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Contrary to popular belief, blame for Flyers' playoff exit shouldn't all fall on Claude Giroux

Contrary to popular belief, blame for Flyers' playoff exit shouldn't all fall on Claude Giroux

When you’re the captain of a Philadelphia Flyers team that just suffered a frustrating first-round exit at the hands of a hated rival, glaring eyes of disappointment are going to be focused on you in the following days.

So it should come as no surprise that is the exact situation Claude Giroux finds himself in at this very moment after the Flyers quietly bowed out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 2-1 Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers this past Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

Even though Giroux didn’t have anywhere near the best series of his life, placing all the blame for the Flyers’ ouster on the Hart Trophy finalist isn’t very fair.

First off, let’s give the Rangers some credit. They played smothering defense and blocked a boatload of shots. The defensive pairing of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh drew Giroux most of the series and played incredibly well against him.

Also, it’s hard to score when your team can barely get the puck out of its own zone and allows the Rangers to have as much puck possession as they did, but that’s another story for another day.

But, yes, Giroux struggled at times in the series and was too passive when he had certain opportunities to shoot. That said, he still led the team with six points in seven games. G, Jake Voracek and rookie Jason Akeson were the only ones really creating legitimate scoring opportunities.

Outside of those three, the series was a total team offensive failure for the Flyers.

Excluding empty-net goals, Philadelphia scored just 14 goals in seven games. For those of you not well-equipped in the field of mathematics, that’s an average of just two goals per game. That’s just not going to work, especially in the Stanley Cup Playoffs against a defense like the Rangers have.

To make matters worse, four of those 14 goals came from defensemen whose main objective is to, you know, play defense. Their main objective isn’t to score.

Among the Flyers’ 20-goal scorers in the regular season, Scott Hartnell and Brayden Schenn didn’t score in the series. Vinny Lecavalier and Matt Read each tallied just once. Take away Wayne Simmonds’ hat trick in Game 6 and all he had was an empty-netter.

As you may have noticed, Giroux’s offensive backup just didn’t show up in the series. Outside of Voracek and Akeson, a rookie who played just two career regular season games before bursting onto the scene in this series, Giroux rarely had any help.

And when that happened, the Rangers were able hone in even more on Giroux and take away what little space he already had.

So while the pressure and blame comes with the territory of being the Flyers’ captain, all of it shouldn’t fall on Giroux. There is plenty of blame to go around for the Flyers’ offensive struggles against the Rangers.

Steve Mason deserved a much better fate.

If it’s any consolation, this Penguins-Rangers matchup we’re subjected to is a matchup of the NHL’s two most overrated teams that are playing to be eaten alive by the Canadiens or Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final.

CSNPhilly Internship - Advertising/Sales

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CSNPhilly Internship - Advertising/Sales

Position Title: Intern
Department: Advertising/Sales
Company: Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia
# of hours / week: 10 – 20 hours

Deadline: November 20

Basic Function

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Flyers captain Claude Giroux appears to embrace move to wing

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Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers captain Claude Giroux appears to embrace move to wing

VOORHEES, N.J. — Dave Hakstol brought up the idea on Monday and Claude Giroux appeared to embrace it.

The Flyers' captain switched to left wing during Tuesday’s practice on a line with Jakub Voracek at right wing and Sean Couturier in the middle.

“That’s funny because I was pretty much a winger all my life,” Giroux said. “I started playing center when I became a professional. It’s hard to complain when you’re playing with Jake and Coots.”

“I liked it,” Voracek said. “He (Giroux) is a very powerful guy, so he always skates into the space on the ice when there’s an opening. I think as a line we’ve been working pretty good. We understand each other. It’s one of the looks Hak might try in the preseason. I wouldn’t read too much into it, but I don’t know, if it’s long term, that means we’re playing good.” 

Over the years, Giroux has found a comfort zone creating a shot off the left half board, especially off the team’s power-play setup, and towards the end of Tuesday’s practice, Couturier was feeding Giroux one-timer after one-timer. 

“We did a lot of drills where I was coming down the left side there,” Giroux said. “I can see the ice pretty good from there because you have the puck on your good side. It was actually a lot of fun. It’s not like I'm against it or I’m not happy with it if it makes the team better. I know we have a lot of centermen. I’m up for the idea for sure.”

