks at the right moments, and I think that's huge for this team."

The Flyers do not have an easy road to the playoffs. They have nine games left, including matchups with league powers Boston (twice), St. Louis, and Pittsburgh. But if they get into the postseason - and they should - they will be a difficult opponent to beat. Their special teams are clicking, their mediocre defense has gotten better with the addition of Andrew MacDonald, and goaltender Steve Mason is in a groove.

Oh, and with Lecavalier back at his natural position, center, they have four lines that are dangerous, creating potential matchup problems for opponents.

Maybe Berube will keep Lecavalier and his 399 career goals on the fourth line. Maybe he's just trying to light a proverbial fire under the veteran and will shift him to a higher line down the road.

Whatever moves he makes, there are few raised eyebrows in the locker room these days because the players believe in their coach.

Berube knows how to get the best out of them, and the results speak volumes.

 


scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull

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