Giroux not the same after Laviolette's label

060913-giroux-slideshow-uspw.jpg

Giroux not the same after Laviolette's label

Claude Giroux hasn’t been the same, and why do you think that is?

The money? No. Giroux is still playing out the final year of a three-year, $11.25-million deal. His eight-year, $66.2-million extension doesn’t kick in until next season.

The captaincy? No. Giroux has taken the honor very seriously, and has embraced his role as the face of a franchise.

It’s “The Label.” Don’t remember?

Immediately after the Flyers disposed of their cross-state rival Penguins in six games in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, Giroux went from rising superstar to the king of the NHL mountain. His former coach, Peter Laviolette, rolled out one of those medieval catapults at his postgame press conference and launched Giroux into a hockey stratosphere that has included The Great One and a select few who have been compared to Wayne Gretzky ever since.

“When the best player in the world comes up to you and tells you, ‘I don’t know who you plan on starting tonight, but I want that first shift.’ That says everything you need to know about Claude Giroux right there,” Laviolette said at the time.

As he stepped off the stage, Laviolette should have grabbed that pail of red paint used to touch up the goalposts and applied a big, fat bulls-eye onto Giroux’s chest. “The best player in the world” line raised eyebrows and dropped jaws everywhere from Western Pennsylvania to the coastline of British Columbia. It may have come across as a compliment from a head coach to his most-gifted player, but Laviolette’s bold proclamation unloaded a monumental amount of pressure on the shoulders of the Flyers’ best player that simply wasn't needed.

“With that comment, Laviolette tried to move Giroux into the same zip code and neighborhood as Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin,” Flyers analyst Al Morganti said. “As it turns out, Giroux is having trouble paying the higher taxes in terms of attention and tighter checking.”

Residency in that neighborhood can only be obtained by achievement, not inherited through opinion. Crosby, Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin all have Hart Trophies with the distinction as the league’s most valuable player. Crosby and Malkin have hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup. While Laviolette lauded Giroux, his words were also a slap in the face to those who had the necessary credentials -- especially from the much-hated group down the turnpike.

“In hindsight, he (Laviolette) shouldn’t have said it, but I can understand his heart was in the right place at the time,” said Flyers analyst Rick Tocchet, who lives in Pittsburgh and has heard plenty of feedback and reaction from Penguins fans.

If you think Giroux has been oblivious to the backlash, check his Twitter account, where fans in the other 29 cities have taken a virtual sledge hammer to his reputation in the wake of Laviolette’s words. It all has an impact and it was almost immediate.

Since Laviolette’s declaration, the Flyers were upset by New Jersey in the next round. After scoring 14 points against the Penguins, Giroux was held to just three by the defensive-minded Devils. He was invisible in Games 2 and 3 of that series –- both losses -- and was suspended for the series-clinching Game 5 defeat following a borderline hit to New Jersey’s Dainius Zubrus.

The NHL’s awards ceremony that summer in Las Vegas only intensified Giroux’s superstar spotlight. Malkin was awarded the Hart, and the Los Angeles Kings -- with former Flyers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter -- were recognized as Stanley Cup champions. But that evening, it was Giroux who claimed the league’s popularity contest when he graced the cover of EA Sports' NHL 13 video game by receiving the majority of the 26 million fan votes that were cast on NHL.com. Suddenly, Giroux was elevated further –- from the league’s best player to the shelves of Best Buy.

It’s been a rough 2013 for Giroux. The Flyers failed to reach the postseason in his first year as captain, and he admitted recently that the capital “C” on his left shoulder can’t be mistaken for confidence.

“The confidence is not there,” Giroux told CSNPhilly.com's Tim Panaccio last week. “I don’t think it’s the hand -– the confidence is just not there. ... It’s a beautiful game. You need to enjoy it. It feels like I’m not enjoying it right now.”

Confidence wasn’t lacking when he requested to take that opening shift on April 22, 2012 when he leveled Crosby and proceeded to score the game’s first goal. Since that day, and over time, it has been stripped away. Now it's up to Giroux to get it back.

Flyers-Islanders 5 things: Wild-card race about to get busy

Flyers-Islanders 5 things: Wild-card race about to get busy

Flyers (36-32-8) vs. Islanders (35-28-12)
7 p.m. on CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30

The Flyers welcome the New York Islanders to the Wells Fargo Center Thursday on a busy night in the wild card.

Here are five things to know for the game:

1. Let's get wild
Ready for some movement in the Eastern Conference playoff race?

The four teams ahead of the Flyers for the second wild card are all in action Thursday.

The Bruins (vs. Stars) still lead the pack at 86 points, followed by the Lightning (vs. Red Wings) with 83. The Islanders come to Philadelphia with 82 points, while the Hurricanes (vs. Blue Jackets) also have 82.

And one more team to follow: the Maple Leafs (at Predators), who lead the Bruins by only one point for third place in Atlantic Division.

2. Time to streak?
With all the inconsistency, the Flyers are looking to win three games in a row for the first time since Jan. 22-25.

