Jake Voracek

Which player can the Flyers least afford to lose?

Which player can the Flyers least afford to lose?

When Sean Couturier briefly left Friday’s game in Columbus, his absence ignited a conversation around the NBC Sports Philadelphia newsroom which led to the Hot Take question: Which player could the Flyers least afford to lose to injury? In other words, which Flyer is the most indispensable to the team’s overall success? Here's my ranking, starting at the top, of the players the Flyers can least afford to lose. Let the debate begin.

1. Michal Neuvirth 
This may come as a surprise considering that just a few weeks ago, Neuvirth was serving in a reserve role behind Brian Elliott who was the clear-cut No. 1 in net. Since stepping in as a starter, Neuvirth has promptly delivered with a .950 save percentage and a 1.93 goals against. The reason Neuvirth falls under the heading as most indispensable is rather simple: the drop-off from Neuvirth to Alex Lyon is significantly steep. Lyon struggled in his two starts adapting to the NHL’s level of pace and skill, and right now, Lyon’s not a viable option to handle the No. 1 job over an extended period. Without Neuvirth, Lyon and Phantoms goalie Dustin Tokarski, who has 34 games of NHL experience plus five playoff games with the Montreal Canadiens, would serve as the Flyers' 1-2 punch in net. 

2. Ivan Provorov 
The Flyers' shutdown defenseman logs more than three minutes of ice time more than the next Flyers defenseman, and his playing partner, Shayne Gostisbehere, has elevated his game (both offensively and defensively) since he’s been paired with Provorov. Andrew MacDonald’s flaws weren’t quite as exposed playing side-by-side with Provorov prior to the switch. While Provorov hasn’t quite been his steady self over the past several weeks and his puck handling at times can be adventurous, you can’t disregard his importance because his work along the boards and his ability to separate the player from the puck is unquestionably the best among the Flyers' blueliners. If the Flyers lost Provorov, rookie Robert Hägg or MacDonald would likely join Gostisbehere on the top pairing, with Radko Gudas moving up to the second pairing and Mark Alt becoming a regular contributor again.

3. Sean Couturier 
The Flyers' No. 1 center has logged some monster minutes this season. Among forwards, only Kings captain Anze Kopitar has been on the ice more than Couturier, who also ranks fourth in average ice time. Couturier plays a vital role in all situations and will likely be a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward, not to mention, he’s also on pace to score a mind-blowing 41 goals this season. When Couturier registers a point, the Flyers' record is 23-4-9 this season. Few players can drive to the net with and without the puck as effectively as Couturier. Senators coach Guy Boucher recently called him a “buy-in guy,” who will essentially do anything that is asked of him and then some. It's difficult to envision how the Flyers would adapt without Couturier. I can't see Nolan Patrick, Scott Laughton or Valtteri Filppula stepping into his role as the No. 1 center, so moving Claude Giroux to the middle and Jake Voracek to left wing on the first line would likely make the most sense.

4. Jakub Voracek 
When healthy, Voracek makes an entire line better, no matter who he’s with. While Voracek commits his share of turnovers and giveaways, his ability to carry the puck into the offensive zone is such an important part of the team’s puck possession metrics. He started the season with Giroux and Couturier before Dave Hakstol was forced to break up that trio in a desperate attempt to snap the Flyers' 10-game winless streak. His numbers have remained consistent regardless of who he has played with, and while he’s not a primary scoring option, the Flyers' power play funnels in Voracek’s direction with his league-leading 25 power play assists. No one Flyer can step into Voracek’s role and do precisely what he does on a nightly basis.

5. Claude Giroux 
Hard to believe that the Flyers' leading scorer and the NHL’s fourth-leading scorer would be fifth on this list, but it speaks more to the depth of the Flyers than it does to Giroux himself. Without Giroux, Couturier would not be enjoying the career season he’s had, and even Travis Konecny for that matter. Giroux is back playing in the 20-minute range after an injury-plagued season, and like Couturier and Voracek, redistributing those minutes would not come easily. There are the intangibles to Giroux’s game that are hard to quantify. Giroux's absence would create several holes — the ability to create offense with his vision and hockey IQ, his leadership, and the importance of winning crucial faceoffs. At 58.5 percent, Giroux ranks third in the NHL in faceoff percentage. 

Flyers' 'f---ing brutal' winless streak reaches 10 games with shutout loss to Bruins

Flyers' 'f---ing brutal' winless streak reaches 10 games with shutout loss to Bruins

BOX SCORE

The Flyers were looking to change anything. 

Some of the guys even grabbed a haircut in the days in between games. While they may have switched up their look, the Flyers outlook remained the same following a 3-0 loss on home ice to the Boston Bruins (see observations), extending their winless streak to 10 games, two shy of the franchise record.

“Yeah, I mean, it sucks,” said defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, “There is not much to say. It’s f---ing brutal. Sorry for cursing, but it's tough right now.”

“Nobody’s going to feel sorry us. Everything we touch right now turns to s---,” said forward Jake Voracek.

Or what the Flyers barely touch.

Late in the second period, the Flyers appeared to have scored a power play goal when Claude Giroux snapped a shot past Tuukka Risk that would have cut the Bruins' lead to 3-1 just before intermission. However, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy challenged the play arguing Wayne Simmonds interfered with Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask.

However, replays showed that Simmonds barely made contact and wasn’t in the crease at the time. After the horn sounded, Simmonds approached referee Dave Jackson for an explanation and then slammed and snapped his stick on his way back to the dressing room.

