OTTAWA, Ontario – When Claude Giroux raised his stick skyward Saturday after finally scoring a goal this season, it was as if that gesture were to signify that he had a breakthrough. That he found a passage out of the darkness. That he found a sealant for the hole in the side of the Flyers ship that was starting to resemble the S.S. Minnow.
“If you go 15 games without scoring a goal, believe it or not you have that monkey on your back, no matter who you are,” said Jake Voracek. “That’s the way it is. Giroux was putting too much pressure on himself, but that’s the way he is. He’s the captain and a great leader. He wants to make a difference every game and if he doesn’t, he’s very hard on himself. To get that monkey off his back helped us a lot. He’s now playing with less pressure, we’re moving the puck very well and now we have to do it every night.”
Giroux, Voracek and Scott Hartnell dominated the game. They seemed to be creating chances on every shift. Even on the power play, the unit looked crisp. It seemed dangerous. It was always on the verge of scoring.
And a couple times, it did. Voracek scored twice, once on the power play, Giroux finished with a pair of helpers and Hartnell picked up his first assist in 38 games as Steve Mason made 24 saves to record his first Flyers shutout in a 5-0 win over the Senators at Canadian Tire Centre.
It was a complete team effort on both ends of the rink for certain by the Flyers, but the Giroux line was simply their catalyst.
Matt Read may have scored the first goal, but Giroux, et al, had already had a big bite in the game. Buzzing around, winning puck battles, creating chances right from the get go, it was obvious that the trio, which has struggled so mightily to produce before the last two games, was back in sync, and playing with the chemistry that so many expected of them.
“They played strong from the start of the game to the end,” coach Craig Berube said. “I was really impressed with the system play and their skating… I don’t know if it takes pressure off of anyone. The top line has to score. That’s the way it is. They’re starting to produce now and we’re getting results because of it.”
Like Voracek’s goals, both of which came as a result of quick decisions and hard work.
The goal that made it 2-0 started with fine work along the wall by Hartnell. He won possession of the puck and passed it to Giroux on the half wall. Giroux quickly touched it back to Hartnell, who, with his head up, saw Voracek drifting behind the net to the far side. And just like that it went:
Funny how that works, right?
“When the puck goes in and we play as a team and play responsible out there, that’s where the confidence comes from,” Giroux said. It was his 300th point as a Flyer in 350 career games.
The second score came on the power play. Again, it was constant movement. Giroux to Wayne Simmonds on the door step with his back to the goalie and then a no look pass to Voracek on the back door for an easy goal and a 3-0 lead.
“We have to score the goals,” Voracek said. “The last two games we made the difference… We need to relieve the pressure from others. On the power play we were moving the puck better. We had a couple of chances and we need to keep it moving tomorrow.”
Vinny Lecavalier netted his team leading seventh goal in the third period and assisted on Brayden Schenn’s tally to finish off the scoring.
Meanwhile, Mason was as solid as ever earning the 20th shutout of his career, and first since March 1 of 2012.
“He’s a really good goalie,” Giroux said. “Since he’s been traded here he has an unbelievable attitude. He’s the one working the hardest. When you see your goalie working like that and when you don’t even score two goals and he’s still behind you, still pushing you [remaining confident] and never getting [ticked] at us – when you have that, you just want to play good for him.”
As well as he’s played for the Flyers, his goals against average dropped to 2.15, eighth-best in the league among goalies with at least 10 starts, while his save percentage increased to .930, tied for fifth-best in the league in the same grouping.
And as frustrating as it was to blow the shutout and cost themselves a point in the loss in Carolina last week and as ugly as the shutout loss at home to New Jersey was that prompted a players-only meeting afterward, the Flyers are in fact 3-1-1 in their last five, garnering seven of a possible 10 points, and are a modest 5-3-1 in their last nine after dropping four of the first five games of Berube’s tenure.
The scene now shifts to Pittsburgh tonight for the bitter rivalry with the division-leading Penguins. A win, and the Flyers could find themselves out of the Metropolitan Division basement while piecing together their first three-game winning streak of the season.
And they don’t need the Skipper, or Gilligan or the Professor for that matter to maintain the course of this tour boat.
Instead, they just have to count on the Gingers – Giroux, Voracek and Hartnell – to drive the offense.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers