How Giroux Got His Groove Back

Created 4 years 350 days ago
by Michael DeNicola

Tags: Anticipation Chemistry Claude Giroux Craig Berube Hockey Senses
Views: 1592

by Michael DeNicola

Wednesday, October 09, 2013 --

I'm doing my best to steer away from the traditional "game reviews" considering a few things; for starters, I simply don't have the time to cover what everyone has just watched. You can literally get fifty or more reviews of the same game from all over the internet. I value this blog as more of a wide channel to share my thoughts here & there regarding the nature of what we've been observing, and I'd like to continue down that path. 

With that said, it is tough to kick off my new-found direction without combing through last night's performance against the Florida Panthers. Then again, yesterday evening was not just another 60-minutes on the season's schedule; as we all know, it was Craig "Chief" Berube's first tilt as our bench boss, and it also happened to be our squad's first victory of the 2013-14 campaign. 

Prior to the puck dropping, Berube wiped the whiteboard clean and configured new line combinations. Through the first three matches, our skill players have failed to show up. Claude Giroux has been as absent as Patrick Roy at a Buddhist colony. Jakub Voracek is still visibly ailing from a preseason collision, and it has affected his contribution thus far in a negative light. Vincent Lecavalier has potted one puck, but each game he looks like he could add to that total on any given shift, yet "almost" doesn't win you hockey games.  

Brayden Schenn sits on top as our leading goal scorer (2), and Matt Read has seemed to enter his third year with furious tenacity. Sean Couturier -- though lacking statistical offensive numbers -- has quietly registered a team leading 57.1 faceoff percentage, and has the most takeaways of any of our skaters (5). 

So far, our younger guys are on pace to becoming quite the possessive trio. Which is why I'm still scratching my head looking at Chief's line combos. 

Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds slot in on the first "scoring" line. I see what Berube's trying to do here, but #19 and 17 skating together seems a bit redundant. There's no touch among them, unless Giroux begins coming around and proves his wrists and hand are 100%. And as I figured, this combination did next to nothing against the Panthers. There was a lot of skating around and a heavy dose of clashing between the linemates.

Wait, Giroux's hand might still be debilitated?

Well, that's good news I guess, right? Confidence is regain-able. How does 'G' get his groove back? We'll revisit that question in a little bit. 

Coming up from the second line was LW Brayden Schenn, C Vincent Lecavalier and RW Jakub Voracek. I have no qualms with this blend of talent, especially when I consider the chemistry Schenn and Voracek displayed earlier last season prior to Jakub taking the elevator up to Giroux's line. Vinny splitting the two only cements the assault with size, experience, puck-handling and scoring threat. 

Rounding out the bottom six were LW Talbot, C Couturier and RW Read from the checking-line, then LW Rosehill, C Hall and RW Rinaldo on the last combo. 

As mentioned before, what he has lacked in offensive output, Couturier has been our best possessive forward, if not best possessive player on the team. His success at the faceoff circle was atrocious in Years 1 & 2 of his early career, but so far this season it has done a complete 180. His takeaway total is five, which is also a team best. Gaining possession of the puck and distributing it to a flaring Matt Read will eventually administer sunburn on the backs of the opposing goaltenders' necks. 

But my problem still lies with that first line. Plugging two grinders on both of Claude's flanks seems like failure to utilize his playmaking abilities. You're paying (or, technically, WILL be paying) Giroux more than 8-million cap dollars for the next eight years, so it is no mystery that this offense needs to be tailored around your most expensive franchise player. 

To begin that venture, it's up to Berube to motivate his core players and manufacture chemistry among them. Once all that good stuff is established, we will begin witnessing their hockey senses blend like sweat in an orgy. 

One incredible aspect of hockey is anticipation. This facet to the game generally goes unnoticed to the common eye, yet it is arguably a player's most dangerous weapon. It cannot be statistically measured, but I assure you that it is quite abundant among the League's elite players -- both forwards and defenders. One teammate having the ability to see a play unfold before it happens is beneficial to the whole unit. However, a player's anticipation is not allocated to the opposition alone; it's also about knowing your teammates' habits and growing accustom to their decision-making.

