VOORHEES, N.J. – First they were just teammates. Then they were housemates. Then, they travelled to Europe together, where they played hockey for the same team during the lockout.
Now, with the Flyers offense on the fritz, they are going to team up once again to try and get that engine purring again.
Meet Claude Giroux’s newest left wing: Danny Briere.
In what is the latest attempt by coach Peter Laviolette and the coaching staff to jump start an offense that is sorely missing Scott Hartnell, Briere moves to the top line on the off wing along with Giroux and right wing Wayne Simmonds.
“We had some success with Matt Read there, but we weren’t generating as much offense as we would have liked in New York,” Laviolette said. “So we switched it up in the third period and put Danny there. There’s probably going to be more switches even if we reel off 10 in a row. Injuries come into play there. So does if somebody’s playing hot or somebody’s playing cold. We like the mix we have in this room.”
Laviolette added that when putting lines together, especially moving a natural center to the wing, he seeks the player’s input to see which side they prefer.
“We’re more concerned with the comfort of our wingers than our center to be honest,” Laviolette said. “Claude might like to pass the puck on his forehand [to a left-handed left wing] more than the other way, but there’s always going to be little adjustments players have to make, and that could be one of them.”
Even though he’s a right-handed shot, Briere, prefers the left side because it gives him more options creatively.
But, more importantly, it puts together a line combination with a variety of elements.
“It’s a nice compliment,” Laviolette said of the Briere/Giroux pairing. “One guy sees the ice really well and the other knows how to put the puck in the net. I think a lot of players want to play with Claude because of how he sees the ice and makes plays, then you have a natural goal scorer in Danny … it could be a good fit. They played really well in that third period, so we’ll put it together and see how it goes.”
Add in Simmonds’ innate ability to be a net-crashing, havoc-wreaking, opportunist on offense, and it’s a fine mix.
Offensively against the New York Rangers Tuesday, Briere was the best skater for the Flyers.
He generated 10 shots on goal, a career high, and showed no lingering effects from his fractured left wrist that forced him to miss the first four games of the season.
Meanwhile Simmonds has been the most consistent Flyers forward to date, and although he only has two goals and three assists, he has been involved in a plethora of chances for the Flyers.
And, oh-by-the-way, his five points are tops on the team.
The difference is Giroux hasn’t been anywhere near on his game - offensively anyway – since Hartnell went out of the line with a fractured foot in New Jersey last Tuesday.
He has been smothered by opposing defense which is basically like he opponents saying, “We’ll take away Giroux and force his linemen to beat us.”
And with one exception (the 7-1 win in Florida) those wingers haven’t been able to complete the dare. If they were able to, their record would very likely be 5-2, not 2-5.
It prompted Lavolette to compare goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who has been sensational in goal so far this season, to well… Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee, among others.
“It’s like a pitcher who goes out on the mound and doesn’t get the run support he needs to win a game,” Laviolette said. “I feel like there are some areas we can be better in that can help our team be more successful.”
Meanwhile, Giroux is at the peak of frustration with his own game as he has been unable to fight through the ramped up defense he faces and the inability of his wingers to help generate such offense.
“It’s not the start I wanted but I have to deal with it right now,” Giroux said. “It’s only seven games. In a season, there are always slumps like that. Maybe it’s a good thing that it happened right off the bat. I’m still positive.”
And so is Briere, who feels that his familiarity with Giroux – from sharing a residence two years ago to playing together for the Berlin Solar Bears a couple months ago – will help the team find a way out of the offensive doldrums.
“It’s not like we’re two complete strangers out there,” Briere said. “Hopefully we can create some chemistry out there because we need it.”
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