It's a subject many have likely pondered in silence, but it seems there hasn't been much discussion on the subject. After Thursday night's disappointing home defeat, the time has come to ask the question:
What is going on with Philadelphia Flyers' All-Star center Claude Giroux?
Posting 18 goals and 48 points in his first 34 games made the hockey world stand up and take notice he was one of the game's emerging young superstars. Flyers fans have come to expect something special each and every outing from their scoring leader, as his dazzling array of offensive weapons have been on full display for much of the campaign.
But the 24-year-old has struggled mightily over the past couple of weeks. Following a two assist performance on January 5 in a 5-4 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks, Giroux has fallen off the radar. He has not scored a goal in the last seven games and has picked up just two assists over that period, while recording a disturbing -9 rating. He is now a -1 for the year, the only skater in the top 10 scorers to have a minus rating.
For someone who watches each and every game, something just does not seem right. For a good portion of the season, it appeared Giroux was operating at a higher frequency than others. He was assessing the layout of the ice, noticing where each player was positioned. He was making decisions and plays at a quicker rate than his opponents, leaving them to chase him and the puck around the ice. Lately, there has been no explosiveness, no burst of speed.
His last goal was scored on January 2 during the Winter Classic, and he hadn't lit the lamp prior to that since before the Christmas break (December 21).
Every player goes through peaks and valleys during the course of an entire NHL regular season. It's impossible to completely avoid slumps, and the occasional bout with what may be considered by many to be indifferent play. These players are human beings and have their bad days along with the good, just like anyone else.
But it's not just Giroux's lack of offensive production that is troubling, it's also the way in which the Flyers' MVP has played as of late that has started to become a bit worrisome. Uncharacteristic turnovers and getting caught out of position in the defensive zone have never been associated with the Hearst, Ontario-native, but have been noticeable in recent games.
In Thursday night's ugly 4-1 home loss to the New York Islanders, Giroux was a -3. He was caught in no man's land on the first Isles' goal as Matt Moulson beat a helpless Sergei Bobrovsky from the slot after taking a beautiful feed from behind the net from John Tavares. There were several unforced giveaways as Giroux fumbled the puck away a couple of times, and made ill-advised passes that never reached their destination on others, quickly leading to Islander rushes in the other direction.
Opponents have found it nearly impossible to take the offensive dynamo off the puck this season, as well as getting the puck away from him while set up along the left wing wall during a Philadelphia power play. Hockey experts have marvelled at his wizardry, as he possesses an almost guidance-system ability in putting the puck just about anywhere in which he chooses. Giroux's puckhandling has been a bit off lately, as has his usual pinpoint passing.
Some speculation as to what is / could be the reason(s) for the recent downturn in Giroux's play:
- Could it be a lingering recovery period from a concussion he suffered when he took an accidental knee from teammate Wayne Simmondsto the back of the head during the second period of a 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on December 10?Giroux missed four games before exploding back into the Philly lineup on December 21 in Dallas. He made a near-miraculous return that night, scoring a goal and assisting on three others in just over 15 spectacular minutes of play. Giroux's play in Dallas seemed something of a proclamation that he was all the way back, just in time to keep his lead in the NHL scoring race in tact. He now stands eighth overall.
- Could it be associated with the all-encompassing attention he has been receiving?The distractions surrounding the Winter Classic hype -- not only the sometimes circus-like atmosphere, but also HBO's "24/7" broadcasts, and all of the other sudden 'awareness' that came along with the spotlights and microscopes. And all the while, hockey experts fell in line in anointing Giroux as the League's next great thing, the poster boy and fresh new face of the NHL. It was just about that time he also made the decision to rejoin Twitter, the social networking forum that has become such a huge success in players and fans alike sharing their love of their sport, as well as other areas of life. The fact that his account blew up with 30,000 followers in just one day drew all sorts of publicity from national and international hockey outlets (like this, via our good friends at Broad Street Hockey). Now that things are back to normal and it's business as usual, maybe the everyday grind without all the glitz and glammer has seemed rather mundane.
