Claude Giroux doesn’t miss a lot of hockey games. Never has in his career. He hates not playing. He’s durable, reliable, and will play through the nagging injuries to help his team win.

Every once in a while, Giroux will miss games. However, there have only been three times in his career when Giroux has missed multiple games in a row, and each were because of protocols outside of his control, otherwise you can bet he would have played.

In December of 2011, Giroux missed four games in a row after being evaluated for a concussion as the result of accidentally being kneed in the head by teammate Wayne Simmonds.

In February of 2016, Giroux missed three straight games after being put into concussion protocol following a high hit to the head from then-Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban.

And last week he missed a pair of games due to COVID-19 protocol after testing positive for the virus.

That’s it. That’s pretty remarkable in a physical sport like hockey, but that’s the kind of player Giroux is. He’s a throwback. He’s old school. Hell, if he played two decades earlier, he probably would have played through those “headaches” and that bout with the “flu.”

Because, as was said earlier, he hates missing games.

And he likes to remind us that he hates missing games as soon as he gets back to playing them.

Wednesday was no different.

Giroux returned to the ice and was easily the most noticeable player.  He led the Flyers in shots on goal with eight. He had three assists. He rejuvenated what had been a lackluster power play. He won a bunch of faceoffs. He even was called on to kill penalties, especially late, for a unit that is definitely lost in the wilderness.

He did a little bit of everything and did it well. Combine his efforts with another rock-solid performance by Brian Elliott in net (don’t let the score fool you, he made countless big saves) and the Flyers broke their brief losing skid by toppling the New York Rangers 4-3 at Wells Fargo Center.

The win put the Flyers (9-4-3, 21 points) back into a three-way tie for third place in the East Division with Pittsburgh and the New York Islanders, but the Flyers have the tiebreaker advantage on both teams, having a game in hand on the Pens and two games in hand on the Isles.

After a weekend trip to Buffalo for two games, the Flyers have a colossal and unprecedented three-game road trip in Pittsburgh next week.

But before we look too far ahead, let’s get back to Giroux.

I pointed out those other times he missed multiple games for a reason – and it wasn’t just to show his durability, but I’ll take that as a bonus.

No, I wanted to show you how he responded to missing multiple games.

In 2011, he returned to the lineup during a game in Dallas (you may remember this one as the game coach Peter Laviolette and Stars captain Steve Ott got into a shouting match over who got to walk up the tunnel first). And although we sensationalized the hell out of that Lavy-Ott clash, especially because the HBO cameras were also rolling as they were filming the Road to the Winter Classic, the real story of that game was Giroux, who returned by scoring a goal and adding three assists for four points in a Flyers victory.

Fast forward to 2016. In Giroux’s first game back after missing time, a home game against the Arizona Coyotes, Giroux scored a goal – in more limited playing time. He had much more action the next game, a home game against Calgary, and netted four assists.

Then there was last night:

That was the game-winner by Kevin Hayes, set up nicely by Giroux. However, Giroux deserved to score, probably two goals. He had eight shots on goal, but Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin, despite allowing four goals, was also very good in net and made a few big stops.

The Flyers captain also hit the post with a shot early in the third period.

Fans often scream for Giroux to take over a game. He doesn’t have to. He’s a great player because of the subtle things in a hockey game. But every once in a while, he’ll remind you that he can be the best player on the ice, like he did Wednesday, much to the surprise of his coach, Alain Vigneault, who didn’t think Giroux would be so effective after a two-week quarantine and very little practice time to get his skating legs back under him.

“I was surprised – (and that) would be an understatement,” Vigneault said. “I didn’t really know what to expect. You could tell early on that he had his game. Geez, he had a lot of jump. He had quickness to his game, he was making plays. So I used him and he didn’t seem to be fatigued at all. He’s a big part of us getting this win. I was able to use him 5-on-5, I was able to use him obviously on the power play and threw him out there a couple of times on the PK. This was one of his better games all year.”

The lesson here is don’t ever be surprised by Giroux – especially if it’s his first game back after missing multiple games in a row. His 2-6-8 scoring line in the three times that’s happened in his career should be telling.

Giroux was a great story Wednesday, but he wasn’t the only story. Here’s a few more nuggets for you:

1. Shots, shots, shots

Yes, the Flyers outshot an opponent for just the fifth time in their last 29 games, including last summer’s playoffs. But, they also set a season-high in shots on goal with 39.

The previous high was 31 and this was only the third time in 16 games that they cracked that 30-shot plateau.

The Flyers also attempted an additional 33 shots that either weren’t on goal or were blocked by the Rangers, finishing ahead of the Rangers in total shots attempted as well, by a count of 72-50.

That’s a big disparity.

We already talked about Giroux leading the way with eight shots on goal, but the defensemen had 12 shots on goal. Shayne Gostisbehere led the way with six of those, and in the process, scored his first goal since December, 2019:

That’s a good spot to get Ghost – on the half wall. Yes, he’s a wiz at keeping pucks in at the blue line and yes he has a bomb of a slap shot, but his accuracy isn’t what it used to be, so getting him a little closer with that big shot creates more chances for puck to be on net and if his shot doesn’t go in, it can either be redirected or a rebound opportunity could emerge.

