For the past few weeks, I've been kicking around the idea that Claude Giroux just may be my new favorite Philadelphia Flyer.
Well, after a month-long stretch of excellent hockey and two great performances the past two nights, it's official: Claude Giroux is my new favorite Flyer. After scoring the first of four unanswered goals in the Flyers 4-2 come-from-behind victory against the Capitals on Tuesday, Giroux, although not registering a point, was arguably the best skater on the ice last night.
I should know. I was sitting awfully close to the guy in two of the three periods. Thanks to my incredible sense of picking the proper house to move into, I was able to sit 6 rows off the ice last night, in the sixth row of section 103—right at the blue line on the visiting bench side. I can thank my roommate for the privilege. It's the closest I've ever sat at a hockey game, and it was awesome … especially watching Giroux.
On a night when the Flyers were sluggish and outplayed following a game the night before, Giroux had a hop in step that no other Flyer really had. Right from the get-go he stick-handled through three Kings, making them all look foolish, and provided a great scoring chance. And he was doing it all night.
I mean, watching this guy up close and personal was just incredible. I've already said it once, and at the risk of sounding like an overhyping lunatic, I'm going to repeat myself: Claude Giroux really reminds me of a righthanded version of Peter Forsberg. He has incredible awareness on the ice, can thread a pass to anyone anywhere, sees plays that look like they aren't even there, stickhandles with the best of them, has a pretty nice little shot and, even though he's small, isn't afraid to take or throw a hit … much like Forsberg.
Of course, Giroux is nowhere near Forsberg's level in those things just yet, but it's evident that he is a special player. And he gets better each and every game. Last night, he, along with Scottie Upshall and Darroll Powe, provided the Flyers with their most consistent strong shifts, and their work was a big part in the 2-0 win.
But I'd be lying if I told you Giroux was the best player on the ice either Tuesday or last night. Best skater, sure. Best player, no. After the annual whirlwind controversy that is the Flyers' goaltending situation, with inconsistency from both Antero Niittymaki and Marty Biron, the two Flyers netminders stepped up their games big time.
On Tuesday, against Alexander Ovechkin and the rest of the high-powered Capitals, Niitty was back on his game. He made 33 saves and kept the Flyers in the game to allow the comeback.
He made some incredible saves and really provided confidence throughout.
But not to be outdone, Marty Biron had perhaps his best game of the season last night. Playing on tired legs, the Flyers were sluggish and outworked by a Kings team scrapping for a playoff birth. They were outshot in their own building 34-19, but in the end, the scoreboard read 2-0 Flyers. Why? Because Biron was spectacular in net.
All game long, Marty was in complete control, squaring himself up to the shooter, absorbing the puck and providing a calming influence in net. He didn't look frantic, panicked or unsure of himself. Sure, he still turned the puck over a few times when he came out to play it, but let's face it, Marty will never, ever be good at handling the puck. As long as he makes the stops, that doesn't matter. Last night, he stopped them all.
He certainly helped make up for costing the Flyers at least one point last Saturday, because last night he was the reason the Flyers won, plain and simple.
There's still plenty of games for the goaltending situation to work itself out, but I think it's abundantly clear that it's Marty's job to lose. Last night, he once again looked like the goalie that helped lead the Flyers to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, and for the most part, he's looked like that guy since the calendar turned over to 2009. Here's hoping he continues to play well and Niitty keeps pushing him.
The competition should only help out the Flyers down the stretch, a team that currently sits in 4th place and is now just 4 points behind those hated Devils for first in the Atlantic … with a game in hand.