PHILADELPHIA - It was sometime during the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs when Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette began to realize just how special a player forward Claude Giroux really was.
In only his second playoff season, Giroux finished third on the team with 21 points, including 10 goals, in 23 games. An eye-opening display for sure and, in Laviolette's mind, a performance that probably catapulted him into elite company.
"I would say that he's not among those second-tier players anymore," Laviolette said when asked where Giroux stood in the mix of elite and second-tier players in the League.
"He's somebody we count on to play in every situation and he's proving himself to be a clutch player," he continued. "He's had big games in playoffs and big games when you need a performance out of somebody. He's seems to be stepping up."
Giroux already has seven goals this season -- he scored a total of 16 last season and didn't notch his seventh goal until Dec. 17. He's also recorded three shorthanded goals after not having any over his first two NHL seasons.
"Anytime you play in a League like this, you try and show up every game and try to help your team win," Giroux told NHL.com. "I think if you look at our roster, we have a lot of elite players so I'm just trying to fit in on this team. Whatever my role is, I'm ready to take it on. This team has been successful in the past because guys know their roles."
Laviolette admits Giroux hasn't put on the brakes since his memorable playoff performance last spring.
"Once the playoffs start, everybody gets a new lease on life and its a chance to write your own story on how you want to be seen as a hockey player," Laviolette said. "I thought Claude did a terrific job in the playoffs for us last year and it has just kind of carried over to this season. Everything he was doing right in the playoffs, he's doing now for our team."
Giroux is second on the team among forwards in ice time per game (19:15) -- he averaged 16:36 in 2009-10 -- and has won 52.3 percent of his face-offs (80 of 153). He averages over three minutes each game on the power-play and penalty-kill and is also having an impact in those areas as well. In fact, he leads the team with three shorthanded goals -- the franchise record for a season is seven.
"I don't try to score goals while shorthanded," Giroux said. "I just try and be strong defensively and when you're good defensively, the chances that something will happen are pretty good. When you play with a guy like Mike Richards (on the penalty-kill), it's a lot easier. He's got so many shorthanded goals (20) … he's so good at jumping in the play it makes it really fun playing with him."
Giroux admitted he didn't change his routine over the off-season, but was set on getting stronger.
"At the end of the season, I try to take as much of a break as possible and then start working out again," he said. Following a few charity golf events and time with family and friends, Giroux and Flyers teammate Darroll Powe went back to training with Tony Greco, considered one of Canada's leading fitness specialists.
"He's been great for me the last four years," Giroux said of Greco. "We had a good summer together and worked hard, and I got a little stronger. I'll try and keep it the same every off season -- you always want to get stronger and faster because that's the direction the league has gone."
Flyers forward Jeff Carter sensed a different Giroux from the start of training camp.
"I think since Day One he came in in great shape," Carter said. "His skill set speaks for itself. When he's on the puck, he's effective and making plays and setting guys up and scoring goals. It's been great so far."
Giroux entered the season with one goal in mind -- help the Flyers improve on last year's finish.
"Any guy that plays hockey wants to do good and produce a lot for their team," he said. "I don't really think of a certain amount of points I need to get. I just want to work hard and have fun. When you're having fun, that's when you're playing your best. Right now, we're having fun and that'll make for a pretty good season."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale