The Philadelphia Flyers were slumping badly on offense early this season, and it was hurting them in the standings. But the return of Vincent Lecavalier to the lineup and a move by new coach Craig Berube to juggle lines has helped reinvigorate the Philadelphia offense and may have helped save the season. Lecavalier has been the catalyst for the Flyers' new and improved offensive attack.
The Flyers had scored two goals or fewer in each of their first nine games this season, which makes it tough for the team to win many hockey games. Lecavalier, who had signed as a free agent over the summer, was out of the lineup for three games with a lower body injury. The Flyers scored a grand total of just five goals and went 0-3-0 in the games Lecavalier missed.
When Lecavalier returned to practice prior to the October 24 game against the New York Rangers, Berube decided to make a change to the lineup in order to reinvigorate his floundering attack. He moved Lecavalier from his natural center position to the right wing and then moved him from the second lineup to the top trio alongside Claude Giroux.
Berube told Tim Panaccio of CSNPhilly.com, "I wanted to get him [Lecavalier] out there with Giroux and see how he looked...I thought he fit in there pretty good with Giroux on the wing."
The coach also thought the change would get Giroux out of his early season slump.
Berube told Sarah Baicker of CSNPhilly.com:
I just think Claude, he'll be very excited to play with a guy of Vinny's caliber and experience that he's had over the years, Stanley Cup champion and all those things. Vinny's a great goal scorer, shoots the puck very well. We all know how Claude can pass the puck. So it can be a good combination.
There was some progress immediately. The Flyers beat the Rangers 2-1, which was a step in the right direction despite the low goal production. But the offense started to kick into gear in that game. Lecavalier didn't look great, there was some rust, but there were some signs of improvement as well. The longtime Lightning star registered four shots on goal while Giroux picked up two after getting only one shot on net in the two previous games.
Then came the breakout game against the New York Islanders. Berube added rookie Michael Raffl to the top line, and it gelled. Lecavalier scored a hat trick on seven shots on goal. Raffl picked up his first NHL point by assisting on one of Lecavalier's three goals while Giroux had two helpers and some quality scoring chances. The Flyers scored five goals, the first time all season they scored more than two in a game.
No NHL team had failed to score three goals in any of its first 10 games since the 1940 New York Americans. The Flyers avoided matching that dubious record and regained some of their flagging confidence.
Giroux was impressed with what he saw from his new winger. "He dove for the puck with second effort and we love seeing that," Giroux told Rob Parent of the Daily Times. "He's a guy with a lot of character and never gives up."
Berube also inserted Lecavalier on the first power-play unit against the Islanders. The result was a 1-of-3 performance with the man advantage by the Flyers.
Lecavalier saw the value of his performance for the team that night. "This was a really good game for me and the team," the former Lightning forward told Allan Kreda of the Associated Press. "Overall, tonight is a good confidence boost for everybody. It feels really good to score more than two goals."
Together, Lecavalier and Giroux make a very dangerous duo. Lecavalier has the size and speed that should give Giroux more room to operate. The veteran has also won a Stanley Cup, served as a team captain and knows the kind of pressure that Giroux is under to produce as the highly touted young star expected to carry a team offensively.
Lecavalier knows he needs to mentor his younger linemate at times. He told Baicker of CSNPhilly.com:
He puts pressure on himself for sure, I think that's what makes him who he is: a great player. I can be that way, all the guys can, sometimes, be too intense. Slow down and say, "We're playing good, we're getting our chances, it's going to come." I'll definitely try to bring that, and we'll definitely talk in between shifts and make sure we're on the same page.
It's a very small sample size, but so far, the return of Lecavalier and the decision to pair him with Giroux has given the Flyers offense a much-needed spark. As long as the improved production continues, Berube is likely to keep his dynamic duo together as the Flyers begin their long climb back into contention in the new Metropolitan Division.