News broke today that Philadelphia’s top player and hockey’s leading scorer Claude Giroux is out indefinitely with a concussion.
As a result of the NHL’s new, cautious nature when it comes to fighting head injuries, Giroux may find himself sidelined for an extended period of time.
For the Eastern Conference’s top team, the loss of such a prolific scorer and well-rounded two-way forward could spell doom for this promising season.
Going into 2011-12, the team expected to deal with the challenges of a young offense, an aging defense, and the media pressure that comes with the Winter Classic. Barely two months into this young season, the Flyers find themselves with a whole new set of challenges.
Here are five new obstacles that the team must overcome thanks to the injuries that have plagued the team’s most prominent players.
Entering this season, many analysts and fans viewed defense as a strength for the Flyers, while offense was considered the point of concern. Instead, the offense has been dazzling and the work in the defensive zone has left a lot to be desired.
With Giroux out, the team’s offensive capabilities will certainly take a hit, meaning that the luxury of allowing a preventable goal has evaporated.
This is no easy task for the defense. Giroux’s head injury comes only days after a revelation that Flyers’ captain Chris Pronger will also miss time with concussion-like symptoms (this coming on the heels of knee surgery).
To top it all off, the top four defenseman will need to crack down while dealing with fatigue. Fifth and sixth defensemen Marc-Andre Bourdon and Kevin Marshall will continue to log minimal ice time, as neither has truly demonstrated an ability to play reliably at an NHL level.
The team that allowed 81 goals in the first 28 games of the season needs to be a distant memory.
To say that losing Giroux is a blow to the offense is an understatement.
Not only was Giroux leading the league in points at the time of his injury, but he was the primary reason that his linemates rank second and third on the team in that category.
Jaromir Jagr was expected to show his age upon his return to the NHL, and Scott Hartnell began the season as a third-line dud, but both have exploded offensively thanks to the unrelenting offensive talent of Giroux.
These two players, along with the second and third lines, need to find a way to continue to be productive. No one player will be able to score at Giroux’s rate, but the blow can be softened if Danny Briere, Jakub Voracek, and James van Riemsdyk start taking more control on offense.
Most people have speculated that Giroux’s spot on the top line will be filled by rookie Sean Couturier.
Couturier, who just turned 19, started the season strong, tallying eight points in his first 14 games, a remarkable pace given his age and the fact that he was primarily playing fourth-line minutes.
Since then, Couturier has failed to make his way onto the score sheet.
Playing in Giroux’s place during the third period of last Saturday’s game against Tampa Bay, Couturier found himself with two excellent scoring opportunities. While he failed to convert, early signs show that he should be able to get some scoring chances with Hartnell and Jagr.
Nonetheless, a player’s potential does not always translate into success. Tonight’s game against Washington will either be Couturier’s next big step toward an illustrious NHL career, or a painful reminder that the kid is still only 19 years old.
Leading the league in penalty minutes, the Flyers have had to kill their fair share of power plays in 2011-12.
The Flyers have long been a team willing to take trips to the box in order to send a message, but with Giroux and Pronger out, the Flyers no longer have the luxury of playing the “tough guy.”
Giroux was one of the team’s top penalty-killers, and frequent trips to the box will strain players like Matt Read and Sean Couturier, who have enough on their plates with the increased expectations on offense.
Fans and media members opine every single season about the fact that the Flyers need to stop taking penalties, so pardon the “broken record” quality to these words.
But the Flyers need to stop taking penalties.
At $51 million and nine years, Ilya Bryzgalov was the big signing of the offseason.
He was supposed to bring stability to a franchise that has been searching for a reliable goaltender for more than a decade, and he was supposed to comfort a fanbase that watched its team lose the Stanley Cup on one of the softest goals in NHL history.
Instead, the $51 million man has simply been…okay.
He’s had the benefit of an explosive offense, allowing him to rack up 13 wins in 20 starts despite a sub-.900 save percentage.
With that offense depleted, the attention turns back to Bryzgalov.
For the first time all season, he will need to steal games. He will need to be brilliant at times. He will not find himself with the breathing room that comes with two-or-more-goal leads.
In order to keep this ship afloat until Giroux and Pronger return to the lineup, the Flyers need look no further than their own goal crease.