In the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Claude Giroux turned what had been, to that point, a magnificent young career into talks of him being included among the NHL’s elite. A six-point night in Game 2 against the Penguins in the quarterfinals, followed up by “The Shift” to put the dagger in Pittsburgh’s hearts in Game 6 supported these claims.
That same shift led his then-coach Peter Laviolette to reference him as “the best player in the world.”
He followed that up with a rifling laser beam past Martin Brodeur in Game 1 against the New Jersey Devils.
The more amazing detail? He was doing all of this with two badly injured hands and wrists.
While his productivity faded against New Jersey, including in the form of Giroux being suspended for the Flyers’ ultimate nail in the coffin in Game 5, it is feasible to think that the Flyers’ banged up blue line (and roster as a whole) simply ran out of gas. After all, they bowed out against what turned out to be a Devils machine that would reach the Finals.
Are Struggles for Giroux in 2013-2014 Comparable to Last Year?
The NHL lockout certainly did not do a number of players any favors, and the rust was evident throughout the league through the first few weeks of the 48-game season last January.
Giroux scored goals in back to back losses to start the Flyers’ short season, but the offense lacked the cohesion that made it a juggernaut in the playoffs some nine months earlier.
From there, the offensive anemia reached the newly appointed captain. Following the goal-per-game start in the span of two days to start the season, the man they call “G” only found the net one time in the next 14 outings.
The Flyers were able to wake up, though, on February 18 as Giroux posted two goals and a helper as Philadelphia stomped on the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. That slump-buster propelled Giroux to a 27-point bounce back over the next 21 Flyer games.
Admittedly, that total does not come off looking spectacular to the observer skeptical of Laviolette’s “best player in the world” title.
However, the point to be made here is this: why did it become such a huge deal this season to label Giroux as a goal-scorer?
Again, it is hard to be naïve to a 15-game goalless drought to start a full season. But Giroux has never eclipsed his own jersey number (28) in goals for a season. What the fans should be worried about is his half-a-point per game average through 16 games (1 goal, 7 assists).
Giroux’s lockout-shortened season of 48 points in 48 games is seen as a bad year, but why doesn’t a comparable playmaker like Pavel Datsyuk (49 points in 47 games) receive the criticism that Giroux receives?
To answer this question, let me give full disclosure, I completely understand that Datsyuk is living up to his potential this season (18 points in 18 games), whereas Giroux has not as of yet. But it is a curious question to look back on nonetheless.
Obviously, Giroux is and never will be the defensive wizard that is Datsyuk. Actually, no one will probably ever be as great a two-way player in the modern NHL than the man who has a deking adjective named after him. But perhaps this lack of the two-way game is what makes Giroux a more frequent target of blame and criticism.
Certainly, Giroux’s home team market does not aid matters. This is not to say Detroit is not a pressure-packed place to play; their legacy speaks for itself. However, Datsyuk can avoid offensive critiques because he makes up for it in the defensive and neutral zones with his larcenous hands.
Giroux is Certainly Not Free From Blame
Again, full disclosure: the season to date has been absolutely atrocious for Giroux. Regardless of the goal-scoring drought and how warranted it is to expect him to be a 30-40 goal scorer, Giroux and the Flyer forwards on the whole need to improve.
A coaching change, constant line shuffling, and revamped systems still have proven fruitless. It comes down to having a competitive edge over the opponent. Every Flyers’ opponent seems to have it, with the exception of scuffling Edmonton this past weekend.
When teams see the Flyers, they see the uncertainty and the doubt in Flyer players’ eyes when they have the puck. The decision-making is hesitant, and thus, the defensive pressure against the Flyers soars.
I sometimes question just how important, or rather, how overblown the “captain” title is thrown around in hockey, but it is pretty clear that the Flyers lack the leadership, from Giroux on down.
Until he can rekindle the magic from 2012, and until Scott Hartnell, Jake Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds, among countless others, can regain their consistency, the Flyers will just continue to owe Steve Mason consoling hugs.