Claude Giroux doesn’t go through a Stanley Cup playoff series without a goal too often and when he does, people take notice.
The Flyers’ captain failed to find the net in the six-game elimination of Montreal and also was moved off the top line during the later stages of the competition.
While Giroux put in some stellar work setting up some valuable goals, he’s not getting a lot of scoring chances of his own.
That doesn’t seem to bother coach Alain Vigneault, who appreciates Giroux’s overall contributions.
“You know Claude puts a lot of pressure on himself to contribute,’’ Vigneault said during a midday Zoom call from Toronto as the Flyers prepared for Game 1 of their series against the Islanders on Monday night. “So far, five-on-five, he hasn’t been on the scoresheet as much as he would like.
“But he’s taking big faceoffs for us. Defensively he’s been sound, on the power play he’s found ways to be effective. I think this last series, winning for him being captain was a step in the right direction. He’s one of those players I believe will get better here as we move forward.’’
Prior to this year, Giroux had gone scoreless in only two other playoff series: 2010-11 vs. Boston (Eastern Conference semifinals) and 2015-16 vs. Washington (first round).
Vigneault points out Giroux isn’t the only top-end player looking to improve.
“We know that we have another level,’’ Vigneault said. “We know that quite a few of our players can perform – their will was there but their execution can be better.’’
Through nine games, Giroux has four assists with a plus-1.
>Lighter practice time for demanding schedule
The Flyers-Islanders series potentially could have a pair of back-to-back games situations, which means practice time will be hard to come by.
In turn, that makes rest time even more scarce. How do make it work in such a compressed slate?
“That’s a good question,’’ Vigneault said. “Obviously it’s going to be the same for both teams. The number of games in a short amount of time is something that might be a little out of the ordinary.
“We did play four (games) in six (days) on quite a few occasions during the regular season but this case here, we’re going to play four in five and a half days. But there’s no traveling. It will be interesting to see how our players react. It’s going to be up to the coaches to decide who looks fresh, who looks like they have energy. Each team is going to have hard decisions as each game moves forward.’’
>Keeping the reserves ready
While it will be difficult to find rest time for the regulars, it might be equally challenging to keep the replacement players in shape.
Players such as Oskar Lindblom (recovering from a rare form of bone cancer), Connor Bunnaman and Mark Friedman have been skating in case they are called upon.
“Today (Monday morning) we had something like eight guys on the ice,’’ Vigneault said. “Plus the spare goaltenders. We’re putting the players who aren’t in the lineup on a regular basis (on the ice); making sure they’re ready, talk to those guys on a daily basis about making sure you’re doing everything you can. You never know when you might be called upon.
“We have quite a few players who are paying the price. This is not an easy situation for guys who haven’t played a game. I appreciate they’re working as hard as they are to stay focused and ready. If we do need them, I’m confident they will be able to perform.’’
>Flyers keeping an eye on Isles’ Pageau
One player the Flyer coaches want to keep an eye on is Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who came to the Isles from Ottawa at the trade deadline. He’s coming off a breakout 26-goal campaign and has continued that strong play against Florida and Washington in the playoffs.
Flyers top center, Sean Couturier, said he expects to see a lot of the 27-year-old Pageau in this series.
“He’s solidified that center position,’’ Vigneault said. “Five-on-five, penalty killing, power play. . .very effective player. I look at their lineup and their addition of him, they have a very experienced, veteran group that plays a solid, 200-foot game. It’s going to be a challenge for us but I think we’re going to be up to the task.’’
>Gostisbehere or Hagg?
With defenseman Matt Niskanen completing his one-game suspension and returning to the lineup for Game 1, Vigneault had to decided whether to stay with Shayne Gostisbehere or go back to Robert Hagg.
Not an easy call. Both have played well.
“Shayne came in last game and played extremely well,’’ Vigneault said. “You look at him, you look at ‘Haggs,’ guys are working hard, keeping themselves ready. It’s up to me to evaluate who can help the team right now. Those are the types of decisions a coach wants to have.’’
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