Giroux Thriving as Flyers’ ‘Mr. Everything’
There’s no doubt that coming into this season, Philadelphia Flyers center Claude Giroux would have some extra pressure placed on his shoulders.
After all, GM Paul Holmgren traded away team captain and on-ice leader, Mike Richards, as well as the club’s leading goal-scorer, Jeff Carter.
The intentions of the summer moves could not be masked. Already having led the Flyers in scoring last year with career-highs of 25 goals and 76 points, Giroux was expected to elevate his game to the next level in order to help replace some of the offense lost in the off-season transactions.
The same could be said for Giroux’s winger, James van Riemsdyk. After a slow start to the 2010-11 campaign, van Riemsdyk put forth some scintillating play down the stretch, in which the budding power forward offered a glimpse of the fruits of Philadelphia’s faith in selecting him second overall in the 2007 draft. While Giroux and newcomer Jaromir Jagr showed all kinds of preseason chemistry, van Riemsdyk never really gelled as expected as the line’s third member. He battled a minor training camp injury and when he returned, played his way onto another unit.
As the auditions for the line’s left wing spot continued, the production of Giroux took flight. He started off by scoring goals in the first three games and five of the first six regular season contests, many of the highlight reel variety.
His propensity for cashing in on breakaway opportunities against the game’s best goaltenders continued on into this year. On opening night, he found himself walking in alone on Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins. Much the same as he did last year in Pittsburgh against Marc-Andre Fleury, Giroux used his signature move to beat Thomas.
It’s a move that NHL goaltenders know is coming, but have yet to find a way to stop. Giroux moves in on goal, looking to be picking a spot for which to shoot, then as he gets about 10 feet from the net, flips the puck over to the backhand side. As the netminder takes the bait and pushes off with their left skate to cover the corner, Giroux cuts back over to the forehand and tucks the puck into the vacated corner.
Giroux’s puckhandling abilities and cat-like quickness make it a nightmare in which to defend against.
When captain Chris Pronger was felled by an eye injury just over a week ago and knocked out of the lineup, Giroux inherited yet another piece of team responsibility. Along with Kimmo Timonen and Danny Briere, he was given the ‘A’ to wear on his sweater as an alternate captain.
The additional show of confidence in Giroux coincided with coach Peter Laviolette’s tinkering with line combinations. It was at that time that Scott Hartnell, who had been struggling mightily and had been cut to about 10 minutes of ice time per game, was placed to the left of Giroux and Jagr.
It was as if Laviolette had just made the move to solve an Orange-and-Black Rubik’s Cube.
Hartnell came to life, scoring four goals and picking up nine points in the last four games. Jagr, who led the Flyers in goals scored during the exhibition but had not lit the lamp since the commencement of the regular season, also caught fire. Over the same four game span, he scored five goals and posted seven points.
“It’s good to have a good line,” Jagr said after Saturday night’s 5-1 victory over the Hurricanes. ”You need the three guys to mix together, and everybody brings something special.”
Giroux, the catalyst for the trio, scored two himself and assisted on five others in the four contests. Included in the totals was a four-point night (goal, three assists) on Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes, in which Giroux tied his career-high for points in a single game. He currently sits in a three-way tie for second-overall in League scoring with 15 points (seven goals, eight assists in 11 games).
It will be interesting to see what Giroux does the rest of the way, but nothing seems impossible for the Flyers’ new ’Mr. Everything’. He does it all – excels at five-on-five play, thrives on the power play, forechecks and backchecks with an intense ferocity, and kills penalties. All the while, leading in his own quiet way.
As Giroux continues the trek of entering superstardom, it seems as though he has welcomed the additional responsibility.