Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr Are Ridiculous

I have watched Flyers hockey my entire life. I've seen greatness in Eric Lindros in his prime, brute strength and consistency in John LeClair, tenacity and leadership in Keith Primeau and understated excellence in Kimmo Timonen. I've seen Mike Richards do everything, Rod Brind'Amour outwork everyone, and unheralded guys like Shjon Podein and Jody Hull kill penalties with the best of them.

What I've never seen before this year is two Flyers with the chemistry Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr have on the ice. Last night, it was on perfect display, as Jagr sprung Giroux on a breakaway to open up the scoring and assisted on his second goal as well, as Claude did otherworldly things on the ice, elevating his game to another level now that this is indisputably his team.

Now centering the top line on a nightly basis, Giroux has flourished with Jagr at his side, as the 23-year-old Canadian and the 39-year-old Czech work off each others' strengths night in and night out. Claude has 11 goals in 17 games following his two-goal effort last night, tying him for second in the NHL behind only Phil Kessel. Jagr has 11 assists in 17 games, many of those finished off by the stick of Giroux. As it stands, they are the Flyers' two leading scorers, with Giroux tied for second in NHL with his 22 points, again only trailing Kessel's 24, while Jagr is not far behind, adding 6 goals to his impressive assist total for 17 points. And combined, the duo is skating to an impressive plus-10 rating, made even more impressive given Claude's responsibility on the penalty kill.

But numbers can only tell you so much. What they fail to show is just how in tune these two are with seemingly every motion they make on the ice. Jagr, with his deliberate, controlled strides, is always in sync with Giroux's more aggressive approach. And their shared creativity has meant a continuous string of scoring no matter if it's James van Riemsdyk, Scott Hartnell or anyone else joining them.

I have to admit that I was skeptical about signing a 39-year-old player who hadn't been in the NHL in three years, even if that man is one of the greatest hockey players to ever roam the earth. But good god has Jagr been impressive, and he's a big reason why Giroux is continuing his ascent to full-on superstardom. Watching them work together in the early season has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of an otherwise bleak autumn.

Another one has been the play of Max Talbot.

To be perfectly honest with you, I'm not sure there was another player in the NHL I hated more than Max Talbot prior to this season. He just got under my skin each and every shift he took as a Pittsburgh Penguin. So when I found out the Flyers had signed him, I was not to pleased that I'd have to start rooting for him.

Then he donned the Orange and Black and did what he does, and I can't help but love his game.

For starters, Talbot is one of the best penalty-killing forwards I've seen in a Flyers uniform, and I've seen a ton of them. Mike Richards was great and easily the best at attacking and scoring shorthanded goals, while players like Blair Betts, Darroll Powe, the aforementioned Jody Hull and Shjon Podein, Rod Brind'Amour, Eric Lindros, Joel Otto, Keith Primeau and Ian Laperriere played so sound on the PK. So far this season, Talbot has been as impressive as any of them, and he's needed to be.

As the Flyers continue to take far too many penalties, Talbot continues to shine on the disadvantage. He just never seems out of position and never misses a chance to clear the puck, block a pass or shot and get his team out of trouble. The guy is a warrior out there, and he's as big a reason as any that the Flyers have been climbing up the ranks in penalty kill percentage.

Oh, and he also happens to have six goals already on this young season, scoring last night thanks to a great play by Jakub Voracek.

The only aspect of Talbot's game that's left more to be desired this year is in the face-off circle, but that can be said for every center on this roster. Otherwise, Talbot has been fantastic, and my hate for him has completely vanished.

By the way, I would be remiss if I didn't mention a little more about the man who assisted on Talbot's goal last night. Jakub Voracek was really impressive in Carolina, playing the best game I've seen out of him yet for the Flyers. When Giroux and Talbot weren't the ones jumping off the television making things happen, Voracek was, using his size, reach, speed and strength to create chances all night. He finished with two assists and just played a tremendous game.

Though Claude was the standout, hands down. And watching him work with Jagr has been the best thing in Philadelphia sports this fall.

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