Special teams can make or break a team’s season. For three straight seasons, captain Claude Giroux has helped the Philadelphia Flyers’ power-play finish among the league’s top-10. It’s looking like that trend will continue for a fourth straight year.
Although the Flyers are currently sitting 10th in the Eastern Conference this season with 49 points, their power play is operating at a 23.7 percent– fourth best in the NHL. Giroux is leading all players with 25 power-play points (nine goals, 16 assists).
Over the past three seasons, no player in the NHL has more power-play points than Giroux, who has piled up a whopping 120 points with the man advantage in that span. Washington Capitals’ Alexander Ovechkin, who is next on this list, trails Giroux by 14 points. It’s not even close.
If it were as simple as just stating the stats, we would be done here. It’s not. Giroux thrives with the extra man because his vision is so unique it’s like he has eyes on the back of his head. Giroux’s head is always on a swivel. It’s never just the obvious play with him. When you’re up a man, there is always a player open to pass to. Giroux is never thinking the easy play. He’ll hold onto the puck and wait until a better chance opens up.
Claude Giroux owns the sidewall. There isn’t a better player in the NHL who can work in that area as well as he does. Because he is so dangerous, he always draws opponents to him, creating open space at the other end of the ice. His passing ability is on another level, so that often leaves players like Jakub Voracek with lots of space to walk in and shoot. Giroux, who has racked up 16 assists on the power play this season, almost never picks up the primary assist. In fact, out of his 16 power-play assists this season, only five have them have been primary. Why is that and why is it not a bad thing?
That answer is two words. Wayne Simmonds. The former King has become so good in front of the net that the Flyers just need to get him the puck down low and he can do the rest. Take his opening power-play goal against the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarter Finals last season as an example. Giroux possesses the puck on the sidewall and has both points open. Instead of making the obvious play, Giroux weathers a perfect pass to Scott Hartnell, who is parked in the high slot. Time and time we would see Hartnell bury that puck past the opposing goaltender. Here’s an example of this play with the puck going in off the Hartnell shot.
That’s not always the case, though. Here in the 2014 playoffs, Hartnell’s shot is stopped by Lundqvist, but Simmonds whacks away and buries the rebound. It all started because Giroux set up Hartnell perfectly for the shot. Simmonds does the rest.
Time after time what you’ll see is Giroux making a nifty pass to a teammate, who will fire a shot on net. Simmonds will either bury the rebound or deflect the shot into the net. Since he’s arrived with the Flyers in 2011-12, Simmonds has racked up 43 power-play goals. Ovechkin is the only player in the NHL who has more power-play goals in that span. In fact, of Simmonds’ 43 power-play goals with Philadelphia, Giroux has assisted on 34 of them. It’s no coincidence Simmonds scores just three power-play goals in three seasons with the Los Angeles Kings and then explodes on the power play once he’s with the Flyers. It’s also no coincidence the Flyers have four players among the league’s top-20 power-play scorers. Giroux is the engine for the Flyers' first power-play unit.
What Giroux does so well is draw players towards him. As soon as the opposing forward covering the point is forced to come down to a dangerous Giroux on the sidewall, Giroux is able to easily make a pass to the blueline. On this play, the Devils can’t give Giroux too much room, so they converge on him on the halfwall. Giroux finds Mark Streit at the point and he blasts one on goal, eventually resulting in a Simmonds power-play tally. Giroux is a prime reason Streit sits second among all defensemen with a whopping 20 power-play points this season. Giroux and Streit have each recorded a point on the same power-play goal 15 times this season.
Okay, so Giroux can thread filthy passes on the power play. But he can also shoot, making him a deadly and dangerous threat. He’s known to pass, so it’s hard for opponents to read him with the man advantage. That extra space and time is so critical for Giroux, as he can use his excellent vision to make the right call. Look at Giroux in this game against the Avalanche earlier this season. He’s set up on the sidewall usual. What’s interesting is he is being checked by a defender, before the defender simply decides to back off. As soon as you force Giroux, he is going to burn you with a sweet pass. On this play, Erik Johnson is checking Giroux, before he decides to leave him alone. Giroux has the point wide open, but instead of making the obvious play, Giroux walks in a rifles a shot past goaltender Reto Berra.
Here’s another example of Giroux on the sidewall scoring, instead of shooting. His shot is so dangerous that he’s absolutely unstoppable in that area. Over the last three seasons, Giroux has racked up 27 power-play goals. That isn’t too shabby.
Giroux’s passing ability just isn’t fair and it’s what makes him the league’s best player on the power play. Here is the captain against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2012 playoffs. With the Flyers on the power play, Giroux is manning the sidewall as usual. Zbynek Michalek makes the mistake of forcing Giroux. As soon as this happens, Giroux sends a magnificent pass to Jakub Voracek, who then finds Simmonds down low. The rest is history.
If you’re the opposition, you’re screwed either way. If you force Giroux, he will burn you with a nifty pass and you will be caught out of position. If you give him room, he can walk in and snipe. Pass or shot, you just don’t know with him. That’s why he is the best on the man advantage. Sure, Steven Stamkos and Ovechkin have rockets, but can they also make plays like Giroux does?
The pass from Giroux to Voracek is a reason why the two can be considered the league’s top duo. When Giroux isn’t firing passes straight to Voracek on the power play, he’s working the puck down low to Simmonds, who then can feed Voracek. Giroux and Voracek have each recorded a point on the same power-play goal 16 times this season, the most of any pairing in the NHL. They know each other so well and combined with Simmonds, the trio is simply unstoppable. It all starts with Giroux making that first pass.
The Flyers’ power play is really good, and it all revolves Claude Giroux. He has factored in on 25 of the Flyers 40 power play goals this season (62.5 percent), and is the best in the entire NHL at what he does. With a lethal shot and terrific passing ability, you won’t find a more dangerous player on the power play.