PHILADELPHIA – To see what Flyers captain Claude Giroux is truly made of, one need only to watch 40 minutes of a preseason hockey game against New Jersey that on the whole has about as much excitement as… well… a regular season hockey game against New Jersey.
Final outcomes irrelevant (2-1 Devils for those inclined to ingest such useless information), the game was all about Giroux and if he could play the game at his typically elite level a little more than a month after an unfortunate golfing incident that resulted in a shattered shaft and finger surgery.
The first 20 of those 40 minutes was simply a process of regaining familiarity for Giroux.
Having not played a competitive NHL game in nearly five months, there was definitely a bit of rust-shaking to accomplish.
Not that it was all that noticeable. Timing just off on a pass here, a wrist shot with a little too much wrist, going wide there, but nothing that would show any cause for real concern.
Then came the second 20 minutes, and all notion of finger surgery, finding his game, getting re-acquainted with the ice and his teammates went out the window.
For there was Giroux, playing at the level everyone is accustomed to watching – a fierce competitor going hard in the corners, playing physical, creating chances, even ringing a shot off the post in the waning seconds of the second period.
It was vintage Giroux – all that was missing was an actual goal, but considering it was a preseason game, one in which guys like Giroux, who are secure with their position on the team, participate with he sole intent of not injuring themselves before the schedule says that games count, it was a sight for sore eyes.
And you didn’t need to watch the third period either. Not that it wasn’t good hockey for an exhibition game. Not that once he pushed it for 20 minutes Giroux pulled back on the reins.
No, because just the opposite. Because you knew, regardless of the time of year. Regardless of the meaning of the outcome. Regardless of the energy-level in the arena (hey, it’s preseason for the fans too) Giroux is going to play with his same elite competitive drive to help his team win.
“He is always good,” said Kimmo Timonen. “He’s in good shape and he is one of the guys who can miss a few months and he’s still good. He just has that natural skill and is a natural player like that. He is going to get even better.”
Oh, and it should be pointed out that for a guy who really couldn’t do anything with his hand for the past five weeks, Giroux won nine of 11 faceoffs.
Not that he wanted credit for that or anything…
“I owe that to my wingers,” he said. “About 75 percent of the time, a faceoff is 50/50. The wingers coming into the circle to win the puck determines if you win the draw or not, so that’smore a credit to them than me.”
So, his captain-speak is in midseason form as well.
“I didn’t see any issues with him shooting or puck battles or faceoffs, nothing like that,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “It’s more his speed of reading line mates, not just him, but new players and getting into a system and getting comfortable with what we do and how we do it.”
Which would hint that the more action for Giroux the better then, right? Especially with the season opener now a week away.
But, as Laviolette pointed out, with a player like Giroux, game action, while always beneficial, is not always the driving force behind preparedness for a new season.
“When we were up in Lake Placid he started to gear himself up,” Laviolette said. “He got out there, was able to move pucks, pass pucks, shoot pucks, and then come back and get cleared for the battles and the contact. He feels great. I think the more he continues to play the more comfortable he’ll get, but like I said, coming back for a first game after not being able to do much of anything for the first part of camp, the puck sure was with him a lot tonight.”
As it will be most nights, because as the captain goes, so go the Flyers. And for the organization, it’s a good thing all is right with him after only 40 minutes.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
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