Erik Gustafsson, who had a two-point night, sets up the goal by getting a shot through. Now, it’s important to note that his shot technically goes down as a missed shot, but he put it hard and low close to the net which allowed for a carom of the end boards right to Ghost, who knew how to finish.

I asked Gustafsson about getting more shots toward the net from the defense:

“We talked about it before (the game). We need to shoot more pucks on net. Like you said, we are the worst team in the league to put pucks to the net. But also, the last game we played against them, they blocked a lot of shots. We talked a lot about doing one-timers and having the puck go quick to the net. That’s what we tried to do.”

They did. In fact, the Flyers first goal of the game, also came from the defense:

It was Gustafsson’s first goal as a Flyer (you may remember him scoring on opening night, but the goal was later changed to Nolan Patrick).

Again, this was a result of getting shots through. The Rangers do like to get into shooting lanes and Gustafsson, for all his head-scratching plays in his own end this season, does a good job of getting pucks through on offense and now leads the Flyers defensemen in scoring this season.

“I think a big part of us getting more shots on net starts with our back end,” Vigneault said. “When our back end finds a way to get pucks through, obviously it creates more scrambles and it creates more looks. For us, we were talking about getting more pucks to the net. I think a lot of it starts with our back end, and we have some guys there who, in my estimation, should be able to get pucks through. When (you are an) offensive defenseman, yeah there is that pass, there is that breakout, there is that supporting the attack, but there is also getting your shots on net and a lot of that starts with our back end.”

2. Ell’s 10 Bells

Carter Hart may be off to a slower start than many expected this season, but the Flyers have been fortunate to have a veteran presence like Brian Elliott available to offer some relief whenever Hart needs to recalibrate.

Elliott came up huge again for the Flyers Wednesday. He may have only recorded 24 saves, and yes, he allowed three goals, but in the flow of the game, he needed to make several big stops to keep the Rangers at arm’s length.

He stopped Mika Zibanajad on a breakaway… twice:

And every time the Flyers seemed to have a defensive breakdown, Elliott stood tall in net and kept the puck out of harm’s way:

Elliott has now made five starts for the Flyers and relieved Hart twice in a game. Elliott is 4-1-0 with a 2.38 GAA and a .922 save percentage.

With the schedule getting ready to ramp up – the Flyers have 19 games scheduled in 33 days before the end of March, don’t be surprised if you see Moose in net a little more regularly than you might have thought coming into the season.

Hart is still the starter, but Elliott will likely get between 6-8 of those games, barring injury to either goalie.

3. JVR again

I don’t have to say much here. The comeback player of the year continues to produce and I just wanted to find a spot to show you his ninth goal of the season:

It was a pretty pass by Joel Farabee, but his game went downhill after this play. Farabee made a bad pass that lead to a breakaway chance for the Rangers, and then took a bad penalty in the third period.

But this isn’t about Farabee, who prior to last night has been an offensive spark for this team, but rather about van Riemsdyk, who continues to be better than a point-per-game player in the Flyers lineup.

No reason to question it, just enjoy the ride he is providing.

4. Penalty killing, killing us all

At one point last night I asked Flyers Twitter a question:

This one, was the most accurate:

The Flyers penalty kill is completely out of whack right now. Yes, it looks worse with guys like Scott Laughton, Oskar Lindblom and Justin Braun not in the lineup, but to be honest, it wasn’t very good when they were in the lineup.

On the season, the Flyers PK is only killing penalties at a 70.2 % clip, which stinks. It’s 29th out of 31 teams in the NHL, ahead of only the woeful Nashville Predators (68.9%) and the New Jersey Devils, who, if they keep up their historically bad pace will be the 2020 Phillies bullpen equivalent of killing penalties (59.1%).

The thing that is most befuddling is that teams are able to get guys wide open at the net on a power play. Call me cray, but isn’t it the defense’s responsibility to keep guys away from the net.

Chris Kreider scored all three goals for the Rangers, two on the power play, an both times he was wide open in front of the net.

Phil Myers lost him once. Robert Hagg the other time. Hagg has really struggled of late. I have to assume he’s the defenseman who will come out of the lineup as Braun returns.

Still, this is not a good penalty kill unit at all. Sure, they’re probably pressing a bit. Yes, they are trying to help each other and cover for mistakes, but the Flyers group is not good enough to recover when things start to get scrambled.

There’s not much time or opportunity to fix it – but they have to find a way to stop the bleeding, or it could be their Achilles’ heel when the games really start to matter even more.

5. A couple of notes on hat tricks

Kreider’s hatty was the third allowed by the Flyers this season. Per NHL Stats and Information, it was the first time in franchise history they had allowed three hat tricks in the first 16 games of a season.

It also happened that Kreider’s hat trick came one game after David Pastrnak’s second hatty against the Flyers this season.

According to SanFilippo stats and research (I need an intern), it was the first time the Flyers have allowed hat tricks in consecutive games in quite a while:

Not good.

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