PHILADELPHIA - Hockey is not fun when you are 1-3.
“One day I’ll wake up and breathe and be ready to play,” said Claude Giroux, and the Coyotes, tonight’s Flyers opponents, do not even have to be warned: Today may be that day. When you are as consummately talented as the Flyers’ captain, inevitably every bad performance brings you closer to your next good one.
“It’s a beautiful game,” Giroux said. “You need to enjoy it and I feel like I am not enjoying it much.
“Plays are not there and I am trying to make them there. Go back to the basics. Play more physical, I don’t know; I’m sure I’ll figure it out. “
It looks like he can use some help with that from left wing Scott Hartnell, who is coming off a bad year and having to prove he still is a first-line player; from new right wing Wayne Simmonds, who like his linemates has yet to register a point, or erstwhile winger Jake Voracek, a seventh-overall pick who took it up a level last year and may have another gear yet to become a star; from Craig Berube, who has a laundry list of egos he has to pump up.
After we wade through all the coaching-change platitudes about making players accountable, a new boss’s a first responsibility following an in-season move is to make them more confident.
“They are squeezing their sticks, everybody can see that,” said Berube. Sometimes the players themselves can’t see the forest for the trees, though, as the new sheriff said at his introductory press conference about players thinking they are playing hard when they aren’t.
A career’s worth of good instincts can disappear in a matter of games when a slump begins, an injury occurs, or a training camp is missed. Split-squad games, contests in little Canadian rinks, and the lack of permanence to the results of exhibitions notwithstanding, Ed Snider and Paul Holmgren were not overreacting to the importance of camp when they cited the Flyers’ poor one as a primary reason for the firing of Peter Laviolette after just three regular-season games.
Giroux, who missed half that camp with a hand injury occurring during a golf outing, has become exhibit A of why players need those three-quarter velocity exhibitions to get all the way up to speed for the real season.
“Guys are trying not to think too much and just play the game,” said Giroux, meaning, he too, is trying not to think too much and just play the game.
Easier said than done, but then again, simpler for players of his skill level. It is hard to keep a good man down for long. But job one for Berube is to get his best player going.
“I think personally that G is trying a little too hard,” said Berube. “He gives everything he has out there and sometimes it’s too much.
“You try too hard, you can’t accomplish the things you want to accomplish.”
The same goes for a new coach who tries too hard to establish his authority, but the Flyers know their promoted assistant, making that trial unnecessary. A coach and his best player must form a partnership, otherwise you know which one will go. And there seems to be mutual respect between Giroux and Berube.
“When you get to the bench and know you made a mistake, you know he is going to let you know,” said No. 28 of the new boss man. “It makes you want to prove that you can do the right play the next time. “
Asked how Berube does that, Giroux said, “Just his look is enough.”
Just his look will not be enough over the next few weeks as the Flyers fight not to fall too far behind in the playoff race while changing to the more conservative system that management wanted Laviolette to employ. That takes time, evidence provided in 2009 when the Flyers won only two of their first 10 games after Laviolette replaced John Stevens.
Sooner or later, they will start to pick up points -- sooner, of course, if their best player does. When that happens, the Flyers’ biggest problem will change to their greatest solution. Giroux, the ink on an 8-year, $66.2 million deal barely dry, obviously is feeling that burden, leaving Berube’s first responsibility to do whatever he can to lower the heat on his star and at the same time get him to heat up.
To contact Jay Greenberg, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @ScribeJG
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