You may be thinking that is what practice is for. But Mike Tyson put it best when he said, "Everyone has a plan until they're punched in the face."

This team can practice from sun up to sun down, but in a game situation.... the tension and atmosphere breeds a whole new demand for teamwork. Whether it be good or bad teamwork is completely contingent on chemistry being binding or absent, anticipation being plentiful or non-existent. 

Through the first three games (and partially throughout Tuesday night's contest), these vantage points were lost among a group of individuals. The Flyers haven't skated as a team, they're simply just eighteen dudes who showed up in the same place, wearing the same shit. 

Congrats to the Chief for his first NHL win as a NHL head coach, but tethered to his focus on defense and a new system ought to be getting his best player confident again. 

I'm sure that is Berube's intention. Probably his unclaimed Priority No.1. Let's get back to that. 

To maximize his giftedness, Giroux's game will need catering to. That means assembling a top line with two other skaters that compliment his skillset, while simultaneously leaving enough scoring depth for the remaining nine to lighten the opposing load against our top scoring line. Meanwhile, we all hope these building blocks mold together to form the team we see on paper. 

Here are my proposed lines....

  • LW Matt Read -- C Vincent Lecavalier -- RW Claude Giroux
  • LW Wayne Simmonds -- C Brayden Schenn -- RW Jakub Voracek
  • LW Scott Hartnell -- C Sean Couturier -- RW Max Talbot
  • LW Tye McGinn -- C Adam Hall -- RW Zac Rinaldo

Perhaps you've noticed Jay Rosehill is absent that lineup. You may also be saying, "Thank Christ" just as I am. Moving along...

Before you begin shouting Giroux's faceoff stats and telling me we "need him at center", please remind yourself that any skater of ours can take the faceoff, including the wingers, then re-position once the puck is in play. 

We spent money and brought Vinny aboard for a reason, and now it is time to start squeezing every penny out of that investment. Let's cut the song & dance, and start Giroux with Lecavalier already. We've speculated on this plausible duo since Vinny signed the dotted line. And Matt Read's presence brings sniping finish to the brilliant vision of Claude Giroux. How anyone dislikes the look of this line is beyond me, as is the fact that it hasn't already been implemented. 

There's your top line, and if your eyes gaze downward.... you'll notice the scoring threat is hardly watered down. Brayden Schenn's resume already authenticates his chemistry between Wayne Simmonds, and I have touched on his symmetry with Voracek in early 2013. The three of these guys together form a potent blend of physicality, awareness, responsible defense and scoring finish that can arguably be compared to any Number-One scoring line in the League. 

The bottom two lines should be pretty self explanatory. Personally, I couldn't care less that Scott Hartnell is currently the team's most expensive AAV. Maybe Scotty is a first liner somewhere else, but for the good of the team.... he is no such thing here. Not any longer. His career year came at the pleasure of having Jaromir Jagr as a linemate. Both Hartnell and Giroux formed a chemistry with Jagr as the fulcrum to that potion. When you remove the keystone, that bridge is disassembled. 

In fact, plugging Hartnell deeper down the lineup should bolster his game; he plays with snarl and a physical nature that usually finds him fighting (and winning) puck battles along the boards or positioning himself in front of the net. If Couturier continues strongly in the possession game, and Talbot benefits from the offensive depth like he did in 2011-12, then this checking-line could add to the scoreboard. They're fit already to breakdown an opposing scoring combo. I predict these guys would pay great dividends. 

This is obviously not guaranteed, but from my perspective, these forward lines give us the best chances to generate chemistry and maximize goal production without forfeiting any leverage from their defensive responsibilities. Assuming that's the case, each player will feed off of his linemates' habits and decision-making, hopefully germinating a sense of anticipation, flow, and two-way delivery. 

Best yet, it all starts and stops at the skateblades of one man...

Check out The Pack on Facebook!

You can follow Michael DeNicola on Twitter: @MikeyD_OandBP

Contact The Pack here...

Giroux 10092013-01.jpg