Claude Giroux’s torrid finish over the final 10 games of the regular season is undoubtedly the single-biggest reason the Flyers earned a first-round matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Without his contributions, the Flyers would have already conducted their exit interviews.
But the team is still searching for the player that posted a career-high 34 goals and 102 points.
Through the first three games of the series, Giroux has managed one assist. He hasn’t experienced this lack of production over a three-game span since the beginning of February, Games 51-53 of the regular season, which more than anything speaks to how dominant he was over the final two months of the regular season.
Upon further inspection, Giroux’s shot has been wickedly off the mark. Excluding shots that were blocked, Giroux hit the net on 76 percent of his attempted shots during the regular season. That number has dipped dramatically in the Pittsburgh series to just 44 percent.
Of the 10 shots he fired in Game 3, five never had a chance at becoming a goal. The captain’s marksmanship hadn’t been this far off the mark in a single game since March 2014. Uncharacteristically, Giroux’s nine missed shots in the postseason now lead all NHL players.
Somewhere there’s a “gripping the stick too tightly” cliche just ready to roll off the tongue.
Giroux’s lack of scoring aside, the most startling sequence of events came right after Evgeni Malkin scored a power-play goal early in the second period. It was a moment head coach Dave Hakstol referred to as the point in Game 3 when he should have utilized a timeout (see story).
It might have prevented the fastest two goals in NHL postseason history. Sidney Crosby not only won the faceoff cleanly but skated around the Flyers’ captain, who appeared so shell-shocked that he forgot to pick up Brian Dumoulin, who jumped in from his left defense position to take Crosby’s pass and score on a snap shot.
Goaltender Brian Elliott even appeared surprised how that play unfolded.
“We can’t get beat off of a neutral-zone draw like that and have a guy walking down Main Street,” Elliott said. “It’s just another thing that I don’t think we’re ready for right off the draw there.”
If there’s one aspect of Giroux’s game that’s a notch above the competition, it’s his work in the faceoff circle. He took over 1,000 draws this season and was never beaten that badly.
After cleaning up in Game 1, Giroux won less than 40 percent of his faceoffs in Games 2 and 3, which hadn’t happened in back-to-back playoff games since the epic seven-game series against Boston in 2010.
Entering this series, the Flyers needed one of two things to happen to have a legitimate chance at dethroning the two-time champs: superior goaltending or the Flyers’ elite players outperforming Pittsburgh’s elites.
So far, neither have happened.
Crosby once went 13 straight playoff games without a goal. The Penguins suffered then, and the Flyers can’t survive without Giroux at his best in this series.