When Claude Giroux was diagnosed with a concussion a week and a half ago, I thought for certain he'd be held out until at least the new year given all the precautions teams take, especially with their stars and especially with Sidney Crosby's frightening situation. So when rumors started circulating that Claude could return as early as last night in Dallas, I was a bit surprised and a little worried. Personally, I'd prefer to err on the side of caution with the team's — and perhaps the league's — best player.
Then again, if the guy is truly healthy and his concussion was relatively minor, you can't fault the player or the team for wanting to get such a dynamic player back on the ice. So there Claude was, back and ready to roll. It didn't take long for Giroux to show he was suffering no ill effects last night.
Giroux came out and did a little bit of everything, just as he always does. He was quick on his skates, aggressive and anything but gun-shy about throwing his body around. Oh, and he calmly scored a goal and tallied an assist in his first period back, all the while doing tremendous work on the backcheck, winning faceoffs and doing absolutely everything we've grown accustomed to Claude Giroux doing.
Before it was all said and done, it was just another day at the office for Claude, accounting for all four Flyers' goals in the chippy 4-1 win, tallying a goal and three assists and continuing to stretch his points lead. It was as if he never missed these past four games, as if he never suffered a concussion at all.
I'm not even sure I can begin to tell you how much of an honor it is to watch Giroux play the game on a nightly basis. He is just so good at everything that it boggles the mind. Whether it's getting to the right spot to score a goal, setting up the power play, perfecting a give-and-go with Jaromir Jagr or blindly throwing a perfect pass to an unmarked Andrej Meszaros for a breakaway goal, his offensive ability is unrivaled right now. But his game is so much more than that, and Eddie Olczyk did a great job breaking that down.
Olczyk, who I think does an absolutely fantastic job for the soon-to-be NBC Sports Network, broke down numerous plays by Giroux. Of course the goal and his remarkable passes were highlighted, but Olczyk, a former coach and in fact former teammate of current Flyer Jaromir Jagr in Pittsburgh, made it a point to show all the other things Giroux does. He raved about a back-checking play he made, busting his ass to get back after a turnover at the offensive blueline to negate a 2-on-1 the other way, almost astounded and most certainly in admiration, proclaiming, "This is the NHL's leading scorer working his tail off to get back. Kids watching at home should pay attention to Claude Giroux." Or something to that effect.
The guy just brings so much to the table. His puck retrieval is relentless. His passing acumen is second to none. He physicality surprises opponents and often rocks them. His speed is at times overlooked but certainly there. His stickhandling is second to none. And his defense rivals any Selke Trophy winner of recent memory. He draws penalties. He kills penalties. He dominates on the power play and controls a game at even strength.
Honestly, the only chink in Giroux's armor is that he's not an elite man in the face-off circle. Other than that, he has absolutely no flaws. Very few players can claim that. That's why watching him, particularly this season, has been so incredibly fun. He just offers so much on the ice.
Conversely, there is Zac Rinaldo. As much joy as I get watching Giroux, that's how much frustration I endure watching Zac Rinaldo.
He is, essentially, the polar opposite of Claude Giroux. Watch any Flyers game and you'll inevitably hear one of the announcers or the guys doing the intermission report talk about one strong shift by Rinaldo, almost overdoing it. He seems to get praised for the one or two good shifts he has time and again, while no one ever even mentions that he can't actually play hockey and does way more harm than good. Even many Flyers fans seem to have taken a liking to him, despite the fact that Zac Rinaldo is terrible at hockey.
Now, I will concede that Rinaldo is fast and physical. He never shies away from contact, and his body checks legitimately look like they hurt. That's the good — the only good. Because other than that, the only thing Zac Rinaldo does is take penalties, often stupidly. Don't believe me? Then just take a look at the stats: Zac Rinaldo leads the entire NHL in penalty minutes, contributing to the Flyers leading the league in minor penalties and penalty minutes.
Contrary to what some believe, this is a bad thing. A very bad thing. Zac Rinaldo puts his team in bad situations on pretty much a nightly basis. Very few games go by where he doesn't put his team down a man, and even on the occasions where he takes someone off the ice with him, he rarely wins a fight.
So yeah, he throws his weight around and always hustles, which I do applaud him for, but he counteracts that tenfold with his stupid penalties and complete lack of offensive skill. On one of the best teams in the league, he's a minus-4 all while leading everyone on skates in penalty minutes. He really offers the team nothing, yet he's managed to suit up in 29 games now.
I don't understand Peter Laviolette's infatuation with Zac Rinaldo. I really don't. He seems like the guy Laviolette wants to be this year's version of Darroll Powe — a fast skater who forechecks hard and plays good defense — only Rinaldo doesn't play good defense, can't kill penalties and takes a ton of stupid penalties himself. Basically, he provides none of the good that Powe did. Essentially, he's the anti-Claude Giroux, a one-trick pony whose one trick isn't even that good.
Thankfully, Giroux has returned and he sees the ice exponentially more than Rinaldo. And I can stomach a little bit of Zac to see a whole hell of a lot of Claude — though I'd still rather see Rinaldo back in Adirondack as opposed to South Philadelphia.