What many believed was just crazy science is now a proven hypothesis. Dave Hakstol’s preseason lab experiment of putting Claude Giroux on left wing has encouraging test results.
“That’s what we were looking for, and if you think back to it, those guys had a practice together and then we went away from it a bit,” Hakstol said. “There’s obviously some big changes there for ‘G’ and a different look with those three guys together. Give credit to those three guys. They’ve dug in and they’ve worked hard at it. Looking at it tonight, for sure, it’s an option.”
With one more preseason test run, the next true phase of the “G to the wing” project alongside Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek will begin Oct. 4 in San Jose.
Thursday night’s 5-1 win over the Bruins was the proof the coaching staff and the front office needed to see against the most complete NHL level of competition the Flyers have played against during the preseason (see observations).
“I think today was our best game,” Giroux said. “We found each other a little bit better. We keep playing together, building on what we’re doing. Obviously, we’ve got some room for improvement, but we did a lot of good things out there.”
Giroux had a pair of assists in the victory. The trio of Giroux, Couturier and Voracek combined for six points and a plus-3 rating as each player turned in multi-point nights. If you were to chart the efficiency of this line over the course of this week's three games, the unit has continued to move in an upward trajectory.
“Yeah, I think we’ve gotten better every single game, especially on the turnovers,” Voracek said. “When we turn the puck over in the neutral zone, we go forward, which is really important. I think we can do it better.”
The move from center alleviates Giroux’s defensive responsibilities. In turn, Giroux can take more chances in the offensive zone while potentially increasing his shot production from the off wing.
“It’s different with ‘G’ on the left plank. I think he can risk a little bit more than when he was at center,” Voracek said. “For his advantage I think it’s real important that he can use the boards because he’s a very smart player. If you know how to use the boards, it’s a big advantage. I think we’ve been very good and we’ve just got to keep going.“
From that first day of the experiment, Giroux has seemed to embrace the change. Now he has the results to show for it with a pair of assists in each of his last two games at wing.
“When you play with two good players like that, and our D corps is playing great right now, it makes everybody’s job a lot easier,” Giroux said. “We like playing with each other, so hopefully we keep playing together.”
Welcome to the fight club
Picking on someone his own age is somewhat difficult to find for 19-year-old Nolan Patrick, so Thursday night he elected to go after a veteran 12 years his senior when he dropped the gloves with Boston center David Krejci (see video). Krejci had not fought in the regular season since 2011.
“Not that old,” Patrick said jokingly when asked who was the oldest opponent he’s fought. “Kind of happened, I really wasn’t thinking too much. It kind of happens fast on the ice. Adrenaline kicks in. I’m not scared to do it if it happens, but it’s not a huge part of my game.”
“That wasn’t a necessity, but he did what he had to do in that situation,” Hakstol said. “There’s a couple other teammates that got in there and did a real good job, and for Nolan’s part, he did his part.”
Krejci even admitted he had some respect for the rookie for being willing to fight.
“Yeah, I don’t want to speak for him, but I felt like he was little over the line. He was willing to go, too,” Krejci said. “It wasn’t like I dropped and he was surprised. He was expecting that, so I kind of got to give him respect for that. First year in the league, so good for him. But at the same time, I thought he crossed the line a little bit. We fought and now it’s over with.”
When Patrick left the box approximately 4:30 into the third period, the home crowd gave the rookie a nice applause for the effort, and somewhere, Ed Snider was smiling.
In like a Lyon
Goalie Alex Lyon skated in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Thursday morning preparing as the backup for the Flyers’ game against Boston. Afterward, Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon informed Lyon that Michal Neuvirth was sick and he would be called on to start against the Bruins. So, Lyon and Phantoms backup Leland Irving carpooled from Allentown to Philadelphia during the afternoon.
Lyon responded by stopping 31 of 32 shots in earning the win, and perhaps leaving him with some confidence that he can fill in at a moment’s notice.
“Every minute I can get in here is big for confidence,” Lyon said. “It’s nice whenever you get up here to get that chemistry going with the guys, too. I felt good tonight, but the team was fabulous tonight. They played so well in front of me and made it easy.”
Lyon was expected to be back in the driver’s seat for the car ride back to Allentown since Irving is the projected starter for the Phantoms’ preseason game at the PPL Center against the Charlotte Checkers on Friday.