PHILADELPHIA - Hockey is not fun when you are 1-4.
“One day I’ll wake up and breathe and be ready to play,” said Claude Giroux on Tuesday night. For one period, Friday looked to be his epiphany, the Flyers captain appearing to exhale with his most effective 20 minutes of the young season.
But except for a cross-crease feed in the third period that Jake Voracek fired into Phoenix goalie Thomas Greis, Giroux failed to make anything happen after that. The Flyers best player continued to look like just another guy, which of course they cannot afford for him to be either with Vinnie Lecavalier in the lineup or especially without him, which the team apparently will be for at least a week.
The Flyers looked a little tighter defensively, the purpose of the 1-4 system Craig Berube is installing, but offensively they remained lost both before and after Lecavalier and Scott Hartnell went to the dressing room with injuries. They are failing to dump the puck enough, not going to the net, and still failing to hit it on too many shots. The greasy goals new Coach Craig Berube says he is not seeing will start to come when there are more rebounds.
“We’re starting to see the big picture of what we need to do to win,” offered Giroux. No value to any negativity now. With too much analysis comes paralysis. Giroux says the guys are trying to not think, just play, meaning primarily that he is trying not to think, just play. But mid-season system changes takes time, evidence provided in 2009 when the Flyers won only two of their first 10 games after Laviolette replaced John Stevens.
Split-squad games, contests in little Canadian rinks, and the lack of permanence to the results of exhibitions notwithstanding, Ed Snider and Paul Holmgren were not overreacting to the importance of training camp when they cited the Flyers’ poor one as a primary reason for the firing of Peter Laviolette after just three regular-season games.
Every drill or shift the Flyers captain missed as his hand recovered from a golfing mishap has had an exponential effect on the other parts sputtering around him. The Flyers have scored six goals in their five games, one that went in off Max Talbot’s skate Friday night following two gifts by an incapacitated Tim Thomas on Tuesday.
After we suffer all the coaching-change platitudes about making players accountable – Berube reinforced that statement by benching Zac Rinaldo for two mindless penalties -- a new boss’s a first responsibility following an in-season firing is to make them more confident. Giroux’s is not the only ego that new coach Craig Berube has to re-inflate, only the most important.
“I think personally that G is trying a little too hard,” said Berube this week. “He gives everything he has out there and sometimes it’s too much.
“You try too hard, you can’t accomplish the things you want to accomplish.”
The same goes for a new coach trying too hard to establish his authority, but that’s not the issue here. The Flyers, who already knew their promoted assistant. are supposed to be next on trial after the coaching change. Roster change being harder than ever to accomplish in the cap era, however, the old post-coach sacking cliché about not being able to fire 20 players has been replaced by the question: Can you even change four or five? With the invention of the long-term contract, the first responsibility for any coach became the formation of a partnership with his best player.
“When you get to the bench and know you made a mistake, you know he is going to let you know,” said Giroux of Berube. “It makes you want to prove that you can do the right play the next time. “
Asked how Berube does that, Giroux said, “Just his look is enough.”
Just his look will not be enough over the next few weeks as the Flyers fight not to fall too far behind in the playoff race. Sooner or later, they will start to pick up points -- sooner, of course, if their best player does. When that happens, the Flyers’ biggest problem will change to their greatest solution.
Giroux, the ink on an 8-year, $66.2 million deal barely dry, probably is feeling that burden, too, leaving Berube’s first task to do whatever he can to lower the heat on his star and at the same time get him to heat up.
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