Suddenly, Gagne, now with the Tampa Bay Lightning, was remembering the exciting -- but fleeting -- moments he had sharing the ice with Peter Forsberg, who played with Philadelphia from 2005 to late in the 2006-07 season. At the time, Forsberg was considered one of the most dynamic players in the game.
"Maybe it's too early to make some comparisons with Peter Forsberg," Gagne told NHL.com following a win last March against the Chicago Blackhawks, "but I did play with Peter and he (Giroux) has pretty much the same style."
That game ended when Giroux -- at full speed in the waning seconds of overtime -- threw a spectacular cross-ice pass to a streaking Chris Pronger
for the winning goal.
Since then, spectacular has become the norm for Giroux, who this season, his second full NHL campaign, played in his first NHL All-Star Game and leads the Eastern Conference's best team in scoring with 36 assists and 57 points. He also has 21 goals, and his 19 minutes of ice time per game leads the team's forwards.
His full array of dazzling skills was on display during Thursday's 4-3 overtime win against the New York Islanders.
|Giroux leads the Flyers in assists (36) and points (57), but has proven quite capable of putting the puck in the net himself. |
He laid a tremendous hip check on Islanders forward Frans Nielsen in the first period, set up James van Riemsdyk
's goal late in the second with a spectacular behind-the-back, backhand pass, and started the play that led to Andrej Meszaros
' overtime goal. He led all forwards with 22:23 of ice time, tied for the team lead with three hits and had a team-high two takeaways.
"Both ends of the ice, it was pretty incredible," said van Riemsdyk. "He controlled the play whenever he was out there. We get used to seeing that from him all year long. He's having a great year and he continues to do it game in and game out.
"Nothing really surprises me with him out there. He's a great player, really well-rounded at both ends of the rink, does a lot of special things out there."
"He's playing with a lot of confidence," added Scott Hartnell
. "When you add some skill to that, and good vision on the ice, he's been our best player on any given night. He's competitive, too."
It's been a rapid ascent for Giroux.
Taken by the Flyers with the No. 22 pick of the 2006 Entry Draft, he had a solid campaign last season, scoring 16 goals and 47 points in 82 games. However, he raised his game another level in the playoffs, when he had 10 goals and 21 points in 23 games.
That strong play has carried into this season.
"Maybe it's too early to make some comparisons with Peter Forsberg, but I did play with Peter and he (Giroux) has pretty much the same style." -- Simon Gagne on former teammate Claude Giroux
"I think you're seeing him take his game to that next level this year," said Pronger. "I think his first year he was here he showed a lot and was here the last half of that season, and last year really had a coming out party. This year he's playing with that confidence and making plays and really controlling the game. If you watch him out there, he always wants the puck, always wants to make plays, be that guy in that position that's making things happen. It's fun to play with guys like that."
And the better Giroux has played, the more coach Peter Laviolette has recognized that effort.
"He's playing with a lot of confidence right now," said Laviolette. "He's competing shift after shift at a very high level. He looks strong on the puck, strong on his skates, very noticeable."
And it seems like Giroux is getting better with more ice time.
|Giroux and Richards have turned into a dangerous offensive threat on the penalty kill. |
"Any time a coach plays you more you get more confident," said Giroux. "When you play more games in the League you get more comfortable."
He's looking more comfortable and stronger as the season progresses. He's got 2 goals and 8 assists in 11 games since the All-Star break -- five of which he's played more than 20 minutes -- but Laviolette has been more impressed with everything Giroux has done.
"He seems to be getting stronger toward the end of the year, that's a good thing for him," said Laviolette. "He was terrific last year in the playoffs and he's carried forward with the way he played. But he does seem to be getting stronger right now."