The Philadelphia Flyers are in the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the first time since 2012. Not only was that 2011-12 season the last time the Flyers won a playoff series, but it was also the last time the Flyers really had a team built to possibly make a run.
Claude Giroux had his coming out party during the 2010 playoffs with 21 points (10 goals) in 23 games, but he had another great showing in 2012 with 17 points (eight goals) in 10 games. He looked like a budding superstar and the next face of the franchise.
Giroux has become the face of the franchise and a star for the Flyers, but it hasn’t been a smooth ride.
Since the Flyers last playoff series win, Giroux as received the brunt of the criticism for the Flyers’ lack of success. Whether it be people complaining about his lack of leadership, calling for him to get traded, or simply wanting him to be better, one of the constant storylines around the Flyers has been Giroux.
It makes sense in a way, however, since Giroux is just one of three Flyers still on the roster from that 2011-12 season, along with Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier – James van Riemsdyk is also back on the roster after six seasons in Toronto. He has been one of the few constants for the Flyers, and as the captain he gets looked to for answers.
Giroux was named the captain prior to the 2013 season, which only elevated the spotlight on him and the attention he received. He has been the whipping boy for some of the media when things go wrong, even if the rest of the Flyers roster had no business being near the playoffs.
Unfortunately, Giroux and the Flyers hadn’t been able to find playoff success since then.
One of the main things people are worried about with Giroux is his lack of goals in the playoffs. Since 2012, Giroux has scored just three goals in 28 playoff games: a late goal with the goalie pulled down two against the Rangers, an empty-net goal against the Rangers, and the opening goal in a win against the Penguins.
More notably, Giroux has just one goal in 22 playoff games (including all nine games this year) since that empty-net goal against the Rangers. It’s a long drought for the captain that makes you worry. However, if you take those 22 games and break them down, it’s not as bad as it looks.
The first game is Game 7 against the Rangers, a 2-1 loss against Henrik Lundqvist in his prime. The Flyers didn’t have a great chance of scoring anyway, but Giroux did his best. He had eight shot attempts, seven scoring chances (three high-danger) and three shots on goal in the game. He was on the ice for a team-leading 27 shot attempts, 19 scoring chances, and 10 high-danger chances. I’ll take that performance any day of the week.
The next two series – 2016 against the Washington Capitals and 2018 against the Pittsburgh Penguins – had a similar issue: a top-heavy Flyers team against a well-rounded opponent. Giroux did all he could to get the Flyers into the playoffs over the course of the 82-game season, but when it came down to it in the playoffs the opposition was able to focus on him as the Flyers’ main threat and shut him down.
Possibly more importantly, Giroux has taken 45 shots on goal in the past 22 playoff games, resulting in a shooting percentage of 2.2% with his goal against the Penguins. That includes zero goals on 22 shots in his last 10 postseason games, which would be at least two goals at a 11% shooting rate. Sometimes goals come down to luck, like we saw with Voracek’s shot going in off of a defender or Hayes’ netfront pass banking in off of Price. If Giroux got a bounce or two this might not even be a conversation.
Throughout the Flyers’ rebuild, Giroux was able to carry the Flyers to the playoffs a few times, but only to a first-round exit. Could Giroux have played better in those series? Probably. Would it have made enough of a difference for a long playoff run? Probably not.
Giroux’s supporting cast was weak, which allowed teams to key in on him during important games (i.e. the playoffs). With no forward depth, the opposition focused on shutting down Giroux’s line and letting anyone else beat them. Given the Flyers’ mediocre depth forwards from 2014 to 2018, that plan worked to perfection for the Rangers, Capitals, and Penguins.
That brings us to this season. The Canadiens were able to keep Giroux out of the goal column in the first round, but the Flyers were able to work past that. The Flyers are now a team with plenty of depth and weapons that should open up things for Giroux. They are able to roll four lines and teams shouldn’t be able to just shut down Giroux and win the series.
Giroux started the series on the top line, but after things weren’t working out in a 5-0 shutout loss in Game 2 and a nervous 1-0 win in Game 3, Alain Vigneault decided to spread the weapons throughout the lineup. That resulted in Giroux being moved to the third line with Derek Grant and Scott Laughton, two linemates that aren’t going to do too much to help put Giroux in scoring situations. He then moved to center for Game 6, with JVR joining him and Laughton.
In a tight-checking series with the Canadiens playing a defensive style, not much offense was available for either side. The Flyers struggled with just 11 goals in the six games, but Giroux had his hand in setting up most of the Flyers goals, just a step behind Voracek and Couturier on the series.
Giroux was on the ice for three of the Flyers’ seven goals at 5-on-5 play, and seven of their 11 goals overall. Giroux had an important part in most of those goals with three primary assists and one secondary assist, but only one of the assists was at 5-on-5.
