PHILADELPHIA -- During an interview that lasted less than six minutes Tuesday morning, Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux used the word "we" 18 times and "team" 10 times.
What he wouldn't do, even when pressed, is talk about himself.
That's not surprising because Giroux has always been a team-first guy, but it is ironic considering everyone else in the Philadelphia dressing room has no problem saying Giroux is the player at the heart of the team's turnaround this season.
"When he's going, everyone is going," Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds said.
Center - PHI
GOALS: 24 | ASST: 47 | PTS: 71
SOG: 185 | +/-: 5
All it takes is a quick glance at the numbers to prove the truth in Simmonds' statement.
Giroux had seven points, all assists, through the first 15 games of the season; the Flyers were 4-10-1. Since Nov. 9, when Giroux scored his first goal of the season, he has 24 goals and 64 points in 53 games, a stretch in which the Flyers are 32-15-6.
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is the only player in the NHL with more points (68) than Giroux since Nov. 9.
The Flyers have won the past 13 games in which Giroux has had at least a point; he has 26 points in the 13 games. They are 29-12-3 overall in games Giroux scored at least one point and 7-13-4 when he has been kept off the score sheet.
The latest win came Tuesday night, when Giroux scored with 4.2 seconds left in overtime to lift his team to a 3-2 come-from-behind victory against the Chicago Blackhawks.
So Giroux can say "we" and "team" as many times as he wants in every interview he does, but the story of the Flyers' turnaround this season begins and ends with No. 28 in orange with the "C" on his jersey. He belongs in the discussion for the Hart Trophy.
"When he started scoring he started to pick it up, and everyone saw his intensity," Simmonds said. "His intensity is second to none, and everyone follows that."
Simmonds went one further, calling Giroux the most competitive player he has ever played with.
"We could be drinking a glass of water, and he wants to finish his glass of water first," Simmonds said. "He's just so competitive and he has that fire. He's always going no matter what. He knew he had to pick it up and he just took off."
Simmonds isn't alone in his praise.
Defenseman Mark Streit replied "absolutely, 100 percent" when asked if Giroux's value to the Flyers is equivalent to John Tavares' value to the New York Islanders. Streit came to Philadelphia after playing four seasons on Long Island.
"You can tell he's the leader of the group, the captain and the franchise player," Streit said of Giroux. "He's so gifted offensively and he wants to win. Every game he wants to be the best out there, make a difference and carry the team. That's what you want from your captain."
Defenseman Kimmo Timonen hesitated when asked if Giroux is the biggest reason for the Flyers' turnaround, instead choosing to talk about how the team did it collectively. However, even Timonen couldn't dodge the question for too long.
"He's a bigger piece on our team than anybody," Timonen said. "I still like to think about how we turned around this thing, that it's a team effort, but obviously he's our motor, our leader, our captain."
Giroux, not surprisingly, prefers to look at his personal contributions through the team prism. He thinks he started to play better when the team's confidence started to go up.
Is it time for Lou Lamoriello and the New Jersey Devils to move on from Martin Brodeur? What team is this year's dark horse in the playoffs? -- @nNJ030
If Brodeur plays next season, I'd be shocked if he's back with the Devils. One year of having Brodeur with Cory Schneider is OK, but two is too many. The Devils need to sign Schneider to a contract extension, but for him to want to stay, they need to show him that he's their unquestioned No. 1 goalie. It's about time Schneider gets that respect from a team. He's had to deal with some difficult situations, and now he knows he's the guy who will replace a legend, but the Devils and Brodeur need to part ways after this season for the sake of Schneider and the team's future. No matter what happens, I expect Brodeur to have a long post-playing career in the New Jersey organization, and he will have his No. 30 retired as soon as it's possible.
As for my dark horse in this season's playoffs, the field isn't set yet, so it's hard to nail down one. If the New York Rangers get in and stay in the Metropolitan Division side, I think they pose a major threat to the Pittsburgh Penguins because of Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and the offense they're capable of producing with Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis and Chris Kreider. Then again, I also know the Philadelphia Flyers would be a major threat to the Penguins if they make it and stay on the Metropolitan Division side. As you can tell, I'm not sold on Pittsburgh.
