It was about this time two years ago when Claude Giroux, proverbially, did not have the ability to purchase a goal with cash if such an option were available.
In 2013, Giroux was coming off some of the best play of his career – a 93-point campaign in 2011-12 that was the third-best in the NHL and counted among it the legendary 2012 conference quarterfinals against Pittsburgh, and a lockout-halved 2012-13 season where he still cooked along at a point-per-game pace. But for the first 14 games of the 2013-14 season, the net had some strange repelling force that seemingly applied only to Giroux. Finally, 15 games in, he beat Devan Dubnyk in a 4-2 home win over Edmonton. Giroux was mobbed at the bench like he’d just broken some sort of record, and all was right with the world again.
So Giroux can definitely empathize with what his buddy Jake Voracek is going through, in a very similar situation. The league’s fifth-leading scorer a season ago, and scorer of 20-plus goals in three consecutive years, Voracek seems to be shooting at the same net Giroux was shooting at back then. Pucks have barely missed wide-open frames, and some scoring chances – such as Thursday night’s two-on-one with Giroux against Washington – have been snuffed out by the well-placed stick of a defenseman. And as was the case for Giroux two years ago, the team’s record is adding to the stress, and Voracek is placing a good amount of that blame on himself.
One thing is for certain – it’s not for lack of trying. Voracek ranks among the top 15 shooters through Thursday’s games, with 58 pucks fired at the net – 27 wrist shots, 12 slap shots, 16 snap shots, and a handful of other types according to the NHL’s cool new stats website – but none of them have beaten the goalie.
Giroux’s been there. And once he shook it, he stormed to 28 goals over the rest of the year, which tied his career high from that 2011-12 season. By the time the season was over, he was once again third in the NHL in scoring.
“It was some of the worst moments of my life,” Giroux recalled. “It becomes mental. Physically you feel good and you want to play good. You think you’re doing the right things, but it’s just that one. When you get that one goal, you kind of have a breather.
“The thing is you start thinking it 24-7. You wake up and that’s the first thing you think; you go to bed and it’s the last thing you think. He just needs to stop thinking about it. It’s easy to say but it’s hard to do. Once he gets out of this little slump, he’s gonna start going.”
Giroux can see that Voracek’s getting close, and Giroux’s also putting some of the burden on himself to help break the skid.
“Practice today, he was only hitting posts, and I started laughing,” Giroux said. “I said ‘Jake, it’s going to start going in, don’t worry.’ I’ve had a good feeling about him. The last couple games he played very well, and he was winning the battles and getting the pucks and giving them to me. I’ve got to find a way to get it back to him.”
The bottom line in the Flyers’ eyes is that Voracek’s struggles aren’t permanent, and the entire team has faith that he’ll break the slide. When it does, they’re looking forward to celebrating with him.
“He’s a professional,” Giroux said. “He knows what he has to do. He’s doing the right things now and when you do the right thing, good things happen.”
THE OTHER LINES
One of the go-to moves for a hockey coach whose team is struggling is to mix up the lines to try and find some different combinations that might get some struggling players going a little better. But along with that goes with the risk of disrupting chemistry that might be existing.
That’s an option for Hakstol, but he’s aware that the line of Giroux, Raffl and Voracek has had a good deal of success in the past, and some of the other lines have as well. Aside from trying some different combinations for a couple brief stretches, the Flyers have rolled fairly consistent lines all season, and Hakstol said he’s not ready to do anything drastic just yet.
“We’ve looked at a couple different things and we’re going to continue to do that,” he said. “But there’s a fine line there. The new things that you look at also have to make sense to a certain degree on paper. You can’t just throw something at the wall and hope it sticks. So we’re going to keep at it. We’re going to keep looking. But we’ll also do it with a good degree of thought process that goes into it.”
The Flyers will be trying to get those lines going on Saturday in Carolina, where they have been feast or famine – the Flyers owned the Hurricanes for a long stretch, at one point taking nine in a row and not suffering a regulation loss to them in almost five years. But over the last two seasons, the Flyers are 1-5-3 against the Hurricanes, including 0-4-1 in their last five visits to Raleigh. Both teams are experiencing similar struggles this season – they have an identical 13 points, with Carolina holding a record of 6-9-1, and have very similar goals-for and goals-against totals.
Puck drop will be 7:00 from RBC Center. The game will be televised on CSN; the radio broadcast is on 93.3 WMMR, at Philadelphiaflyers.com and on the Flyers Mobile App.