Quick quiz: who leads the entire National Hockey League in points since the beginning of 2011? It’s not Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, or Patrick Kane.
It’s the captain of the Philadelphia Flyers, Claude Giroux.
However, times are different this time around. Giroux, coming off of a poor season by his standards in 2016, has regressed further in 2017. Giroux currently has the worst overall stats of his career since becoming an NHL regular in 2009.
Will Giroux turn things around, or is this the beginning of the end of Giroux’s reign as an NHL star?
Now let’s get this out of the way nice and quick: in no way am I saying that Claude Giroux is a bad hockey player in need of a healthy scratch. In spite of his seemingly-subpar 2017 season, Giroux is still 21st in the entire NHL in points, ahead of such stars like Jamie Benn, Alex Ovechkin, Auston Matthews, and John Tavares. Giroux is by no stretch of imagination a lackluster NHL player.
However, that doesn’t mean that he isn’t costing the Flyers wins. The old adage out of Philadelphia over the past few years has been that the “the Flyers go as Claude Giroux goes”, and that statement still rings true even as Giroux turns 29.
When Giroux has had his best offensive years (2011, 2012, 2014), the Flyers had long playoff runs. By the same token, the Flyers’ playoff-less years have coincided with Giroux’s lesser years: he was still really good, but he wasn’t the amazing catalyst that the Flyers desperately needed.
So fast forward to the end of last season. Giroux only scored 6 goals and 25 points over the season’s final 35 games, including the playoffs. This sudden dip in production was not what Flyers fans expected from Giroux, but it was soon revealed that the Captain was playing with a major core muscle injury that limited his skating ability and ultimately required surgery. In light of that news, Giroux was given a pass for his uncharacteristic production at the end of the season.
Giroux seemed to put his struggles behind him at the beginning of this season, sitting among the NHL leaders in assists and points for much of the first three months. However, it took Giroux 8 games to score his first goal, he only has two multi-goal performances all year, and has just 3 goals and 16 points over his last 20 games, a lull similar to the one he endured last season when playing injured.
There were a few signs last year that Giroux was playing hurt: he looked noticeably slower, he was not getting into his typical shooting positions, and he wasn’t making pretty passes or dirty dangles with ease anymore. This year though, Giroux has shown no signs of a major injury, except for perhaps a bruised ego.
So what has been the cause of Giroux’s prolonged scoring droughts this year? Well for one, Giroux is taking fewer shots this year than any year since 2011, back before he was a top-line center. This would be fine if Giroux was converting on those shots as often as he had in the past, but Giroux has also had a career-worst shooting percentage this year, only turning 8.5% of his shots into goals (his career average is 10.5%).
This particular predicament is very similar to the one that dogged Jake Voracek last year for the Flyers. Voracek took less shots than usual last season, and bottomed out at just a 5.2% shooting percentage, almost half of his career 9.4% average. Voracek has bounced back this year to find himself in the top 10 in the NHL in shots, as well as points.
Simply put, Giroux needs to shoot the puck more often. A wise man once said, if you put the puck on the net, you never know what can happen. Claude Giroux needs to adapt this philosophy instead of trying to force passes on his teammates.
It’s likely that Giroux has had some bad luck this year with hitting posts and breaking sticks, but it’s also likely that Giroux’s low scoring rate is a result of him firing low-percentage perimeter shots. For a player to have a high shooting percentage, they need a combination of luck and quality shots. Right now Giroux has neither, but there is one element that he can control.
Let’s think back to some of Claude Giroux’s most memorable goals. Remember that brilliant goal against the Bruins on opening night of 2011-12? Or his memorable tally in the 2012 Winter Classic? What about “The Shift” against the Penguins, which showcased his physical side? And who could forget Giroux’s game-winning goal in Game 3 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final?
What do all of these goals have in common? Giroux’s hands are obviously a huge part of these goals, but his willingness to get into the dirty areas and make things happen inside the circles was a major part of what made these goals so special.
For much of the past two seasons though, Giroux has resorted to ripping slapshots from the circle on the power play: a trick that has resulted in some awesome goals for sure, but also a shot that is very predictable and requires perfect conditions to end up with the red light flashing.
Giroux is now 29 years old, and he may be beginning to lose some of his trademark speed that got him into those greasy positions back in the day. But if Giroux wants to regain his goal-scoring touch, he’s going to have to become more of a sniper reminiscent of his younger days instead of relying on power and passes.
Claude Giroux remains one of the top point-producers in the NHL, but we have begun to see signs of the league catching up to the Flyers’ captain. In order to be a better player in the future, Giroux may need to dip back into his past. Hockey is a game of constant adjustments, and Giroux may need to mix up his play style to become great again.