I’ve written about slumps in the past, so I thought I’d update one of those given the mess Claude Giroux is in. (Originally ran in The Hockey News in 2009, reprinted here with permission.)
Slumps are a bitch.
During the NHL’s last full season Claude Giroux tallied 93 points. He got the better of Sidney Crosby in a playoff series that made his coach call him “The best player in the world.” He’s on my pre-season Team Canada roster under a category called “The Definitely, Yeps.” The Flyers made him captain.
He now hasn’t scored in 20 games dating back to last season. Seven points in 14 games.
Did I mention slumps are a bitch?
It’s amazing how recognizing you’re in a goal drought makes the problem feed on itself. And unfortunately, no matter who you talk to, there’s no easy solution to your problem.
I went through stretches of legitimate success in college and pro hockey, tying together point streaks of double digit games on multiple occasions. As you may have guessed, I also went through prolonged stretches of great misery, tying together streaks of punching walls and pulling my hair out at the root for double-digit games…on multiple occasions.
The standard song and dance about slump breaking is, in my opinion, what prolongs them.
“Keep it simple. Shoot from everywhere.”
Nothing twists the knife in your already-stabbed confidence like a goalie casually gloving down your shot from left field that you only took because technically, that spot by the boards at the blueline fell under the category of “everywhere.” If you’re a natural goal scorer, you likely didn’t get where you are because you were air-mailing in three pointers on talented goaltenders.
The only known antidote for the slump sickness, of course, is to work so hard Patrice Bergeron looks lazy. That’s not a fun reality, but hey, here we are.
It takes a couple games of driving the net, hovering around the goalie and generally playing violently in the crease before a shot from the point redirects off the bridge of your nose and goes in for you to get back to normal. And once that monkey’s off your shoulder pads it’s amazing how they start to go in.
As far as slumps go, a few games wouldn’t be a huge deal. The problem is there are stages of slump denial, which tend to add extra games to it before you realize you’re mired in one.
For starters, there’s the ‘Bad Luck’ phase:
“Ha, what a lucky save.”
“I can’t believe that hit both posts.”
“If another puck bounces over my stick around the net I’m going to sacrifice a goat to the hockey gods.”
The ‘Blame Placing’ phase is only a few steps behind. Sadly, some players never get out of this one. They’re convinced their whole career was on the same path as Sid the Kid had they not had this awful nine-year stretch of bad luck.
“My linemates are awful.”
“I’m not getting enough power play time.”
“This ice is horrific.”
As the sad, slumpy realization sinks in, superstition becomes the only friend to turn to.
You start taping your stick with white instead of black. You stop playing two-touch soccer with the boys before the game. You even write something different on the knob end of your stick, something usually along the lines of ‘WWJD.’
As the slump shovel hits bedrock, thoughts on the home front start to drift, potentially all the way into, “maybe I’m just not good enough” territory, highlighted by such classics as:
“I really should finish that degree.”
“I could probably work for my sister-in-law’s husband.”
“#$%$ @#!$#ing &%@#!”
But just then, just as you’re about to patch the holes in your bedroom wall and hang up the skates a puck goes in. And not a two-on-one, fake-pass snapper off the post snipe-type goal. Always some dumb, “I can’t believe it was that easy” freebie-type goal. But who cares.
And so the pendulum swings.
Claude Giroux is in a slump like I’ve never seen from someone with that much talent. You have to think at some point based on sheer odds he’d get a few great chances, and with his talent, put a couple in. You’d think, anyway. And as the slump drags on, the stick-squeezing begins (I’ve written about that concept before).
There’s just no easy way to get out of it, so I believe you’ve gotta keep doing what you’ve always done when you have the puck, and if given the choice between going to net and not without it, goddammit you get there. Giroux is one of the NHL’s top talents, and he’ll be alright. He’ll get his 20, he’ll make a push for Team Canada.
But in the meantime, I’m sure he’s doing plenty of damage to his knuckles and walls everywhere. He’s only a bounce from freedom, but he’ll feel like he’s in prison til it comes.