Philadelphia Flyers center Claude Giroux knows he's the centerpiece of opposition game plans. He sees the best checking forwards and toughest defensemen on the other team 82 games a season.
Despite that he's developed into one of the game's best playmakers during his six full NHL seasons. He's scored 20 goals three times, finished in the top three in the League in points twice and was a Hart Trophy finalist last season.
Most of Giroux's success has come because of his elite-level vision and passing skills.
Most of Claude Giroux's success has come because of his elite-level vision and passing skills, but the Philadelphia Flyers captain has added a new weapon to his arsenal by shooting the puck more this season. (Photo: Scott Levy/NHLI)
"I love passing," Giroux said. "I love passing way too much to shoot."
But in order to remain among the game's best, and to continue to confound opponents, Giroux has found a different weapon for his arsenal. As much as he might not like it, Giroux is shooting. A lot.
Giroux is tied with Alex Ovechkin for the League lead with 97 shots on goal.
He's on pace for 379 shots, which would be nearly 140 shots more than his career best of 242 shots in 2011-12. And at 4.62 shots on goal per game, he's averaging nearly 1.50 shots per game more than his best of 3.14 in 2011-12.
Giroux, who will look to continue shooting the puck Friday when the Flyers host the New York Rangers in the Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown (1 p.m., NBC, SN), said there hasn't been a conscious effort on his part to shoot more. And when told of his high shot volume this season, he was a bit surprised.
"It just happens," he said. "I've got a lot of shots. I saw it last week [and said], 'Wow, I have a lot of shots.' The goals are hopefully going to come more. But when you shoot the puck good things are going to happen."
That echoes what his coach, Craig Berube, has been preaching.
"We've stressed shooting the puck for everybody," Berube said. "We want to be a shoot-first team, we want pucks on net. Him [Giroux] especially; he's got the puck more than anyone, so he needs to put it on net."
With seven goals in 21 games, Giroux on pace for 27, one off the 28 he scored last season, and his shooting percentage is a career-low 7.2. However, it's been offset by increased offensive-zone time for Giroux and his linemates because the puck constantly is going toward the net while Giroux is on the ice rather than being passed around the zone.
"It's just the system that we play," Berube said. "We want to shoot the hockey puck. We don't want to over-pass it. It's more than just producing when you shoot the puck. When you shoot the puck it's a mindset; you're putting a team on their heels. You shoot the hockey puck, they see the shots, you're in their end because you're shooting the puck. You're having more offensive-zone time because you're shooting the puck, not over-passing it."
The numbers back up Berube's puck-possession claims. Giroux is sixth in the League in points with 26, and is on pace for his first 100-point season. And, according to War-on-Ice.com, Giroux's Corsi-for percentage at even strength relative to his team was a career-best 9.71 percent entering Wednesday, nearly double his career best, and second on the team to linemate Jakub Voracek.
"We all want our team to shoot the puck more," Berube said. "We want to average more shots than we did last year. To get more production you have to shoot the puck. Giroux understands that. He has to be a shooter."
Center - PHI
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 19 | PTS: 26
SOG: 97 | +/-: 8
Giroux can use Voracek as an example for the kind of success that can result from a shoot-first mentality. Prior to coming to the Flyers in 2011, Voracek was a pass-first, shoot-second forward with the Columbus Blue Jackets
. In 2011-12, his first season in Philadelphia, he averaged 2.43 shots per game.
Peter Laviolette, Philadelphia's coach at the time, told Voracek he needed to shoot more if he wanted more ice time. The following season, Voracek upped his shot volume to 2.69 per game and the payoff was 22 goals, at the time the most he'd scored in the NHL. The following season Voracek shot even more, averaging 2.87 per game on a career-high 235 shots, and raised his goal total to 23 and set a career-best with 62 points.
This season, with Berube urging him on, Voracek is averaging 3.33 shots per game. The result has been eight goals in 21 games, putting him on pace for 31. He has 10 multipoint games and is one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby for the League scoring lead with 30 points. And he's on pace for 117 points, which would be the third-highest single-season total in Flyers history, behind Mark Recchi's 123 points in 1992-93 and Bobby Clarke's 119 points in 1975-76.
"We're creating space to get a shot on net," Voracek said. "If we're going to shoot, that's the big sign we're playing good. If he has five shots a game, I'm going to have four shots a game, it means we're playing good and creating chances."
The combination of Giroux and Voracek shooting more has paid off for both players. And it hasn't changed the dynamic they've established playing most of the past three seasons together. Now instead of relying on smart passing plays to create chances, they are putting pucks on net and aggressively pursuing rebounds to create chances for themselves and their teammates. In the past 11 games the two have had a hand in 18 of the Flyers' 27 goals.
"They're both shooting the puck more, so there's going to be more opportunities for them to score goals," Berube said. "We don't want to over-pass as a team; we want more pucks to go into the net. [Voracek and Giroux] are leading the way there. They're shooting the hockey puck, and that's important."