If there is one thing the Philadelphia Flyers know how to do, it’s how to beat the New York Islanders. Thursday night, the team improved to 19-1 in their last 20 contests against their longtime rivals, 4-3.
Although the Flyers blew a two-goal lead in the third period, Andrej Meszaros saved the day with his overtime winner. Despite Meszaros’ heroics, the defenseman wasn’t the story of the game for the Flyers.
That honor belonged to Claude Giroux.
It’s not unusual for Giroux to excel on both sides of the ice. His determination and talent combine to make him one of the most exciting young players to watch in the NHL. However, the budding star has rarely been as physical as he was on Thursday.
“Any time you are good defensively, I think you create more chances offensively. When you hit, you get on the puck more,” Giroux said afterwards. “[Craig Berube] is always telling me to get involved more, so it’s a little fun.”
The quantity of hits that the Hearst, Ontario native had weren’t extremely impressive, but the quality was. His early hip-check on Islanders forward Frans Nielsen set a tone for the game’s physical nature. It also caught most of the Wells Fargo Center crowd off guard.
Even after the game, it seemed to surprise Giroux himself.
“I almost fell a couple of times there going backwards,” he said with a chuckle. “The last time I skated backwards I think was pee-wees, so I was just trying to get up on him, and I was able to clip him, so I got pretty lucky there.”
Although his physical play was certainly influential on the game, it was his offensive play-making ability that stood out as usual. With the score tied at one, Giroux found James van Riemsdyk with an incredible backhanded no-look pass. Van Riemsdyk took the pass on the doorstep and easily deked goalie Al Montoya before tapping in the team’s second goal.
“You know, we get used to seeing that from [Giroux] all year long,” van Riemsdyk said. “He’s having a great year and he just continues to do that game in and game out…nothing really surprises me with him out there. He’s a great player. He does a lot of special things out there.”
In the third period, Giroux found a way to stand out again. While controlling possession of the puck through the offensive zone, he saw forward Jeff Carter drive to the net. With Carter and the accompanying defenseman to the right of Montoya, Giroux lifted a pass in their vicinity. The puck was perfectly placed for Carter’s deflection, the Flyers third tally of the contest.
Many people across the league may be caught off guard by Giroux’s play this season, but head coach Peter Laviolette certainly isn’t among them.
“I thought he was terrific,” the Flyers coach said about Giroux. “He is playing with a lot of confidence right now and he is competing shift after shift at a very high level. He looks strong on the puck, strong on his skates, and it is very noticeable.”
After a great showing in last year’s postseason, it seemed like the former first round draft pick was ready to come into his own. That certainly has been the case in the 2010-11 campaign. In addition to making his first career All Star Game appearance in only his second full season, he has accumulated a team-high 57 points in 61 games. For a team that leads the Eastern Conference in goals scored, that is no small feat.
The ever-humble 23-year-old fan favorite refused to take full credit for his success when asked about it after Thursday’s victory.
“Anytime a coach plays you more you get more confident,” he explained. “I’m playing with [Carter] and sometimes [van Riemsdyk] and [Scott Hartnell]. Any time you play with those guys, it makes your job a lot easier.”
With two beautiful assists on Thursday, it was clear that he makes their job easier too.