The second part of the experiment involves Sean Couturier and whether this type of move could also open up his untapped offensive side. The Flyers' best defensive center, Couturier has consistently scored between 34-39 points in each of the past four seasons, but has failed to take the next step to prove he can evolve into a top-six role. Needless to say, the seventh-year center embraced playing with two highly-skilled linemates.

Especially Giroux.

“It’s been six years we’ve been here and we’ve never really played with each other," Couturier said. "We’ve kinda played with everyone else but each other. Me and G have some good chemistry. The little odd shifts here and there we’d have together we’d seem to create something and get some scoring chances, so hopefully, we can make this work.” 

Giroux grew accustomed to playing right wing when he first entered the NHL under head coaches John Stevens and later Peter Laviolette. With Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Danny Briere occupying the center spots, Giroux still found a way to thrive offensively as he scored 76 points to lead the Flyers in 2010-11, while also taking the second most face-offs on the team that season.  

“I think breakouts, when you’re on the right side for me, it’s easier to handle the puck and kinda chip it out and make a play, but offensively on the left side it’s a lot better," Giroux said. "When you come into the zone you got Coots going to the net and Jake on the weak side I think it’s pretty exciting when you see that.” 

The decision to switch Giroux to wing also comes two days after Nolan Patrick turned in a solid effort in his preseason debut against the Islanders. If Patrick, who turned 19 years old on Tuesday, is to make the opening night roster in San Jose, it’s expected Hakstol will be forced to make some adjustments and re-arrange some of his veterans up and down the lineup. So far in camp Patrick, Valtteri Filppula, Couturier and Scott Laughton are the only ones who have not moved from their center positions.   

“I wouldn’t connect the dots to that (Patrick making the team) quite yet,” Hakstol said. “I think that’s too early of a connection to make. I think it’s obvious that we have a number of players that are good centermen. Jori Lehtera has jumped over to the left side for the first few practices and the first preseason game. Today, this gave us an opportunity to have Jori back up the middle, so no, I wouldn’t draw the connection directly towards Nolan Patrick at this point in time.” 

Giroux would not be the first established veteran to transition from center to wing later in his career as the Flyers captain mentioned Sharks forwards Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, two established centers who have also transitioned to the wing over the past few years in San Jose.

“They take faceoffs on their strong side and it's tough when you take faceoffs all game against the guy who’s on his strong side. It’s tough," Giroux said. "Maybe I’m not going to play one more shift on the wing, but that’s up to the coach, but I really liked it today.”  

We’ll see if the next experimental phase comes during Wednesday’s split squad exhibition against the Islanders. With Hakstol coaching the team in Allentown he would probably want to see firsthand how that line operates.

Health check
Wayne Simmonds missed his second straight day of practice Tuesday suggesting that Monday’s absence was more than what head coach Dave Hakstol has termed “a maintenance day.” Players are rarely given days off during camp, but the Flyers would not elaborate any further regarding Simmonds status. A team spokesman said Simmonds is scheduled to skate with the team Wednesday morning, however, it’s not known whether he will play in one of the Flyers split squad games against the Islanders.

On the blue line
Sam Morin and Robert Hagg, the Flyers top two picks from the 2013 draft class, appear to have separated themselves even further from their fellow rookie prospects. Travis Sanheim was moved to the afternoon group and AHL veteran T.J. Brennan was brought over to the morning practice with the NHL regulars. 

“It was nice to play with these guys at a little bit higher pace,” Brennan said, “Who knows what they’re thinking, but I’m just trying to give them the best I got and hopefully they get a good impression.”

Coming off an all-star season with the Phantoms in 2016-17, the Willingboro, New Jersey native and lifelong Flyers fan hasn’t played in the NHL since suiting up with the Toronto Maple Leafs in April 2016. 

“I’ve just learned to focus that energy in different spots,” Brennan said. “This time a year ago there was a little more anxiety involved. Now I think throughout the entire organization they have an idea of who I am, how I play and maybe how I can fit in.”  

Lines and pairings
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Oskar Lindblom-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Dale Weise
Michael Raffl-Jori Lehtera-Matt Read
Colin McDonald-Scott Laughton-Taylor Leier

Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Sam Morin-T.J. Brennan
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas