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Giroux enjoying resurgent season with Flyers

Health, shift to wing has forward on track for NHL career high in points

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / Deputy Managing Editor

After Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux had NHL career lows in goals and points last season, general manager Ron Hextall was asked about the captain's future during his final press conference of 2016-17.

"I'll be shocked next year if you guys don't ask me in January how has [Giroux] turned this around," Hextall said in April.

January has seen Giroux continue to play some of the best hockey of his 11-season NHL career. With the Flyers on their mandated five-day break, his 52 points (14 goals, 38 assists) in 42 games are tied for second with Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon and Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos, and eight behind Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov (60). He was named to the NHL All-Star Game for the fifth time on Wednesday.

Giroux is on pace for 102 points, which would be an NHL career high, surpassing the 93 he had in 2011-12. He had 58 points (14 goals, 44 assists) in 82 games last season. Those numbers earned him a spot on the Metropolitan Division All-Star team.

"You don't want to overthink it too much, just want to go out there and play well for your team," Giroux said. "Just try to do what you do best."

Video: STL@PHI: Giroux gets friendly bounce off defender

Though some might be surprised at Giroux's resurgence, Flyers coach Dave Hakstol isn't.

"I'm not surprised at anything [Giroux] does," he said. "You guys know the hockey player and the person a little bit. But to know the person, to know the competitiveness that burns inside of him, I'm not surprised."

So how has Giroux done it? Better health and a position change are the biggest reasons.

Giroux's health issues date to the 2015-16 season. He had surgery to repair hip and abdominal muscle injuries May 17, 2016, but the after-effects lingered. Though he was healthy enough to play for Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 and all 82 games last season, he never felt or skated like himself.

But the Flyers missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs gave Giroux extra time to rest and train, and he arrived at training camp feeling more like the player who was third in Hart Trophy voting in 2013-14.

During camp, Giroux was shifted from center to left wing. The move was made in part to allow rookie Nolan Patrick to stay at center but the result has been less responsibility in the defensive zone for Giroux, who still works as the driving force on his line, which has included center Sean Couturier all season and added right wing Travis Konecny on Dec. 23. In seven games together, they've combined for 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists).

"Him being on the wing, I think he probably has more time to make plays coming into the [offensive] zone," said Couturier, who has scored an NHL personal-best 23 goals this season. "He's probably the guy carrying it in and making plays so it's probably different than driving the middle and trying to create space for your wingers. He has more time and space to make plays. He looks healthy, he looks good and it's exciting."

The move to the wing has lessened the burden Giroux had playing center.

"There's a lot of heavy miles put on down deep in the defensive zone," Hextall said. "He is down there a little bit [but] certainly not near as much as when he played center. I think some of the heavy lifting has been put on [Couturier] and I think that's probably helped his energy levels. Maybe he has a couple extra productive minutes that he might not have had if he was playing center."

Giroux, who turns 30 on Friday, said he entered the season trying to prove he's still among the elite players in the League.

"When you get older, you learn how to take care of your body and you learn what's going to make you the best player during a game," Giroux said. "You just learn from it and you've got to build on it."

The next step is helping the Flyers win consistently. They're 11-9-6 since Nov. 11, but that includes a 10-game losing streak (0-5-5), followed by wins in seven of eight (7-1-0), three straight losses (0-2-1) and then four wins in five games (4-1-0) leading into their five-day break. They play their first game back at the New Jersey Devils on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; MSG+, NBCSP).

Video: SJS@PHI: Giroux buries Voracek's feed for early lead

And if that consistency includes Giroux continuing to average 1.24 points per game, that's fine. If not, he'll just take the wins.

"I'm at the point in my career that that stuff isn't as important," he said. "Just making playoffs right now is the priority. If I'm scoring and [Jakub Voracek] is scoring and everyone does their job, that's going to give us the better chance to make the playoffs."

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