If the New York Rangers do not make the playoffs, what do you think will be the first change made this offseason? -- @SHOOT_THE_PUCK
Whether they make the playoffs, one of the first and biggest decisions the Rangers have to make this summer has to do with Brad Richards; do they keep him or use their final compliance buyout on him?
Richards carries a salary-cap charge of $6.67 million, and he's signed through the 2019-20 season. He's had a resurgent season, at least based off how he played last season, but that's a hefty cap charge and a long-term commitment to a player who is 33 years old and clearly on the downside of his career. The other risk is the potential cap-recapture penalties the Rangers would face if Richards retires early.
According to CapGeek.com, Richards' actual salary will be $1 million in each of the final three seasons of his contract. The Rangers would face stiff cap penalties if he retires before his contract runs out. The decision the Rangers make with Richards will shape their offseason regardless if they make the playoffs.
Will Claude Giroux win the Hart Trophy, especially with no other member of the Philadelphia Flyers in the top 20 of scoring? -- @CullenLynch
Sidney Crosby has been running away with the Hart Trophy for quite some time, and I can't see anybody taking it from him now. However, if the Flyers make the playoffs and Giroux continues to produce, I think he should be a finalist for the trophy, maybe even No. 2 behind Crosby.
The argument I know Flyers fans will make is that their team wouldn't have a chance to be in the playoffs if not for Giroux, but Crosby has been just as valuable to the Penguins, only he's been a more productive player and Pittsburgh has been a better team all season despite significant injuries on the back end and some depth issues up front.
Giroux, though, deserves to be in the discussion.
Do you think Ondrej Palat deserves louder Calder Trophy considerations? -- @PavelPilecky
The answer to your question is "yes," but there are a couple of reasons why he isn't garnering as much attention right now:
1) Nathan MacKinnon has long been considered the favorite for the Calder Trophy, and he hasn't given anybody a reason to suggest otherwise.
2) Palat is sharing some of the attention with fellow Lightning rookie Tyler Johnson.
If they were giving out the trophy today, MacKinnon would win in a landslide. But Palat still has 14 games to convince the voters in the Professional Hockey Writers' Association that he deserves to be this year's rookie of the year.
If Palat surges to the finish line and passes MacKinnon in the rookie scoring race (he was six points behind entering Tuesday) the vote will be much harder for the writers. I'd still go with MacKinnon, but I don't vote.
"When the team plays good, everyone is going to be better," Giroux said.
But the Flyers needed Giroux to start contributing for the team's confidence to rise. The problem, as Giroux sees it, is that he was initially trying to do the job of three men, "and that's when you get in trouble."
It wasn't until Giroux settled down and got back to worrying about what he needs to do that the Flyers started to settle down and find their groove.
"We kind of forgot how to have fun out there when we couldn't win," Giroux said. "We started having more fun, winning more games, and the confidence came back."
The confidence came back, and the Flyers started winning because of him, but for Giroux to admit that he'd have to start using words like "I" and "me" instead of "we" and "team," and that's not happening, so Simmonds will instead and again speak up for his captain.
"A lot of times your best player isn't always your hardest worker, but that's definitely not the case here," Simmonds said. "He works his butt off no matter what. I don't see how anyone can sit in this dressing room, watch him do that and not try to emulate it. He hates losing. He just hates it."
High praise for a young Finn
NHL Network and TSN analyst Craig Button has had the same thought each time he has seen Blackhawks prospect Teuvo Teravainen play -- and Button has seen Teravainen play a lot in junior tournaments over the past three years, including the 2014 World Junior Championship, when he helped Finland win gold.
"I tell you who he reminds me of, and he's reminded me of this guy since the first time I saw him -- Igor Larionov," Button said.
Larionov and Button are close friends, so making the comparison between the Hall of Fame player and the 19-year-old who has never suited up in the NHL is not something Button does without some deep thought. Button feels that strongly about Teravainen's future because his hockey sense, skill and elusiveness have been obvious every time he has seen him play.
