Inside the Flyers: Flyers' Claude Giroux struggling without his old linemates

Captain Claude Giroux had just three goals and 10 points going into Saturday night's game.
Captain Claude Giroux had just three goals and 10 points going into Saturday night's game. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 18, 2013

MONTREAL - Before we discuss one of the Flyers' hot-button topics in the season's first month - center Claude Giroux's slow start - let's switch to baseball for a moment.

During Chase Utley's heyday, one of the things that made him such a great hitter was the fact that Ryan Howard batted behind him, giving the second baseman better pitches to hit.

Take Howard out of the lineup and Utley doesn't have much protection.

In a sense, Giroux's early-season slump is because his "Howard" has been removed.

Two of them, in fact.

Forget about the captaincy weighing him down. Giroux's slump is more tied to the fact he has lost his two big wingers from last year - Scott Hartnell and the ageless Jaromir Jagr.

Hartnell has played only three games because of a broken left foot. Jagr, who got tired of the Flyers' putting him on hold as they waited to see if they could sign Zach Parise, took the free-agent route to Dallas, where he is the Stars' top scorer with 11 points.

Minus his two linemates from a career-best season in which he finished third in the NHL with 93 points, Giroux has scuffled.

For many reasons.

For one, he has had more linemates than Die Hard has had sequels - and none have the size of Jagr, whose ability to win puck battles was uncanny, or Hartnell. For another, he has been frequently double-teamed and has a fraction of the open ice that was so common last season.

For a smooth skater with dazzling moves such as Giroux, open ice is paramount for creativity. Take it away and those eye-opening passes and clever maneuvers that trigger odd-man rushes become difficult.

Going into this season, there were questions about the Flyers' offense. Would second-year players Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, and Matt Read continue to improve? Would Hartnell (37 goals last year) and Wayne Simmonds (28) come close to matching their career-best seasons? Would Danny Briere bounce back from an injury-plagued, 16-goal season?

None of the questions revolved around Giroux, a 25-year-old center who was called the best player in the world last year by coach Peter Laviolette.

Heading into Saturday night's matchup in Montreal, however, Giroux had managed just 10 points in 15 games, and that included a two-assist (and minus-2) night in a 5-3 loss in New Jersey on Friday. Overall, he was minus-4 and had managed as many goals as rookie Tye McGinn (3).

Giroux plays the game with unbridled passion and relentlessness. Last Monday, after a 5-2 loss in Toronto, it took him about 20 minutes to come out of hiding because he said he was too frustrated to talk to reporters before then and needed time to calm down.

In short, the Hearst, Ontario, native cares until it hurts, a trait that will make him a quality captain.

Giroux has blossomed into one of the game's elite faceoff artists, but the Flyers are going to need him to regain his scoring touch if they are going to become a playoff team. Getting Hartnell back in 10 days or so will be a major step. The other step may come from a deal before the April 3 trade deadline (don't rule out Jagr returning) because the Flyers have cap space.

But that's jumping ahead. For now, general manager Paul Holmgren wants to see if the return of Howard - er, Hartnell - revives Giroux and puts him back on track.

Inside the Flyers: Tale of Two Starts

Entering Saturday night's game in Montreal, Flyers center Claude Giroux had nine fewer points than he had at the same juncture last season. The numbers:

   Games   Goals   Assists   +/-   Points    Record   

Last year    15   9   10   +3   19   8-4-3   

This year   15   3   7   -4   10   6-8-1   

- Sam Carchidi

Contact Sam Carchidi at scarchidi Follow on Twitter @BroadStBull.

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