He had been on the ice for seven of the Flyers’ eight goals through Game 5, but didn’t have a great game with JVR and Laughton in Game 6 and the power play did not convert despite setting up a few quality chances.
In all situations, Giroux led the Flyers in shot attempts (30) and was fifth in individual scoring chances (12), but he didn’t get a single high-danger chance in the series and was seventh on the team in individual expected goals for.
While Giroux’s overall numbers look pretty good, most of that damage came on the power play. He wasn’t a huge factor at even strength.
During 5-on-5 play, Giroux had 0.18 individual expected goals. Only Justin Braun, Tyler Pitlick, and Travis Sanheim had less among Flyers that played in all six games. What’s worse is that Giroux had less ixG than players who missed games, such as Shayne Gostisbehere (0.22), JVR (0.29), Joel Farabee (0.45), and Michael Raffl (0.55). Granted, some of Raffl’s ixG may have been Giroux’s if he stayed on the top line, but it’s still not great.
He also had only 10 shot attempts, four scoring chances (zero high-danger), and two shots on goal in 68:01 during 5-on-5 play. Per 60 minutes, that ranks Giroux last in shots, third-worst in ixG, fifth-worst in shot attempts, and third-worst in scoring chances among forwards.
While his on-ice numbers show him in a better light, it’s still not the dominant performance that you’d like to see.
Giroux finished third on the team with a Corsi-For Percentage of 47.41% in the series, but he was on the ice for three goals for and three goals against, and had an Expected Goals-For Percentage of 38.24, which was about on par for the Flyers in the series. You want to see more out of one of your best players and captain.
Unfortunately, this has been a trend for Giroux throughout his career.
Giroux’s expected goals
|Year||xGF% (5v5)||xGF% (5v5)||ixGF/60 (5v5)||ixGF/60 (5v5)|
|Year||xGF% (5v5)||xGF% (5v5)||ixGF/60 (5v5)||ixGF/60 (5v5)|
|Regular season||Playoffs||Regular season||Playoffs|
Now, the sample sizes are small due to losing in the first round so it should be taken with a grain of salt, but Giroux’s Expected Goals numbers have gotten worse in the playoffs compared to the regular season.
This year has only been a six-game sample size, which would usually be a footnote during a 4-2-0 stretch during the regular season, but it’s the most important six games of the year for Giroux and the Flyers. The good news is that the Flyers were able to adapt their style and survive against a relentless Canadiens team.
In past years, taking Giroux out of the series would’ve resulted in a first-round exit. Now, however, the have a deep forward group that can pick up some of the slack, a good defense corps that can hold the fort, and oh yeah, Carter Hart in goal.
The bad news is that the Flyers are likely going to need more from their top players against the Islanders, and that starts with Giroux. Six subpar games in one series is one thing, but if that extends to 10 or 12 games, there might be things to seriously worry about for the Flyers.
Taking the stats out of the picture, the Flyers simply need more from their top players. The power play may start finding the back of the net to get things going, but even-strength play is also important.
The Islanders play a defensive style, just like the Canadiens, but it’s not the exact same thing. The Canadiens had a suffocating defense with Carey Price stopping the forecheck before the Flyers even got it started. Against the Islanders, there will be more opportunities for the Flyers to control the puck and set things up.
The Flyers were able to survive a series against the Canadiens without their top players playing at their best and without their depth forwards contributing much offense. If one of those two things – or both – change against the Islanders, the Flyers should be just fine.
So, going back to the point of this article: Should Flyers fans be worried about Claude Giroux?
Well, it’s complicated.
There are fair points to be made regarding his play so far this postseason, but Giroux is much more than just a goalscorer. He is still one of the best players on the team and does a lot more than just score goals.
Giroux is primarily a playmaker and plays a 200-foot game. He does everything for the Flyers from winning crucial faceoffs to quarterbacking the power play. Simply looking at the fact that he’s scored one goal in the playoffs since 2014 isn’t fair given everything that he does.
However, there are definitely some arguments to be made regarding concerns about Giroux. It’s something that is top of mind in the playoffs, especially during a frustrating series like the one against the Canadiens. You’d like to see him have a breakout game and put this argument to rest, but hasn’t really been able to take over a game like that since The Shift in 2012.
If things continue this way against the Islanders, it may be a different conversation. Giroux will hopefully be moved back up to the top line for the second round. With Voracek already at the top of his game and Couturier playing well too, that trio can hopefully get back to what they were doing towards the end of the regular season. The Canadiens may have quieted Giroux, but he shouldn’t be silenced by the Islanders.
Should Flyers fans be worried about Claude Giroux?
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