"The young man is a brilliant player," Button said. "His hockey sense is exceptional; 11 out of 10, just exceptional. What he has I call 360-degree awareness. A lot of players have really good awareness, but his awareness is not just what's happening around him, but how to take advantage. And not just advantage of the players he's playing with and helping them get their strengths into the game, but to exploit."
The Blackhawks are still working out the arrangements to bring Teravainen to the United States now that his season with Jokerit in the Finnish Elite League is over. They also haven't publicly stated what they plan to do with him if and when he arrives; they could send him to the American Hockey League to get his feet wet or throw him right into the NHL furnace.
Button, though, said he thinks Teravainen is good enough to help Chicago now and could possibly be the second-line center behind Jonathan Toews.
"What are you asking him to do? What are you putting him in?" Button said. "To me, boy, Chicago Blackhawks, he gets to play behind Jonathan Toews, wow, that's a pretty nice little setup, isn't it?
"This situation, with smart players, a team that plays fast, and the protection he'd have with Toews in front of him, you're not exposing him to things that maybe he's not ready for. So I think he can come in and help this team. Let me take it one step further: I think he can be a guy that really boosts their skill level and gives them an increased opportunity to defend the Stanley Cup. I do believe that about Teravainen."
Look out for the middle man
Though it may seem absurd considering Alex Ovechkin is the player on the left side, opposing penalty killers have as much to worry about in the middle of the Washington Capitals' second-ranked power play (23.8 percent) as they do when No. 8 cocks back and readies to fire his big one-timer.
Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward have scored a total of 17 power-play goals and average a combined 5:12 of power-play ice time per game as the so-called triggermen in Washington's 1-3-1 setup; they are the players who work in the middle of the ice. Ovechkin leads the League with 20 power-play goals and 5:04 power-play ice time per game.
"Both guys [Brouwer and Ward] are big, strong guys, and in the middle of the ice there you take a pounding; they can handle it and they've done a great job of it," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "Toronto is a good example of it, if you watched the game [Sunday], where they're trying to take Ovi away and because of that, those guys got opportunities and they put the puck in the net. It makes it very difficult for opposing teams and how they cover that. It's a difficult coverage, but you've gotta be able to put it in and take that pounding. That's not easy, so good for them."
In addition to being physical players who can take a pounding, Brouwer and Ward fit the description for the type of player Oates wants in the middle of the power play because they're right-handed shots with quick releases and enough hockey sense to make the proper reads.
The puck typically comes to the middle from either the right-wing half-wall (Nicklas Backstrom) or below the goal line to the right of the net (Marcus Johansson). It rarely, if ever, comes to the middle from the left side because if it goes there, Ovechkin is going to shoot it.
When the puck comes to the middle, Brouwer and Ward have to make a split-second decision on what to do with it because if they take any more time, the penalty killers will collapse on them.
Oates said they've been strong in their reads and decision-making.
"They take a pounding because it doesn't always come perfect," Oates said. "If it doesn't come perfect, you have four guys converging on you fast."
Landeskog thrilled for Mitchell
Colorado Avalanche center John Mitchell signed a three-year contract extension reportedly worth $5.4 million late last week. In a season that has obviously been very kind to the Avalanche, the news of Mitchell's contract came as a welcome surprise to captain Gabriel Landeskog, who excitedly called him "a big part of our team" during a phone interview Monday.
"Second line, third line, fourth line -- he can play on any line really and he can be a productive player, but also a shutdown centerman," Landeskog said. "He's been up and down in the American (Hockey) League before and now he's gotten his chance with us, and it's great to see a guy like that, a hard-working guy like that, getting rewarded with a contract."
Mitchell played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers before arriving in Colorado as a free agent in the summer of 2012. From 2010-12 he played 86 NHL games and 41 AHL games. He never had a contract longer than two years.
However, Mitchell has been a full-time NHL player with the Avalanche the past two seasons, missing only two out of 116 games. He had 20 points in 47 games last season and has 26 points in 68 games this season, including a career-best 99 shots on goal and a plus-11 rating. In addition, he leads Colorado's forwards with 46 blocked shots.
