Minus-16 on the Road, Claude Giroux Needs Better Matchups

BOSTON -- The debate rages on.
What can be done to assist Flyers captain Claude Giroux into getting more scoring chances and goal production on the road?
It's the central theme to why Giroux has been a minus player this season out of town (minus-16) and an even player on home ice.
Interestingly, general manager Ron Hextall admitted on trade deadline day that a major benefit of acquiring Valterri Filppula was that he would give the Flyers a legit second-line center to take some pressure off Giroux in terms of road matchups.
"To have centers who can play against anybody when you are on the road, a team sends its best line out there, and you only have one option or two options, it's very tough," Hextall said.
"The more options you have, the more times they don't get the matchups they are looking for. It's important."
For all criticisms that Craig Berube unfairly took here as head coach, he was excellent in matching his players up on the road and making adjustments on the fly. 
That's because "Chief" played two decades in the league and rose through the coaching ranks from minor to pro. Berube had oodles of experience.
It's not easy and it takes time for a coach to figure it out. This is just Dave Hakstol's second season in the NHL and learning how to make adjustments when you don't get the last chance is, in itself, an art form.
Which is why Hakstol often is content to allow things to play out on the road in terms of matchups.
For instance, in three games against Washington this season -- two on the road -- Hakstol was content to allow Jay Beagle's line to match against Giroux the majority of three games. He was more concerned with the defensive pairing of Karl Alzner and John Carlson against him.
"Washington is going to play four lines," Hakstol said. "That's been a big part of their success. Rather than take ourselves out of rhythm, we had everybody going.
"You ask about Filppula and how that changes things. There is always a decision to make. Before that, there is a decision for the home team to decide if they want a matchup.

"Everybody looks at the forward matchups. You've got to look deeper into it with the defense matchups. That is normally what you are going to get. You have to look at all of it. Sometimes, it is a group of five."
What Hakstol tries to do is get his checking line of Nick Cousins, Sean Couturier and Matt Read against the other team's top line or second line. Filppula gives him more options now.
With Filppula centering Brayden Schenn and Jakub Voracek, it gives the opposition pause as to whether they want to place their best checkers on that skill unit or Giroux's line with Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds.
Yet often, Hakstol lets things play out.
"The way Hak's been coaching, I don't think on the road he bothers a whole lot," Sean Couturier said this week. "If we're on the road he tries to get it, but if we don't, it's not a big deal. We just roll four lines."
Since he's been here, Giroux has never been one to offer excuses for anything that might affect his play. He feels he should be a top-tier center regardless of injury, matchup or anything else.
It has taken him until only recently to actually look like the confident player with speed that he was in the past. Line matchups?
"To be honest, I haven't really thought about it," Giroux said. "Every line and every team have a shutdown line. Sometimes I get away from it, but if you play against them, you have to make the most out of it."
Can Filppula help?
"Val is well-respected in the league," Giroux replied. "So when a team plays against him, they respect the way he plays and they pay attention to him. He's a great two-way player and he will help the team in a lot of two-way situations. Five-on-five is one of them."
Fippula's line played up against Jack Eichel's in Buffalo this week, leaving Giroux to face Ryan O'Reilly's unit, which was a favorable match for the Flyers as Giroux scored his first goal in 13 games. Six of his 13 goals this season have come on the road, so it's almost an even split.
Hakstol tried and succeeded in getting Filppula against Auston Matthews' unit in Toronto and leaving Giroux to face Nazem Kadri's line. Hakstol seemed comfortable the entire game with whatever Toronto had on the ice.
Even without scoring a goal, Giroux was simply a beast at Toronto, being double-shifted in the third period and doing everything he could to inspire the Flyers to match his intensity. One player did: Shayne Gostisbehere.
The Flyers didn't lose 4-2 to the Leafs because of poor matchups. They lost because their penalty kill units failed them again, hardly even making the Leafs work to earn a goal. In this one, Toronto's power play went 2 for 2.
Either Couturier or Filppula will likely draw Patrice Bergeron's unit Saturday when the Flyers meet the Bruins.
Again, unless the Flyers get an all-around performance where their special teams help them level the playing surface or even tilt it in their favor, matchups may not matter.

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