Giroux taking Flyers' slump hard
It was just one day after the Philadelphia Flyers made the bold decision to fire Peter Laviolette, just a few hours after the team made their debut under new coach Craig Berube and just a few minutes after the group secured its first win of the season.
A subdued Claude Giroux quoted Flyers legend Bernie Parent: "It's a beautiful game."
It was easy to discern the frustration and disappointment seeping through his words.
His team managed an ugly-but-necessary win over the Florida Panthers, but Giroux was still struggling to make sense of his own stymied production and the Flyers' less-than-satisfactory start.
The 25-year-old captain and undisputed face of the franchise may very well be facing the most difficult challenge of his young career: an abrupt organizational upheaval coupled with a spirit-sapping slump that he hasn't been able to shake.
"My confidence is not there," Giroux said last week after being held off the score sheet in his fourth straight game. Since then he has registered two assists, but has yet to notch his first goal of the season.
My confidence is not there.” -- Claude Giroux on his struggles this season
Giroux denied that his hand was bothering him; he suffered a freak golfing injury during the offseason that sidelined him for most of preseason. He insisted the lack of joy in his game was the problem.
"It's a beautiful game. You've just got to enjoy it," Giroux said. "It feels like I'm not enjoying it right now."
Those that know Giroux aren't surprised that he's taking everything -- the Flyers missing the playoffs last season, Laviolette's firing, his own skid -- so hard.
Former teammate and good friend Daniel Briere said it's Giroux's uber-competitiveness that makes him such a dynamic player. It's also what makes him his own harshest critic.
"Knowing Claude, I know he's probably taking responsibility for it. I'm sure he's not pointing fingers at anybody else but himself. ... I know he takes it hard and takes it to heart," Briere told ESPN.com in a phone conversation on Monday. "I'm 100 percent sure he feels very responsible for it. At the same time, he's one of those guys that doesn't sit back and pout. He loves to take control of the situation and make it better."
And when he does?
"People better watch out when he comes out of it," Briere said with a chuckle. "He's gonna feed off of that even more. That's where he becomes more and more dangerous."
Briere, of course, has seen firsthand what the talented young center can do. In a breakout 2010-11 season, Giroux earned a name among the league's elite with a dazzling 76-point regular-season performance. He followed that up with an even more impressive 93-point campaign the next year. And despite the Flyers' travails in a lockout-shortened 2013 season, he still averaged almost a point a game, with 13 goals and 35 assists in 48 games.
His eight-year, $66.2 million contract extension is a reflection of his value to the Flyers' franchise, but it's not his skill alone that is responsible for his already lengthy list of accomplishments in the early stages of his career.
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"He's relentless in his work ethic. That's what makes me believe that [the slump] is not something that's going to drag on and on," Briere said. "[His success] is not purely on skill. He's one of those players that's so competitive and works so hard and that's one of the reasons he's one of the best players in the NHL."
Briere recalls how going through adverse situations as a young player -- for him it was during his tenure in Phoenix -- can help shape a player as a leader moving forward.
"It's probably his first big crisis," Briere said. "Now, it's probably the first time where the team and him are both struggling, and a coaching change at the same time while he's captain. There's certainly a lot for him to learn."
The Flyers have still won only one game this season, so Giroux's struggles aren't isolated. One Western Conference scout that took in a Flyers game recently rattled off a list of the team's deficiencies, beginning with its suspect defensive corps. When asked about Giroux, he laughed.
"He's a good player," he said, unconcerned. "He'll get through it."
Though Giroux is struggling to maintain his own confidence, Berube seems to have it in ample supply for his captain. On his first day as head coach, Berube seemed convinced the team's leadership group was capable of turning things around.
Keep in mind that Giroux also has the benefit of plenty of other veteran teammates -- Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen and former captains Vincent Lecavalier (Lighting) and Mark Streit (Islanders) -- to help hold the fort in Philly.
"They're all veteran guys, good leaders who know what has to be done," Berube said. "Sometimes, it's just hard to do and they just have to be pushed the right way to do it."
Ultimately, no one will be pushing Giroux harder than himself.
"As captain, when you're team's not playing well, you kind of point fingers at yourself. I think we've got to have a better mindset going into the game," Giroux told ESPN.com. "Our attitude has got to change, and it will."