The final six contests for the Flyers are no cakewalks because every single one is against the Metropolitan Division. The Flyers are 9-13-2 in divisional play and have a record of 6-9-1 against the remaining clubs on the schedule.

They still have to play the Blue Jackets and Rangers, two top-five NHL teams.

And they also get the Devils twice more, a team that has won the first three meetings between the two by a combined score of 14-3.

We'll see if the Flyers can flip the script and make things interesting.

"We're not going to quit until the end of the season," Travis Konecny said Tuesday. "That's the way we are. It's the character of our team. It's the things we've shown all year.
 
"Our games may not show it at times, our scores, but I think each and every night we always compete, we always battle. I think things are starting to happen for us."

3. Weal's turning
Jordan Weal has provided a legitimate jolt to the Flyers, who desperately needed offense.

He'll see more and more ice time if he continues to perform the way he has in the past two games, putting up two goals and an assist.

Dave Hakstol has liked the early chemistry on the new second line of Weal, Valtteri Filppula and Wayne Simmonds.

"I think right now, Wayne Simmonds is playing some of his best hockey of the year in terms of a power forward game," Hakstol said Tuesday. "He is just a straight forward, power forward right now. He is very tough to handle down low and I think that is adding an element for Fil and Weal there."

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Shayne Gostisbehere has looked like his old self offensively the past two games in which he has one goal and two assists. He's been active with nine shots, while his point blast looks sharp. The Flyers will need more of that the rest of the way.

Islanders: It has to be John Tavares, who does so much for the Islanders. The captain has 28 goals and 37 assists this season. Twelve of his 65 points have come in the previous 12 games. He also has put up 15 goals and 14 assists in 37 career games against the Flyers.

5. This and that
* Steve Mason will make his 14th start in the last 16 games. Over his past 13 outings, Mason is 8-4-1 with a 2.10 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.

* Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss has been tough on the Flyers in two starts this season, going 1-0-1 with a 1.95 goals-against average and .951 save percentage.

* New York has lost two straight games and six of its last nine.

* Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk is likely to return from a foot injury that has sidelined him since March 5.

Flyers taking 'never die' approach to final playoff push

Flyers taking 'never die' approach to final playoff push

Nothing has changed for the Flyers as they enter Thursday night's game against the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
They remain six points behind Boston for the wild card. They still have four teams to leapfrog over to claim the second wild card spot.
 
Their Tragic Number remains 6 points -- points the Bruins need to eliminate them or points the Flyers need to lose to eliminate themselves.
 
The only difference tonight is the Flyers are playing head-to-head against a team in front of them in the chase.
 
The Islanders absolutely feel they're in this thing even after losing to the Bruins this week. So if they think like that, why not the Flyers?
 
"Obviously a team that is in the race with us," said Flyers captain Claude Giroux. "But, in general, we know we pretty much have to win every game. Our focus is on the Islanders. The big picture is not a picture we like to see.
 
"But at the end of the day, we have to worry about the New York Islanders. It's the only thing we can control now. We can't control future games or other teams."
 
There was genuine euphoria after the Flyers' comeback, 3-2 shootout win over Ottawa on Tuesday. Some of that excitement was immediately tempered when the players realized Boston had won as well.
 
Yet there is a noticeable difference in the Flyers dressing room right now. Guys are looser and more relaxed after three wins in their last four games.
 
"We keep doing what we keep doing," coach Dave Hakstol said. "Guys keep showing up. We're playing hard for each other and taking care of business. We've been real focused on doing that, day after day and night after night."
 
Several players said this week that the games right now are "fun" to play, despite the obvious pressure to gain a playoff spot that is virtually impossible to attain at this point because the numbers overwhelmingly favor clubs ahead of the Flyers.
 
Have games become "fun" because the players are resigned that it's out of their hands and they are now content to allow the chips to fall where they may be?
 
"No, I'll be honest, I think we are seeing some results," Hakstol said. "When you play hard and don't get results it's not fun. But we've continued to play hard and are getting some of the results right now.
 
"We all know the reality of our situation and don't have to revisit it day-in, day-out. We know that for us the most important thing is take care of our own business. That's the single-minded focus of our group right now.
 
"Come to the rink, playing hard together and winning becomes fun. We got to just turn the page, come out and play hard again."
 
Among those Flyers who believe the impossible is doable is defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere.
 
"Our motto is ‘Never die,'" Gostisbehere said. "We know what's against us here. We're just taking it game by game and we're just trying to win every game.
 
"I think you can tell it's a little looser in this locker room, but we’re still going out there putting our best foot forward and trying to win games."
 
The Flyers are 2-1 against the Isles this season.
 
Lineup:
 
F: Read-Giroux-Voracek
Weal-Filppula-Simmonds
Weise-Couturier-Schenn
Vandevelde-Bellemare-Konecny
 
D: Provorov-MacDonald
Del Zotto-Gostisbehere
Manning-Gudas
 
G: Mason; Neuvirth