I've watched quite a bit of the Philadelphia Flyers this postseason. Not sure why, really, since I despise them ordinarily. But now that we're in the Stanley Cup Finals and I have to choose between them or the Chicago Blackhawks, the choice has been simple. Go Philly.
But back to the point of watching the Flyers in this postseason. I watched in Eastern Conference Semifinals as the Flyers went into that now historical 3-0 hole to the Bruins and then the turnaround that came. The first win came in overtime, the closest you can possibly get to being snuffed out of the playoffs while in a 3-0 hole. As I noticed game in and game out after that pivotal game four, it wasn't the stars of the Flyers like Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, or Chris Pronger that I found myself constantly watching. It was the "little" guys, literally.
Claude Giroux and Ville Leino are among two of the smaller forwards on the Flyers team--Giroux at 5'11" 180 lbs and Leino at 6'0" and 183 lbs. However, I couldn't help but notice the 28 jersey of Giroux rushing into the zone against the enormous Zdeno Chara or the 22 jersey of Leino being everywhere on the ice. It was the two little guys that also played a big role in that game four, Leino scoring the 4th of 5 Philadelphia goals and Giroux assisting on Richards' goal in the first period and scoring his own in the second.
But one game does not a playoff performer make. Leino followed up game four with a goal and assist in game five and a pair of assists in Philadelphia's clinching game seven. Giroux added another goal and assist night in the opening game of the Montreal series.
Giroux now has 9 goals and 11 assists in the playoffs and Leino has 6 goals and 9 assists, tying him with Marian Hossa with a total of 15 points. Yes, really. Giroux is averaging a point a game while Leino is a hair under at .94 points per game yet it's not really the point totals that have impressed me.
I don't really have enough previous exposure to Giroux to make a judgment on how his game is now compared to before but Leino has improved by leaps and bounds. The aura that surrounded Leino when he came to Detroit was that of him becoming an elite player in the city after coming over as the top goal scorer in the Finnish league. That didn't quite pan out during his first full season in Detroit and guys like Brad May were getting the start over him. Things quickly turned sour and Leino voiced that he wasn't a guy that did the things that were being asked of him, like play in the corners or even forecheck aggressively. His playing time was limited in the games he actually dressed for and as Andreas Lilja returned to the line-up, the Red Wings need to clear capspace for Lilja. Leino was the first head to roll as a cap casualty in Detroit as other players could be sent down to the minors but Leino would have been snatched up on waivers. Detroit traded him to Philadelphia for Ole-Kristian Tollefsen and the cap space was cleared. Red Wings fans were quick to move on and the wounds left by what was deemed as a failure in the Ville Leino experiment were nothing more than a scratch.
But for Leino, it seems he has found a new home and a new style of play. He's become an aggressive forechecker and though the takeaway numbers aren't there to prove his effectiveness, he has put enough pressure on puck carriers to force quick or bad passes. He's also become a confident puck handler and looks nothing like the timid, slow skating forward that constantly deferred the play to a teammate instead of taking charge himself while in Detroit. Leino has revamped his game and become more of a complete player that now takes as much interest in his defensive play as his offensive play.
Perhaps the defining moment for me so far in terms of turning the page on the Leino saga came last night. Leino scored the tying goal of the game (that forced overtime) by crashing the net and looking for a rebound. Hockey is a game of positioning and being in the right place at the right time. Leino was in the right place and at the right time by reading the play and as a result, his team is down 2-1, not 3-0.
Leino and Giroux have been welcome secondary scorers for the Flyers and are proving to be consistent playmakers in the offensive zone. As the Flyers keep churning along, win or lose in the series, the work of these two guys has been significant to the success of the team.