Chemistry, Success of Power Play Continue for Flyers in 2-1 Win Over Devils

By David Strehle
NHL H
ot Stove Managing Editor

There have been some positive signs during this pre-season for the Flyers, but two have stood out among the rest. The chemistry between newcomer Jaromir Jagr and Claude Giroux has been something to behold over the past several games, and the team’s improved power play unit.  In Thursday night’s 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils at Wells Fargo Center, both were on full display.  The dynamic duo of Giroux and Jagr combined on the game-winner with just over seven minutes left in regulation, and the power play accounted for each of the two Flyer tallies.

After Monday’s game Jagr threw some pretty lofty praise to the play of Giroux, as he called him “a little genius“, as well as “Little Mario Lemieux“.  Jagr also said that “you always have to be ready for the puck“, and tonight’s goal was a prime example of just that fact.

Jagr's stick breaks after he put home the game-winning power play goal (Photo credit: AP Photo / Matt Slocum)

With Zach Parise in the penalty box for goaltender interference, Jagr stationed himself at the right post.  Giroux carried the puck along the left wing wall, then quickly sent a pass that Jagr tapped into the open New Jersey cage.  ”He was the only one who saw me,” Jagr said after the game.  ”“I broke it over the post,” Jagr said of his twig.  ”You know, it was a hard pass and I wanted to make sure that I got it in.  It was a great pass.  Perfect.”

The 39-year-old laughed.  ”I told you this,” Jagr said.  ”He’s got different passes, you’ve got to be ready.”

In just his third exhibition contest, it was goal number four and point number six for Jagr – and the third tally on a suddenly-deadly power play.  Also impressive is the fact that Jagr has scored the four goals on just eight shots on goal, which is likely due to the fact that he has had Giroux setting the table so beautifully.

Jagr was asked if it was surprising to him that the two have developed such a lethal chemistry in just a couple of games.  ”Sometimes it happens and I’m glad it happened.  It’s not easy to play with me, trust me,” he said as he laughed.  ”There’s not many guys over the years that I was happy with.  (Recently released Michael) Nylander and Lemieux, that’s about it.”

Giroux, who had the primary assist on both goals tonight, now has seven assists in four pre-season games.  The 23-year-old center was equally enamored with Jagr, and said that #68 creates space for him to operate.  ”Just the way he gets open, it’s pretty unbelievable,” Giroux said of Jagr.  ”He moves the puck quick and it takes two seconds and he is open again.  Any time you play with a guy like that its going to open up a lot of plays.”

Contrary to Jagr’s self-descriptive words as being difficult to play with, Giroux has only seen positives.  ”He is heavy on the puck and he wins a lot of battles,” Giroux explained.  ”He is always ready to try different plays.  When you see it, you get really excited about it.”

For many fans who have witnessed the level that Jagr still operates after returning from the KHL, it has been amazing, and the same can be said by the observations of his new teammates.  “I haven’t seen him for like three years when he was playing for the Rangers,” Giroux stated.  ”I didn’t really know what to expect.  He didn’t miss a beat.”

As for their linemate on the night, Wayne Simmonds, Jagr likes what he brings to their play.  ”He’s a great, strong guy and he’s got the big body, big reach,” Jagr said of Simmonds.  ”And all the pucks from the rebounds, because I think we’re going to shoot a lot, he’s getting everything.”

Pronger Returns

Tonight marked the first game action following off-season back surgery for new captain and top defenseman Chris Pronger.  In 19:35 of ice time, Pronger assisted on a goal and blocked two shots.

After understandably looking a bit slow in the first period, the key to the Flyers blue line picked up his play as the game progressed.  “Well the game was a little bit different,” Pronger said, noting that the style of play helped him get more into the game.  ”The first period there wasn’t a lot of flow.  It was pretty choppy, but quick, and as the game settled in a little bit more structure you feel a little bit more comfortable and able to do obviously more things.  Get into a few scrums.  Get into a few pushing matches and kind of see how you feel and go from there.”

Pronger’s teammates were happy to have him back.

He looked good,” Giroux said.  ”Anytime you’ve got a player like (Pronger) in the lineup, it kind of slows down the game and makes everybody more comfortable.”

He’s a big presence around the blue line,” said Simmonds.  ”He calms the guys down, he talks a lot.  He lets you know the proper position and where to be.  He makes it a lot easier out there for guys.”

Trust me, it’s not easy to come back from a long time away when you don’t play for a long time,” Jagr explained about the difficulty of coming back from a prolonged injury.  ”For me, if I don’t practice for a week, I can’t play.  Trust me, it’s not easy.  He did a great job, no question about it.”

Jagr continued as to the importance that Pronger will add to the club.  With his reach and toughness it is very hard to play against him,” he said.  ”You have to always make sure that you know where he is because you never know when he’s going to hit you. When you have him on your team, that is a big bonus.” 

Head coach Peter Laviolette knows how just how vital his defensive lynchpin is to the ultimate success of his club.

There’s also something to be said about coming back and finding your timing and getting into live battles and finding your game,” said the coach.  ”He’s not trying to prove anything.  He’s played a lot of games in his career.  If he just walked into the Boston game (season opener on October 6th), I’m sure we’d get a great effort out of him, or whenever it was he came back.  So it was good that he wanted to get back into the game.”

The Resurrection of the Power Play

The power play was somewhat of an Achilles heel last year, especially down the stretch.  Even though it is still the exhibition season, there is a great optimism about the play of the man advantage unit.  After going 2-4 tonight, the power play has clicked at a blistering 5-12 clip in the last two contests.

I don’t know it was just one game, but the other games that I have watched were doing a good job of moving, not staying stagnant,” Pronger noted.  ”You know, we’ve got some interchangeable parts that can move around.  We can set up on the left, the right, no matter who’s out there.  That’s a nice luxury to have and it allows us a lot of good looks, and we had a number tonight.”

Simmonds had a great explanation of the game plan.  “To be honest, they asked me to stand in front of the net,” the big winger said.  ”It’s a pretty easy job when you’re playing with Giroux and Jagr out there.  They’ll get pucks through I know that all I really have to do is go and stand there and try and get pucks and be a screen.”

Again, it comes back to Giroux and Jagr making things so much easier with their play.  Tonight, they made all the difference.

 


If you have any comments or questions, you can email the author at dstrehle@nhlhotstove.com.  You can also follow him on Twitter – @David_Strehle