Remember when you were a kid and you saw someone perform a card trick for the first time or made a quarter disappear and then come out of your ear? You were mystified as to how anyone could do something like that. There was an allure about the idea of magic at least up until you were about 11 or 12 and understood that it was all an illusion. Sleight of hand as it were.
Well if you're a fan of hockey (perhaps more specifically of the Philadelphia Flyers) and you've watched any of the preseason games featuring Claude Giroux and Nikolay Zherdev, that allure, that thrill, that excitement is back stronger than ever. Not just because of the great playoff run last year, but also because of these two exciting young players. Every time Giroux and Zherdev hop over the boards and onto the ice, you should be on high alert, keep your eyes taped wide open and super glued to the screen because you might miss something spectacular.
Both Giroux and Zherdev are as fluid as it gets on the ice. Giroux is a player known for his playmaking ability, incredible vision, and his silky smooth hands which often make viewers think that he's got the puck tied to his stick with fishing line. Zherdev is one of the highest skilled players who has ever donned the Orange and Black and is known for having great hands, incredible hockey sense, and a great shot with one of the quickest releases in the game. The knock on Giroux is that he's small, while Zherdev is largely defensively irresponsible or apathetic in his own zone and takes shifts off. However, since Giroux plays a defensively sound game and Zherdev is 6'2" and weighs in at 203 pounds, they can make up for what the other lacks.
The evidence was clear in last night's 3-1 Flyers win over a very depleted New York Islanders team as just about every time Claude and Nikolay were on the ice, they seemed to be everywhere and nowhere at once. There was one play in particular about halfway through the second period, where Giroux had the puck along the right wing and was about to take it behind Islanders netminder Rick DiPietro. Giroux made a pass through a thicket of about three or four sets of Islanders sticks and skates, only to find Zherdev in the high slot and before you could blink the puck was coming off Braydon Coburn's stick towards the net. DiPietro looked like he was a little stunned when the puck ricocheted off his pad and went to the corner because I don't think anyone could understand how two great passes like that could happen in about a two second span during a pro hockey game regardless of how few NHLers were on the ice in Blue and Orange Sweaters. But these kinds of plays were abundant in this game, which is something scarcely seen in most of the Flyers 43 year history and it shows that when great players are put with other great players, amazing things can happen every night.
Zherdev has never had the chance to play with a gifted playmaker like Giroux and Giroux has obviously never had the opportunity to play with a player with a skill set as polished as Zherdev's. Long story short: this is going to be an eye-popping combination that will be dangerous at any point in any game against any team the entire year. Dazzling dekes and pin-point passing, like we've already seen, will be a staple and it's something people in Flyerdom have not seen since, well, ever. Simon Gagne and Peter Forsberg were a great pair in 2005-2006 and while Danny Briere and Ville Leino clicked instantly during last year's playoffs, the way that Giroux and Zherdev seemed to take complete control of the game nearly every time they are on the ice together and the puck is on one of their sticks, is going to be something that will have fans yearning for more all year long.
This dynamic duo will be a sight to see all season, that is, if your eyes can keep up.