"Last year, he took a puck to the face, and it looked like he had a rainbow all over his face, but he still kept playing and still kept going to the net, kept blocking shots," Landeskog said. "That's the kind of player he is and that's the kind of guy he is. He's an awesome guy. It's great to have around with Nate (MacKinnon) and younger guys like that, teaching those guys the ropes. It's certainly great to see."
Bickell trending up as playoffs near
Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell could come up with excuses for his season-long struggles.
NHL Network and TSN analyst Craig Button talking about Chicago Blackhawks prospect Teuvo Teravainen:
"His poise, I mean, I'm going to guess he's got a resting heart rate of about 15. In the heat of the battle with everything going on, he's just like, 'OK, I gotta make this play, got it.' That's how good he is, and everyone is trying to hit him. I'm always reminded of Brad McCrimmon
talking about Wayne Gretzky
. People used to say, 'Nobody hits Gretzky,' but McCrimmon said, 'Well, we tried to hit Gretzky, but you couldn't hit him.' He said it was like hugging fog. That's how Teravainen is -- elusive, evasive."
Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates on what is starting to trend well as his team tries to climb up the Metropolitan Division standings:
"Our whole team depends on how we get out of our own end. I've always said to the guys we're not going to have a problem scoring goals. You look at it [Sunday against Toronto], we have plenty of chances, we get goals, but at the end of the day, we only had three with an empty-netter, so you've gotta play in your own end. We need a commitment to play in our own end."
He could use his offseason thumb surgery, which set him back in his summer training and was the reason he wasn't ready for the start of the season. Then there is the left-knee injury he sustained in November, an injury he still recognizes to this day only because he's still required to wear a cumbersome brace that he'd love to take off.
Bickell won't do it. His season has not been up to snuff, and he knows it. He has 12 points in 52 games. Those aren't numbers worthy of the four-year, $16 million contract he signed in late June, after he helped drive the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup championship with nine goals and eight assists in 23 playoff games.
But with the playoffs less than a month away, Bickell feels his game is finally rounding into form. He said the mental aspect of knowing the playoffs are near might have something to do with how he feels and how he's playing.
"I need to be physical, and I feel the last three or four games it's been like that," Bickell said Tuesday morning. "I've been hitting more, getting myself in the game. If I do that my confidence improves, and that's what playoffs are all about, the grinders that hit and wear down the D and wear down the forwards."
In addition to physicality, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said Bickell has played faster in the middle of the ice and the puck seems to be finding him. Quenneville, though, doesn't like that it's taken this long for Bickell to find his game, and he scoffed at the notion that his improved play has to do with the time of year.
"I don't know if that's a really good excuse to only play certain times of the year," Quenneville said. "We'd like him to have more consistency in his game, but we certainly like the way he's trending."
This and that
* Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov has won 10 of the past 11 games in which he faced 35 or more shots. He is 17-1-3 in such games this season.
* Speaking of the Avalanche: On St. Patrick's Day 2013, they were last in the Western Conference with 24 points and a minus-13 goal differential in 27 games; this season on St. Patrick's Day, they had the fourth-most points in the West (93) with a plus-28 goal differential in 68 games. Ironically, the turnaround has a lot to do with another St. Patrick.
* Calgary Flames forward Mike Cammalleri has six goals and three assists in eight games since not being traded at the March 5 NHL Trade Deadline.
Cammalleri is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, but the Flames held on to him at the deadline. Brian Burke, the team's president and acting general manager, has stated his interest in re-signing the 31-year-old center. Burke offered Cammalleri a contract extension late last month.
* Dallas Stars forward Alex Chiasson had nine goals in his first 10 NHL games, but has nine goals in his past 62 games. Chiasson, though, has three goals in the past seven games after scoring one in the previous 32.
* Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal has no goals in 10 games this month and six goals in the 24 games he's played since he wasn't named to the Canadian Olympic team. The Hurricanes are 4-6-0 this month and 11-13-0 in their past 24 games, and that includes a stretch of winning seven of 10 from Jan. 18-Feb. 7.