Flyers captain Claude Giroux, once regarded among the NHL’s elite centers, looked rather ordinary last season and there were whispers – some louder than others – that his best years were behind him.
Turns out last year’s pedestrian season had nothing to do with Giroux’s ability declining and everything to do with his health.
Now he’s healthy, and Giroux’s offensive domination has been in full view in the first half of the season.
“I’m not surprised at anything G does,” coach Dave Hakstol said after Giroux’s three-point performance keyed Saturday afternoon’s 6-3 win over St. Louis at the Wells Fargo Center. “You guys know the hockey player and the person a little bit. But to know the person and know the competitiveness that burns inside of him, no, I’m not surprised.”
A year ago, Giroux didn’t have that extra gear, didn’t have the offensive creativity and shiftiness that became his trademark. Blame the aftereffects of abdominal surgery.
“Everybody recovers at a different speed,” general manager Ron Hextall said. “No two bodies are alike.”
Giroux started to look like himself late last season, and this year he has 51 points in 41 games – second in the NHL heading into Saturday’s night games – and is on a 102-point pace. On Saturday, he scored his 14th goal, equaling his final total from last year. That was the fewest goals he had scored in any full season, and he managed just 58 points in 2016-17, his lowest full-season total since 2009-10.
And while his health has played a major part in his revival, a position switch has also contributed greatly.
Moved to left wing at the start of the season, he doesn’t have the defensive responsibility he had at center. It also helps that he has one of the league’s best defensive forwards, center Sean Couturier, on his line.
It’s hard to tell if Giroux, who turns 30 on Friday, has helped Couturier more, or if it’s the other way around.
Both are having career seasons. Both give credit to the other person.
“Being able to have that chemistry with Coots makes my job a lot easier,” Giroux said. “He is really an underrated player. Defensively, he’s really smart, and we communicate well together. And having T.K. [Travis Konecny] on that line now, we just have a good chemistry going.”
Giroux still takes lots of faceoffs (he took 13 Saturday compared with Couturier’s eight) and there are numerous times when he skates through the center of the ice.
“I don’t really consider myself a winger that much,” Giroux said, adding that not having as much defensive responsibility as in the past has made it “a lot easier…. I’m going to say it again: Coots in the middle helps a lot. We don’t play defense, we play offense, and your best defense is your offense.”
The Flyers have struggled to score goals at times, but they have netted six in each of the last two games – the first time that has happened since 2013.
Couturier, 25, had two goals Saturday, including an empty-netter, and he has a career-high 21 tallies, thanks in part to the playmaking of Giroux and his former linemate, Jake Voracek. He also has 40 points, one more than his previous best.
And exactly half the season is still remaining.
With Saturday’s victory, the Flyers moved to within two points of a playoff spot pending the Saturday night results. That’s not a bad position considering they lost 10 straight earlier in the season.
“We could have been better at times earlier in the year,” said Couturier, who became the first Flyer to reach the 20-goal mark in 41 games since his former housemate, Danny Briere, in 2010-11. “But it’s what we do from now on that pretty much matters.”