Claude Giroux: Superstar
Pierre McGuire is a weird, creepy dude and deservedly the punchline of many jokes, but he got one thing right last May: Claude Giroux is a superstar (start at the 4:39 mark of the video, you’ll hear the quote about 10-15 seconds in; he also scores a sweet goal early in the second period to put the Flyers up 1-0). Could he have been any lamer and more homoerotic in the way he said it? Probably not, but it’s the thought that counts. That empty net goal typifies why Giroux, at the age of 23, isn’t far away from becoming an elite player; it’s the resolute determination and unfettering willingness to do the little things necessary to win hockey games. Not only is he the most naturally talented player on the Flyers’ roster, but he also works harder than anyone else at his craft. I’ve been saying this for over two years, but I feel it bears repeating: Claude Giroux reminds me of a mini Peter Forsberg, and at his peak has the potential to be one of the best players in the entire league. I once thought his ceiling was 30 goals and 50 assists, which he’s on pace for this season, but I’m now convinced he can break the 100-point barrier, provided he gets a legitimate sniper on his wing that can put the puck in the net with regularity after receiving a perfect pass.
I bring up the above video clip because there was a play in last night’s Flyers/Hurricanes game that perfectly exhibited why Giroux is a special player and inspired me to write this long-overdue article. At the end of the second period, with the score tied 0-0 and his complacent team playing sloppily, Claude stepped up and did something that set the tone for the third. With the final seconds of middle frame ticking away, Hurricanes forward Chad LaRose put his head down while reaching for a loose puck in the corner, thus rendering himself oblivious to his surroundings. Giroux saw his opportunity and struck. Literally at the exact moment the horn sounded, he threw a thunderous body check that knocked LaRose on his ass and brought the crowd to its feet. I wish the video was up on YouTube so you could see what I’m talking about. It’s the kind of play that you might expect Mike Richards or Dan Carcillo to make as he tries to piss off the opposition and fire up his teammates. But Claude Giroux? Fucking AWESOME. That right there is the mark of a player in the process of separating himself from those content with merely being talented (i.e. Nikolay Zherdev), and joining those who have the desire to be great. If you’ve watched the evolution of Claude’s game over the past two and a half seasons, you know he is on his way to being the latter. Oh, and that hit — guess what, it worked. The Flyers came out for the third with purpose and a noticeable jump in their step, which was punctuated by Jeff Carter scoring 18 seconds into the period. I know correlation does not imply causation, but the sequence of events fits too perfectly into my hypothesis, so let me have this one. Giroux then finished what he started by registering the primary assist on Danny Briere’s eventual game-winning goal, as the Flyers defeated those pesky Hurricanes by a 2-1 score.
After Briere’s power play goal made it 2-0, Flyers fans began to wonder if tonight was the night the team would record its first shutout of the season. That feeling lasted all of 40 seconds, at which point Tuomo Ruutu pushed a rebound past Brian Boucher to cut the lead in half and send the natives back into nail-biting mode. Luckily, Boucher, who was brilliant all night, shut the door from there on out, and Philadelphia was able to withstand a final barrage from the Hurricanes to emerge victorious.
Overall, the Flyers looked like a team that hadn’t played in four days… rusty and out of sync. When that happens, the goalie has to come up big and bail out his teammates until they get their shit together. Brian Boucher did just that. His play this season deserves an article of its own, really — it’s remarkable how good he looks at the ripe age of 34 after revamping his game. Boucher’s positioning, rebound control, and puck handling are so much better now than they were last year, sometimes I feel like I’m watching an entirely new player. It’s obvious this team has supreme confidence no matter who’s in net, whether it’s Boucher or Sergei Bobrovsky. I guess you could say there’s another goalie conundrum in Philadelphia, but it’s not like in past years. Instead, this thing is shaping up pretty nicely, as having two very capable goalies is a wonderful “problem” for coach Peter Laviolette to face. Plus, you really get the feeling there’s no animosity between Boucher and Bobrovsky (with Boucher adopting the role of mentor), and that they will both continue to push each other to be better with each start.
Anyway, where was I… oh, right, Claude Giroux. I know it seems like I’m falling all over myself in my praise of the young pivot — which I am — but that’s attributable to the excitement of knowing I’ll get to watch him don the orange and black for at least the next decade. There isn’t enough hyperbole to exalt the way he plays the game. Elite hockey IQ, natural skill, vision, passing ability, and hands? Check. Defensively responsible in all three zones and able to play in every situation? Check. Plays a physical brand of hockey (he’s 5-11, 180 pounds, keep in mind), is deceptively strong on his skates and in the corners, and damn near impossible to knock off the puck? Check. Elevates his game on the biggest stage and thrives under pressure (see: playoffs)? Check. Has his coach’s utmost trust and respect? Check. Just for good measure, he’s not afraid to drop the gloves and throw down, either. But, like last night’s hit on LaRose, it’s this kind of play that sets Giroux apart:
You don’t have to understand the nuances of hockey to appreciate why a play like that is so awe inspiring (it has also become one of Giroux’s trademark tactics when killing a penalty). It’s having that innate sense of the moment and understanding what your team needs you to do at that precise juncture — and then exerting the requisite effort to make it happen. Yeah, pulling off fancy moves with the puck and dangling around opponents is fun, but Claude Giroux knows more — much more — than that is required to win. And he’s willing to do whatever it takes. That is what makes him so special.
Just do yourself a favor and look up some of his highlight videos. Here, I’ll expedite the process:
It’s no longer a matter of if with Giroux, but when.