Almosts and miscues spoil new captain Giroux’s stellar effort
Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images
By Charlie O’Connor (@THG_Charlie)
Down 2-1 in the third period of the season opener against the rival Pittsburgh Penguins, new Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux skated in on Marc-Andre Fleury all alone, courtesy of a rinkwide saucer pass from linemate Scott Hartnell.
Instead, a barely-audible whistle blew, signifying the only unavoidable obstacle for Giroux on his path to tie the game. Replays would later show that Giroux just barely beat the puck into the Penguins’ zone, but in the moment, Giroux could not hide his frustration, echoing the outcry of the Wells Fargo Center faithful.
“I just had a quick glance at the Jumbotron,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “It was a very, very tight call.”
Despite the absence of any late game heroics, Claude Giroux’s first game as the 19th captain in team history was a standout performance. Even when competing against reigning league MVP Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, Giroux was often the best player on the ice, asserting his authority on every shift.
His second period goal that cut Philadelphia’s deficit to one was a result of the ever-present chemistry between Giroux and Hartnell. A quick rush jumpstarted by a Brayden Schenn neutral zone pass turned into a easy tap-in goal for Giroux after Hartnell fed him a cross-ice pass right on the tape.
Giroux would finish the game with 19:41 minutes of ice time (leading all forwards), three shots, and a 52% faceoff percentage that jumped to 63% in the final two periods.
However, a questionable late-game trip of Penguins defenseman Kris Letang kept Giroux off the ice for the final minute of regulation.
“I didn’t really see [Giroux's penalty] at the end,” Hartnell said. “We had a big opportunity there with a minute to go, and I don’t know if [Letang] just fell down or what.”
Recalling former captain Mike Richards’ inglorious conclusion to his tenure as Flyers’ captain, some fans worried that handing the “C” to the 25-year old Giroux would put needless pressure on the superstar and cause his play to suffer. Like Giroux, Richards was given the captaincy at a young age, and he failed to live up to the expectations of the passionate Philadelphia fanbase, who want nothing less than a third Stanley Cup championship for the franchise.
Following the game, Giroux was blunt when asked if the captaincy had any effect on his play.
“Not really, he said. “I just try to go out there and do my job.”
Captaincy or no captaincy, Giroux remains the very same player as last season; a rare talent with the ability to change the complexion of an entire game in one play.
One inch too far, and Giroux gave away an opportunity for a truly gamechanging play in today’s season opener. Surely opponents expect Giroux to be much less charitable in the weeks to come.