- Could it just be a slump?Every player goes through one during the course of the season, but the difference in Giroux's game from five weeks ago until now is dramatic. A night and day kind of comparison. He had not only been spectacular, Giroux had also been the model of consistency. Until the recent seven-game scoring slump, Giroux had only gone more than one game without a point just once all year, when he was held off the score sheet in two consecutive games back on November 9 (at Tampa Bay) and 13 (at Florida). In the midst of the last seven contests, he was shut out on January 7 and 8 (home-and-home with Ottawa), and January 10 (at Carolina), and has now failed to record a point in five of the last seven outings.
- Could it be the Giroux Line has been thrown off kilter as a result of a groin injury sustained by Jaromir Jagr during the Winter Classic?The Scott Hartnell - Giroux - Jagr line was one of the hottest sets of attackers in the League for some time, but the decreased production of the trio seems to have coincided with Jagr's groin injury in the Classic. Since Jagr's injury, the line has appeared entirely out of sync, the magical chemistry exhibited between Giroux and Jagr hasn't made an appearance for several games. Hartnell has two goals in the last seven contests, and Jagr has three assists in his last six. It's possible a Giroux slump and Jagr injury, in tandem, could have this affect, but it cannot explain Giroux's difficulties handling the puck, even when unpressured.
- Could it be that NHL coaches have recently altered their game plans when preparing their troops to play against the Flyers?There could be an argument as Giroux goes, so go the Flyers' offense. With centers Danny Briere and Brayden Schennstruggling to get anything going offensively, there is no doubt that extra attention is being paid to number 28. It's hard to believe that NHL coaches have all of a sudden made focusing on Giroux the concentration of their respective game plans. Already known as one of the top offensive threats on the Flyers for some time, it would stand to reason that stopping the G-force behind the orange storm would have already been one of the keys being drilled into opponent's heads prior to any matchup with Philadelphia.
- Could it be that he's just frustrated?There is no question there is a frustration that comes from limited room with which to operate and decreasing time in which he is being afforded by opponents, coupled with any additional hits he may be taking as the target of being identified as the skater to stop. Some of that was on display Thursday night, when incessant hacking and whacking from Dylan Reeseled Giroux to retaliate. A late second period sequence culminated in a fight that carried over into the third, and the loss of Giroux and Reese to their respective clubs for five valuable minutes was a tradeoff in which the Isles were ecstatic to take.
- Could it be that his play has just plain spoiled everyone? As regular observers of the NHL and specifically the Flyers, we have all come to expect the impossible from Giroux on a nightly basis. Maybe it's just when someone that has been compared to Superman shows they have the Clark Kent alter ego that comes along with it, it becomes more noticeable during those times. Especially for someone like Giroux, who could probably stickhandle in a phone booth. One problem could be that not only is he expected to be able to produce multiple point games every night, but also that he has to do so in a way that electrifies the crowd. If he's feeling increased pressure to put on a show, the best possible scenario would be for him to leave the skills show for the upcoming All-Star Game weekend, and just go back to the basics. When a team playing at home finds itself in a similar situation -- struggling to score goals because of a need to please the home fans with a picture-perfect passing play -- that is often cured with a return to simpler play when the club hits the road. Usually when the over-passing in hopes of setting up an open net goal stops and the team concetrates on just getting the puck to the net, the goals come naturally.
It's hard to say what, if anything, is bothering Giroux. He is obviously trying to work through whatever is hindering his effectiveness, and it may just be a matter of time before he once again returns to the dazzling, dominating play that has been so synonymous with his increasingly popular name.
With two weekend matinees, Saturday at New Jersey and Sunday at home against the Bruins, it will be interesting to see how Giroux and the Flyers fare. The Devilsand Bruins are two excellent defensive teams, and there is no doubt both will have their collective eyes focused squarely in Giroux's direction. Playing against a hated division rival, then a team that dole out a 6-0 "Ass-kicking" (in Kimmo Timonen'swords) in Philadelphia about a month ago, this could be the perfect time for Giroux to re-emerge as the Hart Trophy candidate we saw previously.
This is in no way suggesting that the fortunes of a team are directly linked to one player, or that the player's performance alone is a reason for a victory or a defeat. As players correctly point out on an almost daily basis, hockey is a team game, and games are won and lost by the sum of the contributions received by each part. This is just the analysis of one of those parts.