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Flyers look to keep winning without concussed stars Pronger, Giroux

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

MONTREAL - The Philadelphia Flyers kept on winning when star defenceman Chris Pronger suffered a concussion and they hope to do the same now that the plague of head injuries has claimed NHL scoring leader Claude Giroux.

The Flyers passed their first test without Giroux when they drubbed the Capitals in Washington 5-1 on Tuesday night. They are 1-0-0 without Giroux and 11-4-1 without Pronger this season.

And they will take a six-game winning streak into the Bell Centre to face the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night.

"Losing Claude, you never want to see it happen," coach Peter Laviolette said Wednesday. "He's established himself as a top player in the league and when you take a piece like that out, you find yourself having to fill the void in a lot of different places.

"He plays every situation imaginable for our club. He plays the most minutes and he does it on a nightly basis. To remove that, you need your team to step up and play a strong game. That's what happened in Washington."

It is much the same formula that has been followed by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have a winning record despite missing superstar Sidney Crosby, top defenceman Kris Letang and others to concussions.

No time has been set for the return of either Giroux or Pronger, who has missed 10 games since his concussion and who was to see a specialist in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

Rookie Brayden Schenn is also on the mend from a concussion.

He skated with his teammates for the first time since the injury two weeks ago and said he felt better, but Laviolette said he is still not ready to play.

Pronger and Giroux are part of a growing list of top NHL skaters sidelined with concussions. Ottawa's Milan Michalek, who leads the league in goals with 19, and Carolina's budding star Jeff Skinner as well as defenceman Joni Pitkanen are the latest to join the list.

The loss of Giroux adds some drama for the film crew that was shooting on the ice during practice for the HBO series 24/7, the first episode of which was to air Wednesday night. The crew is tracking the day to day activities of the Flyers and New York Rangers heading into the Jan. 1 Winter Classic game, just as they did with the Penguins and Capitals last season.

They have seen a team that has exceeded expectations since they dealt away two of their top forwards, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, and lost free agent enforcer Dan Carcillo, in a major chemistry remix.

Instead of taking a step back to rebuild, the Flyers have been even stronger with a 19-7-3 record. They lead the NHL with 106 goals after 29 games.

"I don't think too many people expected us to be where we are," said centre Daniel Briere. "I believe hard work and speed is the name of our team and the reason we're up there.

"A lot of young hungry guys that still have a lot to prove. People didn't realize that when we traded Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. I was like everyone else, a bit in shock that two superstars were moving away. But I remember our GM (Paul Holmgren) said at the time those were good hockey trades. People will realize it in time."

Briere said the deals gave the team more depth, which will be tested with Giroux's 39 points in 28 games out of the lineup.

Giroux's spot on the top line between Scott Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr is being taken by rookie Sean Couturier, who was chosen eighth overall with a draft pick obtained in the Carter trade to Columbus. Couturier had five goals playing mostly on the fourth line, and has been praised for his strong two-way play.

Jacub Voracek (19 points) and Wayne Simmonds (eight goals) were also acquired in the trades and have become regulars.

It was Simmonds who accidentally injured Giroux, catching him on the head with a knee as he tried to leap over the centre during a 5-2 win over Tampa Bay on Saturday.

"I didn't feel too much how I hit him, but I knew I hit him and as I was skating up the ice I turned around and he was still down," the Toronto native said. "Obviously I was worried about him."

The Flyers have got goals from many sources. Hartnell has 15 and is on a career-high six-game goal-scoring streak. Rookie Matt Read has 11, Jagr has 10 and Briere has nine.

Hartnell said there won't be a lot of controversy on 24/7 from inside the Flyers' room, which has been mostly a happy place this season.

"Hopefully I'm not swearing too much," Hartnell said with a laugh. "I know my mom and dad wouldn't be proud of that.

"But it's a pretty cool thing. They're good guys. The main thing is they're not intrusive or in your face all the time. They're like flies on the wall, which is cool because you can just be yourself."

The Flyers are 11-3-1 on the road and are on pace to beat the team record of 24 road wins set in 2002-03.

One of their road losses was by 5-1 in Montreal on Oct. 26, when the Canadiens ended a six-game losing streak hours after assistant coach Perry Pearn was fired.

The Canadiens have won two games in a row since acquiring defenceman Tomas Kaberle in a trade with Carolina. They will be without checking winger Travis Moen, who left a 5-3 win Tuesday night over the New York Islanders with a lower body injury. Montreal called up winger Mike Blunden from AHL Hamilton.


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