NHL Playoffs: Flyers’ Claude Giroux Among World’s Best
Photo Courtesy of Paul Bereswill/Getty Images
By Charlie O’Connor (@THG_Charlie)
Perhaps the best compliments come not from your allies, but from your enemies. Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux can surely attest to that.
“He’s the best player on the ice, but I don’t think we we’re surprised by that,” Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said after falling four games to two in their opening round against the Flyers.
Best player on the ice. Not “best Flyer on the ice.” Best player on the ice. But better than Evgeni Malkin, the presumptive league MVP? Or Sidney Crosby, league poster boy and consensus favorite in all “best player in the NHL” debates?
“Claude, to me, he’s the best player in the league right now,” said teammate Kimmo Timonen. ”He’s our motor. When he goes, we go.”
Giroux’s opening shift in Game Six will be remembered in Philadelphia for years to come. Immediately following the drop of the puck, Giroux sought out Crosby and knocked him down with a vicious but completely legal open-ice hit.
Less than thirty seconds later, he ripped a perfectly placed shot by Marc-Andre Fleury to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead.
“When the best player in the world comes up to you and tells you, ‘I don’t know who you’re planning on starting tonight, but I want that first shift,’ that says everything you need to know about Claude Giroux right there,” Peter Laviolette said following the game. ”He was so adamant that he wanted that first shift that line match-ups didn’t matter at that point. He wanted to get out on the ice, he wanted to make a statement.”
Maxime Talbot confirmed Laviolette’s account.
“Claude called it for me before the start of the game. He said, ‘I’m going to have a great first shift.’ I didn’t know what it meant and he was physical and he scored a goal so that’s what a leader would do. Claude definitely set up the tone early for us tonight.”
Currently leading the NHL in playoff points with 14, Giroux clearly has established himself as one of the league’s best forwards. But using a six-game series to argue that Giroux is suddenly the best player in all of hockey, could that be a bit reactionary?
To be sure, Malkin remains a better pure offensive player than Giroux, recent struggles against Flyers rookie Sean Couturier aside. And Steven Stamkos is a far better sniper. And a healthy Crosby still has the highest overall upside.
But Claude Giroux truly was the NHL’s best all-around player in 2011-12, even though his efforts will not be rewarded with a Hart Trophy.
Unlike Malkin and Stamkos, Giroux faced top line competition night after night, while still scoring at an elite pace. Also unlike Malkin and Stamkos, Giroux received significant shorthanded ice time, averaging 3:04 minutes per game on the penalty kill. Yet Giroux still finished third in the league in scoring (93 points), was the NHL’s best power play forward (a league-leading 38 power play points) and posted impressive puck possession statistics (6.9 Corsi Relative).
Essentially, Giroux is the heir apparent to Pavel Datsyuk – combining tenacity with an array of slick moves, puck possession skills and offensive instincts. And while his place as the NHL’s “best player” is still a matter of debate, with Crosby and Malkin out of the playoffs and Stamkos a no-show due to the poor play of his team, Giroux is clearly the best player remaining in the post-season.
In addition to his on-ice skills, Giroux has established himself as a true leader in the Flyers’ locker room, helping to fill the void left by Chris Pronger’s potentially career-ending concussion symptoms.
“[Giroux] is probably the biggest competitor that I have ever played with,” linemate Scott Hartnell said. ”He wants to win so bad. I could tell right when I got to the rink this morning that he was fired up and ready to go.”
Talbot spoke to Giroux’s passion and intensity.
“Yes, he’s young. But he’s got a thing in his eyes where, ‘You can’t stop me.’ Claude definitely played with a lot of passion throughout this whole first round and I’m sure he’s going to keep on going as well.”
Laviolette credited the entire team’s effort for sending the Flyers to the first round.
“But, [the team] does have to be led somewhere,” the coach noted.
Claude Giroux seems to be the perfect player to do so.