New linemates have a huge road trip
Claude Giroux leads the Flyers with 38 points on 12 goals and 26 assists this season in 21 minutes and 15 seconds of ice time. (USA Today Images)
So much is made these days about ice time in the NHL.
How much a player averages. How those minutes add up over a season. The toll it takes, skating more than 20 minutes a game.
Ask Bobby Hull or Gordie Howe about ice time, about guys averaging 25 minutes or more. They’ll laugh.
That’s because back in the days of the Original Six when NHL rosters were smaller (less than 18 players into the early 1960s), teams had three lines and top players actually logged 30 minutes or more.
Difference was, there were fewer games and fairly easy travel -- no three games in four nights. The checking was far less aggressive and the skating was nowhere near the speed of today’s game.
In other words, the wear and tear on players who played during the 1950s and '60s was far less than on the current generation of players.
Which brings us to Flyers captain Claude Giroux.
His game has come around in the past month, enough so that he’s likely secured a spot on Team Canada’s Olympic roster, which will be announced this week.
Giroux averages 21:15 a game. His minutes are climbing under coach Craig Berube. The Flyers’ team website insider, Anthony SanFilippo, did some research on Giroux, and what he discovered may surprise you.
In short, when Giroux plays more than 21 minutes a night, the Flyers have a losing record and his points per game average is under 1.0, at 0.86. When Giroux plays fewer than 21 minutes a game, the Flyers have a winning record and he's averaging 1.3 points per game.
When reporters asked Giroux for his thoughts on this during the road trip, he was perplexed.
“So you are saying that the less time I spend on the ice, the better it is?" he asked, laughing.
Well, yeah. That’s about it. The breakdown, dating back to the 2011-12 season ...
More than 21 minutes: 92 games -- 24 goals, 55 assists, 79 points: 0.86 points per game. Team record: 39-41-12.
Fewer than 21 minutes: 75 games – 29 goals, 71 assists, 100 points: 1.3 points per game. Team record: 49-23-3.
There are a couple factors at play here. First, you have to account for penalty kills and power plays. That often increases or decreases a player’s ice time during a game.
Second, wins vs. losses. When the Flyers are losing, Berube (and even Peter Laviolette before him) shortens his roster, using Giroux more in games where the Flyers have to play catch-up and less in games that allow them to roll four units.
“During the game a lot of things happen,” Giroux said. “It can be matching lines, the penalty kill a lot, or power play a lot. When you got your legs under you, it is easier to get to the puck. When you are tired, you have mental breakdowns. I’m not sure of what to say. Stats don’t lie, I guess.”
Berube saw the stats this past week, as well.
“Sometimes, when you look at it, and he is playing over 20 minutes, we might be losing the game,” Berube said. “He’s going to play more. In general, I try to keep my forwards under 20. Power play and stuff like that, it is hard with him.”
Berube said the one player he monitors very closely is defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who turns 39 in March and has been physically spent and injured over the past several seasons by the time the playoffs arrive. Timonen averages 21:06.
Berube is careful of how he uses Timonen on long road trips, especially if the club is playing back-to-back games or multiple games in a short span.
“We’re a pretty balanced hockey team,” Berube said. “We try to give ice time to all our players. They all play, we roll four lines.”
Giroux is uncertain as to what would be a perfect ice-time average that might allow him to be fresher over the course of an 82-game season.
“Some games, I can play 25 minutes and feel like I am fresh,” Giroux said. “And I could have played more. Some games I play 17 [minutes] and feel like I played 35.
“It all depends upon the game, the situation. When we have more power plays, you don’t have to battle as much as 5-on-5. [It's] more open ice, more of a thinking game.”
Giroux plays almost four minutes of power play a game -- highest on the club.
As an example, when the Flyers lost in Dallas, 5-1, back on Dec. 7, they had five power plays and five penalty kills. Giroux was involved in both, logging 22:56.
During this recently completed road trip, the Flyers were behind in the third period at both Colorado and Phoenix with Giroux playing 23:08 in a loss to the Avs and 24:21 in a win against the Coyotes this past Saturday.
He said there are also hidden factors on the power play and penalty kill that you don’t think about with a center such as himself: faceoffs.
Winning or losing a draw affects the energy you expend, and if you are on the PK, whether you can quickly rotate off the ice for a fresh player by clearing the puck out of the zone.
“If you win the faceoff and clear, you’ve stopped their breakout and haven’t really taken any hard strides,” Giroux said.
“But when you lose a faceoff, you are skating around and that’s when you get tired. During the hockey game, there are a lot of situations that will tire you.”
And increase or decrease your minutes on the ice -- and your scoring -- as a result.