Some of the NHL’s marquee players, including Alex Ovechkin of the defending-champion Washington Capitals and Montreal goalie Carey Price, have decided to skip playing in the All-Star Game on Saturday night in San Jose, Calif.
Some players want the rest during the break. Some, such as New Jersey’s Taylor Hall, are nursing injuries.
Some want to sit on a sun-drenched island — or be home with their families — and get recharged for the regular season’s final two-plus months.
Flyers captain Claude Giroux, the longest-tenured athlete among Philly’s four major sports teams, could use the rest, too. Not many NHL players play harder or with more passion than the 31-year-old forward. But instead of relaxing on a beach, Giroux will be appearing in the sixth All-Star Game — more than any of his Metropolitan Division teammates — of his superb career.
“It’s a great honor to represent your team, and the league always does a good job at these events,” he said the other day. “Some guys have been playing a lot of hockey, a lot of playoffs, and their bodies are beat up a little bit. You don’t like to see too many guys miss it, but it’s obviously going to happen.”
Added Giroux, whose sixth all-star appearance is topped by only one player competing Saturday, Chicago’s Patrick Kane (eighth): “We didn’t go very far in the playoffs last year and I feel great [physically], so there’s no reason for not going.”
Before traveling to San Jose, Giroux headed back home to the Ottawa area during the first part of the Flyers’ bye week.
“I don’t get to see my family a lot,” he said. “My sister just had a newborn, Remy, so I’m pretty excited to go see him.”
Over the last nine seasons, Sidney Crosby and Kane are the only NHL players who have more points than Giroux, the Flyers’ lone representative in this year’s All-Star Game. In that span, Giroux leads the NHL in assists (452) and power-play points (258).
» READ MORE: Claude Giroux lone Flyer on all-star team
Giroux is getting better with age. Two years ago, he felt the effects of offseason hip and abdominal surgery and managed just 58 points. Since then, he is better than at any other point in his career.
Last season, he became the 11th player in NHL history to register his first 100-point season at 30 or older. He set career bests in points (102), goals (34), and assists (68). No other NHL player had more assists, and he finished second in the league in points and third in faceoff percentage (58.6).
This season, playing at both left wing and back at his natural position, center, he is on pace for 89 points. He leads the Flyers in points (52), assists (38), shots (142), game-winning goals (3), and power-play points (12).
The production doesn’t surprise Flyers interim coach Scott Gordon. But what has surprised Gordon is Giroux’s intensity, which he is viewing up close for the first time.
“He’s ready to go every other shift,” Gordon said, meaning that if Giroux were making the line changes, he would sit just one shift between appearances on the ice. “He wants to play a lot. He does play a lot.”
Gordon, who replaced Dave Hakstol on Dec. 17, has tried to give Giroux more days off from practices.
Giroux, the first Flyer named to six all-star teams since Eric Lindros, usually declines.
“On the ice, I think he’s very passionate about being a Flyer,” Gordon said. “I haven’t felt he’s taken a shift off the entire time I’ve been here. … I have more of an appreciation for what he does bring to the table: his passion for the game, his attitude, his work ethic, his desire to win. Those are all important things that set an example for your team.”
A year ago, Giroux agreed to move from center, where he had played virtually his entire NHL career, to left wing. It turned out to be a stroke of genius by Hakstol. With less defensive responsibility, Giroux flourished, and he also helped linemates Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny have career seasons.
Giroux, who is used in all situations, didn’t protest when Gordon suggested recently he move to the right wall on the Flyers’ new-look power play. The power play had fallen to 30th in the 31-team league, and Gordon made several changes and used five forwards on the first unit.
As a result, Giroux shifted from his office — the left circle — to the right side.
Even though he leads the NHL in power-play points over the last nine seasons, Giroux never protested about the position change.
“Credit to Claude to be open-minded and to consider it,” Gordon said.
» FROM APRIL 2018: Flyers' Claude Giroux makes convincing case for NHL MVP
Barring one of the most stunning comebacks in NHL history, the Flyers (19-23-6) will miss the playoffs this spring. That means they would have gone seven straight years without winning a playoff series, their longest stretch in franchise history.
With the Flyers 14 points out of a playoff spot, what is the team’s motivation after the all-star break?
“I think we need to find our identity a little more,” Giroux said. “If you look at the games we’ve lost, they could have gone either way. We’re not playing bad hockey. I strongly believe that.”
They won four of their last five games, including their last three, before the break.