The Curious Case of Claude Giroux – is it his fault?

EDITOR’S NOTE: You’d be forgiven for thinking we’ve become a rescue home for hockey writers, but in actual fact we just love adding more talent to our roster – something the Edmonton Oilers know all about (pffffft).  So, let us introduce to you yet another new Ice Nation UK writer, James Proudlock.  James is a Philadelphia Flyers fan, falling in to the sport thanks to the epic clashes between the Broad Street Bullies and their Pittsburgh rivals.  Currently studying journalism at University here in the UK, and covering many local music acts, James will be bringing you Flyers-centric analysis, as well as regular news updates from around the NHL.  Join us in welcoming him aboard!

N.B. The following article was written several days ago, so some of the statistics may be slightly out of date, but the point of the article most definitely remains.

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The Philadelphia Flyers have reached 25 games with a record of 11-12-2, which places them sixth in the new Metropolitan division, two points behind the New York Rangers in third, with a game in hand. Who’d have thought after the Flyers’ disastrous start to the season that they’d have been able to claw themselves back into the early season playoff race?

The changes new head coach Craig Berube wanted to make took a little while to take form. The team were 0-3-0 when Berube took over, then went 3-6-0 which took them to the 0-7 hammering at the hands of the Washington Capitals and the huge team brawl that followed.  This can be seen as a huge turning point in the season for Philadelphia as they have now gone 8-3-2, scoring 34 goals and only allowed 22 in that time; a far cry from the team that had only scored more than 3 goals in one game till that point.

As the Flyers continue to rehabilitate their season, one thing will still surely niggle at the team, coach and fans alike: the form (or somewhat lack of), of captain Claude Giroux.

Keeping The Faith

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Let’s go back a little.  In 2011/12 the Flyers traded away two franchise players, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, with the belief and incessant hope that Claude Giroux would go on and fulfil his potential and become one of the best players in the NHL. Now promoted to top line centre, Claude did just that. I think it’s important to add that the presence of Jaromir Jagr that season cannot go uncredited. Giroux has said himself that Jagr was a massive influence on him and the entire team for the season he was in Philadelphia.

That season for me, Claude Giroux was the stand-out player in the NHL. I know Evgeni Malkin won the Hart Memorial Trophy, but Pittsburgh underachieved and were knocked out of the playoffs by Philadelphia and Giroux. Yes, Malkin scored 16 more points than Giroux, but I stand reverently by my position.

However, back to the point. That season Claude Giroux put up mammoth numbers, playing 77 games, scoring 28 goals and assisting 65 leaving him with 93 points for the season and finishing a 1.2 PPG man.  His next highest previous to this in the NHL was 76 the season before.

Oh Captain! My Captain!

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Now onto the lockout shortened 2012/13 season. When it became more apparent that Chris Pronger would be unable to return to the ice — or at least until it was confirmed — there was only one name touted as potential new club captain. The man that Philadelphia had thrown away tried and tested to start again and to build around, Claude Giroux.  Much like this season, Claude got off to a slow start, recording only 7 points in the first 13 games.

However, once he got going, he really got going. Helped massively by the burst of excellence shown by Jake Voracek, Claude finished with 48 points in 48 games (those shrewd at mathematics will notice that’s 1.0 PPG). In a disappointing season all round for the Flyers that year, Giroux lead from the front and showed that the season before was no flash in the pan.

On the 5th of July, Giroux signed a $66.2 million, 8 year deal extension.  A great off-season incentive to start the season well?

I don’t think anyone is blaming the early season form on Giroux, or at least I hope not, because that’s incredibly foolish. After the three straight defeats that cost Peter Laviolette his job as head coach, that scapegoat was gone. The “boo-boys” were on the prowl for another.

As the form continued to underwhelm under new head coach Berube, Giroux’s goal-less streak continued and the captain become the new scapegoat in some quarters. Giroux went 21 games (dating back to the previous season) before he scored, against Edmonton on the 9th of November in the 4-2 win.

The Present

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We’re now past the quarter stage of the season and Giroux has participated in 25 games. In those 25 games he has racked up only 17 points (0.68 PPG). They aren’t bad numbers, but for a top line C of Giroux’s quality they become a little worrying.

