Philadelphia, PA – The rash of head injuries to NHL players this season has put hockey fans all over North America on edge.
So, when star forward Claude Giroux went down with a concussion a few weeks ago, Philadelphia Flyers fans feared for the worst. Then, when the Flyers announced that Giroux would be returning less than two weeks after he was accidentally kneed in the head by teammate Wayne Simmonds, Philly fans held their collective breaths.
After all, while Giroux was recovering from his head injury, the Flyers were forced to make an announcement that was tough to swallow for both the fans and the organization itself.
After weeks of misdiagnosing captain Chris Pronger's concussion as a virus, Philadelphia revealed on Dec. 15 that its top defenseman and leader would be shut down for the remainder of the season and the playoffs.
The dour news on Pronger helped fuel fears that Giroux would suffer a similar fate, but doctors have been reiterating; all concussions are different.
For some reason, Pronger's symptoms were not obvious at first and his condition went unnoticed for an extended period of time, making matters worse. Giroux, on the other hand, was taken off the ice immediately after getting hit by Simmonds, but his symptoms -- as witnessed on the most recent episode of HBO's 24/7 -- did not linger nearly as long.
Giroux, who held onto the NHL's scoring lead while missing four games this month, wasted little time in taking over sole possession of that race in his first game back. The 23-year-old notched his 17th goal of the season and also added three assists Wednesday night in Dallas, giving him a league-leading 43 points in 29 games.
While the Flyers faithful had to be thrilled with their star center's return performance, Philadelphia forward Jaromir Jagr may have been even more excited than the average Philly fan to have Giroux back.
After all, the Czech legend's triumphant return to the NHL has been eased by having Giroux as his linemate, and Jagr was able to notch a goal and an assist against the Stars. Jagr's goal was the 657th of Jagr's storied NHL career, moving him past Brendan Shanahan for 11th place on the league's all-time list.
"It was like the old times," Jagr said after Wednesday's game.
While Jagr was joking about "old times," it does seem like the 39-year-old and Giroux have been playing together for years, even if Giroux was just two years old when Jagr began his NHL career with Pittsburgh in 1990.
When the Flyers signed Jagr to a one-year, $3.3 million contract in the summer, it seemed a very real possibility that Philadelphia would regret giving that much money to a guy who hadn't played in the NHL since skating with the New York Rangers in 2007-08. However, the chemistry that Jagr has shown this season with Giroux and fellow linemate Scott Hartnell has made the price paid for the veteran's services seem like a steal.
Giroux's return to the ice was special, but Flyers fans should remain cautiously optimistic in light of what is going on the other side of Pennsylvania, where Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby has suffered a relapse of concussion symptoms.
Crosby was out for 10 months with a concussion suffered last January, and, like Giroux, his return to the ice on Nov. 21 came in the form of a four-point night. Sid the Kid then went on to compile 12 points in just eight games, but the return of his head issues has kept him out of the lineup since Dec. 5. and there is still no timetable for his return.
One of the scariest things about concussions is that a player can seem to be free of symptoms one moment only to suffer a relapse without warning. Giroux seems to be out of the woods for now, but there are many unknown elements when dealing with concussions.
Flyers fans obviously should be happy to have their star offensive player back, but the recurring nature of concussions should also temper everyone's expectations. That may not be what people want to hear, but unfortunately it's the reality of today's NHL.
HBO'S 24/7 STILL GRIPPING TV, ALSO NOT FOR EVERYONE
For the last few weeks the Flyers and Rangers have been followed around by HBO's film crews, as the esteemed premium cable channel delivers another season of it's 24/7 series leading up to the Winter Classic.
The documentary series is in its second year and just like last season, it has offered an uncensored view of life inside an NHL club. That means a whole lot of foul language that has turned some fans off. However, once you get past the flurry of F-bombs, it's hard to deny the unprecedented insight the show gives into how the day-to-day operation of a hockey team works.
So far, HBO has shown us some somber stuff, like how clubs deal with concussions, but it has also featured some truly laugh-out-loud moments. Watch New York's ribbing of young forward Artem Anisimov for an ill-advised goal celebration, or any interview with wacky Philadelphia goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and you will chuckle more than you would if you were watching HBO's so-called comedy "Enlightened."
Swearing aside, the documentary series is an excellent promotional vehicle for the league's annual outdoor game, which is scheduled to take place on Jan. 2 at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park.
Let's face it, NHL players can be pretty boring, so if it takes a few dirty words to liven things up then it's not exactly the end of the world. Just make sure to kick the kids out of the room when the show is about to start.