The press release from the Toronto Maple Leafs read “day-to-day,” but the tone in Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s voice suggested he might be out a lot longer.
For the third time in a month, Giguere aggravated a lingering groin injury during Thursday’s game in Calgary. So as the rest of his team prepared for Saturday’s game in Vancouver and another run with Jonas Gustavsson as its starter, Giguere seemed to be preparing himself for a prolonged absence.
“I think it’s probably more than just resting,” Giguere said cryptically.
Giguere wasn’t quite ready to play doctor. He will meet with them Sunday back in Toronto. But he has been through this before in Anaheim and knows his body well. And after missing two weeks and six games in mid-November, and another two games last week, Giguere sounded like a goalie who might be in need of a surgeon.
“It’s a matter of finding what it is, why is it coming back?” he said. “Because I am bringing it back to 100 per cent, to where I feel like there is absolutely no pain whatsoever, and as I get playing some games it gets tired and tight and to a point it gets weak and then the sharp pain comes after that. There is probably something that is out of whack. It could be a bunch of stuff.”
No apology for style
Giguere has received more than his fair share of criticism for the rigid style he plays under the tutelage of Toronto goalie guru Francois Allaire, whose teaching helped him revive a near-dead career in Anaheim.
But Giguere has never apologized for embracing a system that relies more on blocking than reacting.
“Yeah, my style doesn’t look flashy, but that’s the way I play. I don’t really care to be honest what other people think. It’s not going to prevent me from sleeping at night,” Giguere told InGoal Magazine shortly after the lockout. “I have no shame in the way I play.”
It’s a style often criticized as not being athletic enough, which is ironic considering Allaire once told us Giguere is the hardest working goalie he’s ever taught.
“It’s the way I want to play, it’s the way I feel comfortable playing, and if anybody has anything to say about it, they can try it and they’ll see that it’s not easy,” said Giguere, who can lose as much as 10 pounds in a single game. “People don’t realize how hard you have to work to be in the right position all the time. The way I play takes good legs, you’ve got to work out harder in the summer, you’ve got to keep up with your shape in the winter and it’s tough, it’s tough on your legs, tough on your hips, and your groin and all that. It’s one of the hardest ways to play because it takes a lot of energy. Everything has to do with your legs and pushing and stopping, so at the end of the day it just demands a lot of energy.”
Giguere felt things get tight early in the second period in Calgary. By the time the period ended, it had become painful, and he didn’t play the third. But most frustrating, he said, was the fact it didn’t start with any of the many fully extended saves he was forced to make in a lopsided loss to the Flames.
“That’s the worst part, it’s not something it should happen on,” he said. “It started with being uncomfortable and went to sharp pain. There’s something going on and it’s a question of the trainers and I figuring it out and making sure we take care of it once and for all. We have to get the right diagnostic.”
There may be one other part that’s even worse: the fact this comes in the final season of the four-year, $24-million contract he signed after backstopping the Anaheim Ducks to the Stanley Cup. The 13-year NHL veteran is 8-7-2 with a .890 save percentage and 2.80 goals-against average in Toronto this season.
“It would bother me in any situation, but this is a very important season for me,” said Giguere, who was coming off impressive wins over Montreal, Boston and Edmonton and expected to play a lot the next month. “Obviously I’m 33 years old and I’m going to be a free agent so this is not the best situation.”
If there’s any consolation, it comes in being through it before.
Giguere struggled through the 2005-06 season after having hip surgery, and was widely dismissed as fading after his save percentage dipped to .911, with many suggesting his blocking style didn’t work in the first year of the “new” NHL.
Giguere knew it had more to do with injuries – and trying to play through them.
“I was healthy but I wasn’t well balanced,” he told InGoal at the time. “My body was probably weaker on one side than the other. I was ready to go from a medical perspective I guess, but it seems like I was always trying to catch up with my body and it always kind of gave out at some point. But these are the seasons that you try to learn from. You’re trying to recover your injury, at the same time you’re trying to get your game back, it was just mentally really hard.”
Giguere finally got healthy that summer and bounced back the following season, posting a .918 save percentage before leading Anaheim to the Stanley Cup.
Unlike 2005-06, Giguere doesn’t have the luxury of another year on his contract this time. But he knows what he is capable of when he does get healthy, and is confident others in the NHL do too.
“This is similar,” Giguere said Friday. “It’s aggravating but it’s life.”