IN THE MOMENT of crisis, like a famous (if fictional) ginger who predated him, Claude Giroux was nowhere to be found.
The Flyers, assumedly led by Captain Claude, held a players-only meeting after their mind-numbing, 3-0 loss to the visiting Devils. Afterward, Giroux was seen heading into the training room, assumedly to regroup before addressing the press.
Soon thereafter, Flyers staffers told the press that Giroux had left the building.
That's right: He scarpered off, left Hal Gill and Wayne Simmonds and Ray Emery and Andrej Meszaros, Goat of the Night, to explain why the team with nine points in 15 games needed 20 minutes afterward to cleanse its collective soul.
Which, of course, recalled the famous fictional forebear:
Brave Sir Robin ran away.
Bravely ran away away.
When danger reared its ugly head,
He bravely turned his tail and fled.
Yes, brave Sir Robin turned about
And gallantly he chickened out.
Bravely taking to his feet,
He beat a very brave retreat.
What went on in the meeting to make Giroux disappear?
In the meeting, did his teammates hold him accountable for being goalless in 15 games? After all, he's not making $66.2 million over the next eight seasons to be a hair model.
Of course, Giroux isn't the only underproductive player on the roster. Hardly.
But he is the captain.
In no sport does that mean more. The NHL actually seeks a holy grail of sorts, a cup named after a lord from which they long to drink the draught of fame, if not life, eternal.
This team has one win in its last five games. It was humiliated by Washington, 7-0. It squandered a win late against Carolina last time out. It has scored two goals in its last four games.
Did it need a players meeting? Sure.
Did it need its captain to abandon it? Hardly.
Gill, a Lancelot of sorts, stepped in and allowed that the meeting had a Jesse Jackson feel: Keep hope alive, that sort of stuff. The season is long, things can turn around, et cetera.
Simmonds - this team's dauntless Galahad - refused to allude to the meeting's contents, but he was transparent enough: "We're just not penetrating, not getting quality shots, we're thinking too much about passing instead of shooting."
Meszaros, the Bedemir of the bunch who kicked the clincher past Emery, said, "It's good we talked. Straightened some things out."
And coach Craig Berube was positively simmering about the Flyers' bungling of their three power-play chances: "The power play was outworked tonight."
Giroux is their power-play genius. He might have added to that contention.
A talented team might coast for a game or two, maybe even a week. But there is no excuse for a team this bad to be outworked. Even with its dearth of excellent skaters, its vacuum of skill and its excruciating inability to finish games, the Flyers could, at least, subscribe to a simplified brand of hockey.
Volume shooting, at the actual net; not poetic passing and monster blasts wide or high.
Puck possession, not cavalier ownership.
Dumping. Chasing. Working.
They could. But they don't.
Early in the first, Braydon Coburn fired wide. The Flyers subsequently lost possession . . . which, a few moments later, turned into the Devils' first goal.
Midway through the first period, Giroux carried, and carried, and lost the puck, and that turned into a 3-on-2 for the Devils.
Zac Rinaldo, God bless him, shot wide and wasted a 2-on-1.
"It starts with us," Scott Hartnell said at yesterday morning's skate, referring to his top-line responsibility, shared with Giroux and Jake Voracek.
Hartnell lost a casual cross-ice pass during the Flyers' second power play, right at the Devils' blue line. On the same man-advantage, Brayden Schenn flippantly carried it in, and quickly lost it. Matt Read had a shot from the wing, but demurred. His pass cost the Flyers another setup during that power play.
In no sport is chemistry as elemental as in hockey.
The degree of endurance required, for the entire roster, is borderline superhuman.
The amount of pain suffered by every man is borderline masochistic.
The person who holds this together is not the coach: It is the captain.
By word, by deed, by sacrifice, by accountability.
We know that Sir Robin, last night, lacked them all.
On Twitter: @inkstainedretch