When compared with the previous two seasons, playing the same amount of games Giroux amounted 32 in 25 (1.28 PPG) in the 2011/12 season and 24 in 25 (0.98 PPG) in the 2012/13 season.

It was noticeable in the early stages of the season that Giroux seemed reluctant to release the puck on net, possibly down to the hand injury he suffered in the off-season.  I did a little stat checking, however:  Giroux leads the team in shots, and is in the top percentile of the NHL. Not that then…

How about ice-time?  Nope.  He leads the forwards for the Flyers in ice time, and again comes in the top percentile of NHL players in that category.  There is one thing, that — forgive me if I’m wrong, please do correct me — I haven’t seen spoken about much anywhere.

I’ve quoted a lot of stats when it comes to the last two seasons for Giroux. But when I took another look, they spelled something out.  In 11/12, he racked up 28 goals and 65 assists.  In 12/23 he scored 13 goals, 35 assists.

I know it’s been incredibly obvious from the start, but then there wouldn’t have been an article! Giroux has always been primarily an assist man. He can pass the puck and create plays virtually like no other in the NHL.

Last season, Giroux and Voracek formed a formidable partnership, which allowed Voracek to gain his highest ever goal tally, despite it being a shortened season. Now, Voracek has been nowhere near that level this season.  He’s looked a shadow of what he produced last season, only notching three goals and 9 assists.

At his best Voracek is one of the most dominant and fearsome goal scorers the Flyers possess, and probably in the league too.  Without Voracek at his best, then I’m afraid Giroux won’t be either.

… A Few Other Things

1. Steve Mason

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When times were hard for the Flyers at the start of the season, there was one man who stood up to be counted.  Steve Mason has been responsible for dragging the battered carcass of a Flyers team over the finish line one too many times this season, but it looks like he’s thriving on the pressure and responsibility.

He posts top ten numbers with his 2.10 GAA and .933 SV%.  You’d have thought those stats would belong to a goaltender leading a team from the top, but Mason only has a 8-8-2 record. This just goes to highlight even further just how important he has become to the Flyers after recent troubles in their Universe…

2. Line of Importance?

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Since November 12th for the Flyers’ trip to Ottawa, the Flyers post a 6-3-0 record. Some may say it’s purely coincidence that, that is the date that the fantastic third line of Matt Read, Sean Couturier and Steve Downie were put together.

I for one, think it’s far from coincidence.  You only have to watch the Flyers in those performances, to see how in all three zones this line dominates. With the top two lines stuttering it has almost fallen upon Sean Couturier’s young shoulders to stand up and lead, and my god he has. If you have any doubt about this, seek out the highlights of the Flyers’ 2-1 win against Winnipeg on the 29th of November.

I’ll hold my hands up and admit, I was one of the dubious party when it came to the Downie/Talbot trade. I know Talbot was never going to post big numbers, but I had always though his presence in pressure situations and ability to play at both ends of the ice, especially on the penalty kill, would be hugely missed. I’m glad to say I was very, very wrong.

Downie’s high pressure forechecking is pivotal to how this line plays, and creates huge amounts of space for Matt Read. The perfect example of this comes in the Flyers game against Buffalo in which Read scored twice, and Downie and Couturier both posted two assists in a 4-1 win.

Read and Couturier are both spending roughly 19 minutes on the ice per game, which comes in the Flyers’ top ten; this may come down to both players getting time on the powerplay and penalty kill, which further highlights just how important both of them are to the current cause for the team.

3. The Big Swede

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Nicklas Grossmann joined the Flyers in February 2012, for a 2013 2nd-round pick and 2013-3rd round pick and has gone on to become one of the teams most important D men.

Since the whole-sale changes going from Laviolette to Berube, the defensive partnerships have been juggled around a little, but in recent games Grossmann has been paired with one of the Flyers’ big signings of the off-season Mark Streit.

You’d expect the 6ft 4, 230+ lb man to be physical in his play, and Grossmann has been just that. Currently tied for 4th in NHL defensemen in blocked shots with 66 (team leading for the Flyers) and 6th in the NHL defensemen in hits with 77 (second for the Flyers behind the wrecking ball that is Zac Rinaldo).

Follow James on Twitter, and whilst you’re at it follow @IceNationUK for all the best hockey talk!




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