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October 21, 2015

Flyers' offense, top line off to slow start

Claude Giroux is a competitive guy, so there wasn’t anything of the ordinary when he was visibly chirping out on the ice Tuesday night. Nobody will soon forget the colorful sound bites that the Flyers captain produced on HBO’s 24/7 a few years back.

The targets of Giroux’s verbal jabs? Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, the Dallas Stars’ two big guns, the highest scoring duo in the NHL last season. 

“I mean, they’re good players and we both want to win,” Giroux said. “So we try to do whatever we can to play our best and they have a lot of talent on that team.”

Despite Giroux’s best efforts, Dallas’ top line (which also includes three-time Cup champ and #FormerFlyer Patrick Sharp) noticeably outplayed the Flyers’ scoring line. Benn and Seguin were part of a relentless forecheck that kept the puck in the Flyers’ zone for much of the first period, and the duo scored both goals in the Stars’ 2-1 victory.

For both teams, the game’s result was a continuance of the level that their top lines are playing at early in the season. Good news for Dallas, bad news for Philly. Hey, at least we’re still ahead in the NFC East!

Benn and Seguin are alone atop the entire league with ten points apiece, while Giroux and Jake Voracek have surprisingly only combined for three. With so little production from his best two players, Dave Hakstol probably shouldn’t be too displeased with his team’s 2-2-1 record.

The Flyers didn’t play so hot against Dallas until the third period, but it must be said that Antti Niemi (34 saves on 35 shots) was on top of his game. Everyone will bring up the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals as if the 32-year-old netminder is some sort of “Flyers killer,” but Niemi wasn’t any good in that series (.882 SV percentage). Last night, he was better than good.

“I thought we had second opportunities, sometimes third opportunities and he was stopping the puck,” Wayne Simmonds said. He would know (GIF via @BradyTrett):

Last year, one of the major talking points surrounding the Flyers’ struggles was a lack of secondary scoring. Now with the first line unable to perform the heavy lifting required of them with a less than ideal roster, nobody can find the back of the net. The Orange and Black’s 1.60 goals per game currently ranks 28th out of 30 teams.

The good news for Giroux, Voracek, Michael Raffl is that the indicators still look pretty good. Generally, they are still generating 5-on-5 chances at around the rates they are accustomed to. Logically, we should start seeing some goals from the top line sooner rather than later.

Just last night, the trio fired 17 shots on net, but Niemi turned them all away. Sometimes, you just can’t buy a bucket. Their coach, who gets asked about the transition from college hockey at least once every press conference, certainly isn’t hitting the panic button. Tonight at the Gahhhden would be a good place to start a turnaround.

“They just have to stay with it and they will,” Dave Hakstol said. “I thought they played really well tonight other than the puck going in the net. Stay positive, stay with it, come back tomorrow night with the follow-up game and play really well again.”

Even if the top line can’t get anything going at even strength, maybe they can figure something out with the man advantage. The first power play unit of Giroux, Voracek, Raffl, Simmonds, and Mark Streit needs to be better than the one goal they’ve accounted for thus far.

Overall, the Flyers are 3-16 (18.8 percent) on the power play. This isn’t a far cry (a post here, a ridiculous Niemi save there) from the third-best unit in the league last year at 23.4 percent. It does feel like the power play’s timing is just a hair off, though.

For this Flyers team to survive, they need to feast on the man advantage. There is no reason they shouldn’t, either. Joe Mullen is still overseeing everything, and Giroux is still a major weapon operating primarily on the left side.

“Maybe sometimes, just have to get a little simpler and just find a way to get one to go and that will open it up,” Hakstol said.

That’s the hope. Score one, and maybe the floodgates open up. Just imagine if and when Giroux does something on the ice actually worth talking smack about.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann