TORONTO – The success Danny Briere experienced last spring has spilled over into this season.
Briere scored a pair of goals and added an assist Thursday in the Philadelphia Flyers’ 4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The diminutive centre has four goals in his last four games and has scored 16 times in all this season.
Briere led the way with 30 points in 23 games in last spring’s Stanley Cup run, as Philadelphia fell to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. Most of that production came while playing between Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino, a trio that has continued to thrive this season.
“It started last year in the playoffs, playing with Ville and then Scotty,” said Briere, who has 37 points in 34 career games against Toronto. “For some reason it just keeps going and even through some tough times early in the season, the coach kept us together, didn’t mess up our line.
“We love playing with each other, we seem to have that chemistry in finding each other really well. That’s a big reason I have goals right now.”
The Flyers’ glut of quality centres meant Briere was bounced to the wing at times last season. He’s happy to have carved out a permanent spot at his preferred position, a place that suits his small frame—generously listed at five-foot-10—much better.
“I’ve played (centre) my whole life,” Briere said. “It was a little bit of an adjustment last year. Not being the biggest guy, on the wing sometimes you’re up and down and you play the game differently. In the middle, you’re always supporting everybody on the ice, you’re always on the go. Playing it my whole life, it just feels more comfortable.”
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette has certainly picked up on Briere’s feelings about skating in the middle.
“He’s been comfortable there for quite some time,” he said. “That line has been a dangerous line for us. At times it seems like it bounces from line to line on who’s hot and who’s going, but that line, for the most part, has been fairly consistent through the playoffs and the start of this year.”
While he’s always exhibited a scoring touch, twice posting 32-goal seasons, Briere has been primarily a setup man throughout his career. This season he’s on pace for 47 goals and just 20 assists.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” he said with a grin. “Playing with a guy like Ville Leino, who holds onto the puck and creates a lot of room, and Scotty, who takes up a lot of space and defenders away in front of the net, it gives me the chance to get open and get more shots. My shot total is way higher than it usually is, as well.”
After posting a career-best 95 points with the Buffalo Sabres in 2006-07, Briere signed an eight-year deal with the Flyers worth US$6.5 million annually. After a few seasons where he produced less than expected and battled some injuries, Briere has found his place in Philly.
“There’s no doubt that since the playoffs last year, this is the best I’ve felt, the most comfortable I’ve been,” he said. “(My) responsibilities are up. Any hockey player who’s competitive, you want those responsibilities.”