As declarations go, it had neither the importance of Mark Messier’s guarantee or Jason Kelce’s kaleidoscope call-out of just a few hours before.
But Claude Giroux’s response Thursday night to a challenge he issued to himself a few days before should not be minimalized. One, because the Flyers captain has a tendency to see only the good in his game and that of others on his team. And two, because there are often as many versions of Giroux on the ice as there sometimes are in the dressing room.
As captains go, the 30-year-old center-turned-left-winger is never going to leave any paneling scorched after he leaves the room. Any of his more boisterous teammates, and particularly the far more intimidating Wayne Simmonds, will testify to that. But with Simmonds struggling at times with his 5-on-5 performance this season, with Sean Couturier still feeling his way into a leadership role amid his astounding breakout season, and with young stars such as Travis Konecny, Jordan Weal and Nolan Patrick being more blank pages than finished manuscripts, Giroux’s role as this team’s heart and soul is more important than ever.
It wasn’t just the three points he amassed Thursday in the Flyers’ 5-3 victory over the Montreal Canadiens. It was how they came about, and who was involved. A tap-in cross-ice pass to the red-hot Konecny; a smartly laced wrist shot into a crowded slot area, rather than one of those needless wind-ups that so often miss their mark and serve as a clear for the other team instead; and finally, a penetrate and dish to Jake Voracek for his last point, a play that reflects Giroux’s alter-universe, where he is an NBA point guard.
“That’s pretty good showcasing of what he can do out there,’’ said Montreal goaltender Carey Price, who called Giroux “the difference in the game.”
“He’s in a prime shooting spot and sail-boated a saucer pass to a player and puts it right on his stick. Sometimes, you have to tip your hat to a guy that’s playing that well.’’
Enter the Event Level of the Wells Fargo Center two hours before any home game and you will invariably see Giroux dribbling and shooting around a backboard and basket attached to the wall.
It is his preferred warm-up exercise, the sport, he will tell you, that he dreams of playing while we all dream of being him.
At his best, which Thursday’s game represents, that is what he is: a hockey point guard.
“He’s definitely got great vision,’’ Price said. “He’s pretty shifty out there. He always seems to be in a good position to make a play to multiple players.’’
The three points Thursday boosted Giroux’s total for the season to 55. The goal he scored, though, was just his third in the last 24 games, one reason he said after Tuesday’s 2-1 victory over Carolina that “some guys are playing their best hockey of the season, but personally, I’ve got to step up and bring more for the team.’’
Asked after Thursday’s game if he was happy with his effort, Giroux didn’t let himself off the hook. “A little bit better,’’ he said. “When you help the team win, that’s what you’re trying to do.’’
OK, so he’s never going to be a statesman. It’s one reason he is not always identified as this team’s primary leader, especially when Simmonds was leading the team in goals and attytood over the last two seasons. But for whatever reason — health, age or simply confidence — Simmonds is still searching for that groove he began the season with before being hobbled by leg and back issues. And when you can’t do everything that your mind wants you to do, it’s hard to tell others to do it.
That was the brunt of the message Giroux issued to himself Tuesday. Struggling through much of last season after offseason surgery to repair core muscle injuries, he too couldn’t lead by example, and his words are never going to peel anyone’s skin. A game such as Thursday’s, in which he answered a tying goal with a score of his own 31 seconds later, is his preferred communication method.
Said Montreal’s Price: “Sometimes you have to tip your hat to a guy that’s playing that well.’’
“Everybody knows in that room that he wears his heart on his sleeve,’’ Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “He expects a lot out of the people around him, and then he puts himself at the head of the line. …
“And that’s something that’s pretty respected in the locker room.’’