His exact words, in response to a question about whether or not it was too early to compare Crosby and Giroux: “No, he’s been the best in the league since the beginning of the year.”
Wednesday night, Giroux showed the whole world that Talbot wasn’t simply talking up a teammate.
Giroux’s four-point night was good enough to put him in the league lead, jumping from three points behind Phil Kessel to one point ahead. Giroux has played two fewer games than Kessel.
But as previous Art Ross Trophy winners like Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Alex Ovechkin and Joe Thornton can attest, scoring the most points isn’t what counts.
What truly matters is the way those points are manufactured, and Giroux’s four points against Buffalo are a direct reflection of a player who appears on the scoresheet when it matters most.
The Flyers allowed three Buffalo goals in the first period, and would have faced a major obstacle had Jakub Voracek not made a brilliant pass to Max Talbot with time ready to expire in the first period.
With the Flyers showing life going into the locker room, Giroux took over.
On the forecheck five minutes into the second, Giroux drew two defenders to the corner and rather than force a pass to a teammate being defended, the Flyers stud threw the puck across ice for Kimmo Timonen to recover. Before the Sabres could shift to the other side of the defensive zone, Timonen took a shot that found Matt Read and deflected into the Buffalo net.
Sidney Crosby is an elite player. Is Claude Giroux on that level as well?
Under 10 minutes later, Giroux again chased the Sabres in their own zone, this time intercepting an outlet pass by Buffalo’s Tyler Ennis. Giroux quickly got the puck to Scott Hartnell, who paused while a disoriented Christian Ehrhoff tried to get into position.
Hartnell snapped a shot off of Ehrhoff’s skate and over Miller’s shoulder, tying the game and bringing the Flyers back from a three-goal deficit.
With the period winding down, Giroux found himself on the ice again, this time in the neutral zone. As the puck came to him, two defenders were again drawn to Giroux, who calmly left the puck for Jaromir Jagr as Jagr gained momentum through the neutral zone.
Jagr weaved his way over the Buffalo blue line and buried a beautiful wrist shot in the top corner, using two defenders as a screen.
Strong forechecking and the natural threat of hockey’s hottest hands had manufactured three goals for the Flyers, but it would be Giroux’s work in his own end that would eventually win it.
In overtime, the Sabres were cycling the puck in the Flyers’ zone. With the ice open thanks to four-on-four hockey, Giroux saw the puck make its way around the boards to Marc-Andre Gragnani.
Giroux, whose natural talent may be matched only by his knowledge of the game, anticipated Gragnani’s cross-ice pass, intended for Ehrhoff at the point.
Observing the replay, it seems Giroux knew Gragnani was going to make this pass even before Gragnani did.
The Flyers center cleanly stole the puck and had open ice in front of him. Skating one-on-one with one of the best goalies in the league, Giroux’s impossibly quick hands froze Miller just long enough for the Hearst, Ontario native to beat the Sabres netminder through the five-hole.
Three critical assists and an overtime game-winner.
A comeback victory on the road.
A new league leader in points.
The legacy of Sidney Crosby is a big one, one that has him as the youngest captain in NHL history, a gold medal winner at the Olympics and a Stanley Cup champion.
As long as he’s healthy, the title of “Hockey’s Best” is Crosby’s to lose. But even if calling Giroux as good as Crosby is ridiculous today…the comparisons will have to start someday.
Max Talbot may be onto something.