THE CAPTAIN was barely present, it seemed. Bunkered into his corner of Pennsylvania, he was scoring half a point per game, was a decided "minus" and had no explanation.
Things worked out OK for Sidney Crosby.
"Look at Crosby last year. He was 0.5 points per game in his first, what, 18 last year?" Jake Voracek asked. "Then he turned around, had 85 points and won a Cup."
Certainly, no one this side of Peter Laviolette considers Claude Giroux the equal of Sid the Kid, or that Giroux will lead the Flyers to a Stanley Cup. But Voracek's point is valid: Stars slump. It might happen more frequently to Giroux, now in his ninth season. "G" simply lacks the size and the support of a player like Sid; but, even so, slumps hit everyone. What matters is how they handle it.
Crosby never wavered.
Giroux, after four years of wearing the "C" and being a star in a hockey-crazy town, is getting to that point.
"I understand now better that it's not a one-guy thing. It's a group of guys helping each other," said Giroux. "When you put too much pressure on yourself, it drains you a little bit."
This matters in this moment, because Giroux, 29, has been slumping, again. On Sunday, he scored his first goal in the last 13 games, an overtime winner in Brooklyn, but that was his first point in three games. The Flyers are 3-8-2 in that stretch and living on a playoff bubble. During the slide, Giroux has that lone goal, seven assists and is a minus-13.
Sunday's goal might not have much company for a while. The Flyers visit the Rangers on Wednesday, against whom Giroux has no goals, seven assists and is a minus-6 in their 15 regular-season games since the 2013-14 season. In fact, Giroux hasn't scored a regular-season goal against the Rangers in nearly five years.
None of this seems to bother Giroux, which is something of a change. In 2013-14, his first full season as captain, Giroux didn't score for the first month, had only seven assists, was minus-11 - and was, by all accounts, miserable.
"When he first got captain, he was putting a lot of pressure on himself. He didn't have a goal through the first 15 games," said Sean Couturier. "Compared with now, he's more relaxed and (putting) the responsibility on the whole team. He knows he's not the one every night who needs to score goals."
That sounds as if Giroux has become more willing admonish and push his teammates. That image is at odds with the soft-spoken, deflective Giroux who faces the press almost every day.
"Oh, he says a lot of things; just not in front of you guys," Voracek said. "It's never about making sure the media knows you're a good captain because you talk in front of them. That's not the way you do it. He talks when he needs to talk, and he makes sense every time."
Giroux also knows that, regardless of how the rest of the team plays, the Flyers have more hope when he's productive. Just after Thanksgiving, they began a surge into the playoff picture with an 11-1-1 run that ended just before Christmas. Giroux had six goals, seven assists and was plus-9.
Then, the goal, and the win Sunday, and, with it, palpable relief and measured elation.
"There's always a lot of pressure on him, especially in Philly," Voracek said. "He's handled it very well. If you look a couple of years ago, it was a tough start for him to score that first goal. Then he took off and was a nominee for MVP."
Giroux probably won't finish third in voting for the Hart Trophy this season, but that isn't really the issue. He was similarly toothless for 23 games in 2014-15, when he scored two goals and had 12 total points and was squeezing the stick so hard, it looked ready to break. A year later, he shrugged off a midseason trough.
This time, though he agreed with general manager Ron Hextall that he'd been pressing a bit, his confidence remained higher. His even-strength potency is poor, but a recent change that returned Voracek to his line should help.
More than anything, Giroux realizes he can't carry the franchise on his shoulders.
"We don't expect him to be the difference-maker all the time," Couturier said.
To a greater extent these days, neither does Giroux.
"I try not to let it get to me," he said, smiling. "But it's tough."