“He said I clipped him in his head. I honestly didn’t feel it if I did,” said Simmonds. 

When asked if goalies have a way of embellishing those plays Simmonds responded, “Yeah, probably. If I was a goalie, I’d probably do the same thing. I honestly didn’t think I touched him. Clearly I got a piece of him, but I’ve seen way worse than that and called still a good goal.”

However, the Flyers' results and mistakes are definitely self-inflicted at this point, and any sign of a comeback appears to be futile as they’ve gone their last 119:12 without a goal after Claude Giroux scored in the opening minute of Tuesday’s game against the Sharks.

“It’s not a good time right now. We need to figure it out and figure it out soon,” said Giroux, “I think now we’re just squeezing our sticks. We just got figure it out here. We just need that first win to get that breather.” 

The Flyers not only had a power play goal taken away, but they also had power play negated after Gostisbehere committed an unnecessary cross-checking penalty around the neck of Bruins forward Brad Marchand, who was trying to dump the puck and get off the ice for a change.

“Well, there’s probably a little bit of (frustration) there at that time of game,” said head coach Dave Hakstol, “I would rather he make a different choice. I’ll leave it at that.”

And then the Flyers were doomed by icing infractions. Two led to goals where they were burned defensively by the Bruins top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.

“Both stem from icings that we’d like to avoid and then they’re different plays from there - one’s a face-off play that we get beat off the wall to a puck in the middle of the rink and then the second one is a coverage out of a scrum on the half wall in our zone,” said Hakstol.

The Flyers proved last year that a team could win 10 in a row and miss the playoffs. They also showed in 2008 they could lose 10 straight and still get into the postseason.

Right now, they could use any source of motivation just to get a win.

“It’s not a magical recipe,” said Elliott, who has lost his eighth straight start, “It’s playing the game the right way. We have the personnel in here to do it. There’s no give up in this, that’s what I know for sure.”

Why the Flyers are struggling to score

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USA Today Images

Why the Flyers are struggling to score

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Ivan Provorov has been playing hockey since the age of six, and he can't ever remember a time when his team went two straight games without scoring a goal.

"Not really, no. All the teams I've played on were very high-scoring teams," Provorov said. "Stuff like this happens. They're good teams and playing the same team two games in a row, the goalie was hot."

Perhaps Provorov's rookie season at times was a blur because the Flyers went through a similar type of drought last season. During a 19-game stretch from Dec. 22 to Feb. 6, the Flyers were also shut out on five different occasions, including back-to-back games, and the offense was so dismal that they scored just four goals over a five-game stretch.

"Yeah, but we didn't play good," Jakub Voracek vividly recalls. "We weren't good enough to win the games. We may have outshot them, but we didn't play good enough last year after that 10-game winning streak to deserve to win more games. You can't compare it to this year. I don't know how it looks from up top in the press box, but I think we're playing better hockey, to be honest."

Last season's goalless streak lasted 134 minutes and 56 seconds. When the Flyers take the ice in Winnipeg tonight, the skid will pick up at 156 minutes and nine seconds.

"I think we're doing a better job of getting more quality shots this year than we are last year, to be honest with you, and quality chances," Voracek said. "We're moving a little better than we did last year. That's why we're creating more [and better] scoring chances."

In their 1-0 loss to the Wild Saturday, the Flyers outshot Minnesota, 32-27, but according to the website NaturalStatTrick.com that tracks shot location, the highest concentration of shots (5-on-5) came from the right point. The Flyers were also able to manufacture some shots from the top of the left circle as well, but not nearly as much in the danger zone between the circles.

The end result made Devan Dubnyk's 32-save shutout at the Wells Fargo Center not too terribly difficult, which is why Dave Hakstol and his players made a more conscious effort to get more traffic, look for more rebounds and second effort chances. Here's the shot map from Tuesday's game at the Xcel Energy Center where the Flyers were able to generate more action in front of the crease with a high volume from the right defense position. 

"I think we did a better job than we did on Saturday," Voracek said. "In the end, it doesn't really matter. Sometimes shots don't tell the whole story. We had so many games last year that we outshot them by 20 shots."

The Flyers generated some excellent chances. Scott Laughton had a couple looks from in tight, while Dale Weise was stuffed on a breakaway.

However, you'll notice one distinct difference between the Flyers' shot chart and that of the Minnesota Wild. The Wild aren't relying as much on shots inside their blue line as they were able to maintain a strong cycle game from their four lines and generate more offense down low, where the Flyers at times are forced to settle on working the puck around the perimeter and up top to their defense.

Credit Dave Hakstol for switching up the lines and inserting Jordan Weal at center where the line of Weise, Weal and Wayne Simmonds generated more possession time and more quality scoring chances. Prior to Tuesday's game, the Flyers' second and third lines with Valtteri Filppula and Jori Lehtera in the middle simply weren't generating a cycle game to create shots in and around the net.

When those two lines are on the ice, there's more emphasis on swinging the puck to the defensemen while hopefully getting a rebound or a deflected goal.

"It's hard to get a rebound if the D has to shoot it through five guys, you know what I mean," Voracek said. "If they box you out, the goalie sees it, if they don't they do a good job of putting three guys in the lane and it's hard for the defense to get some kind of lane." 

Voracek and I both agreed that's what's plagued the Flyers for much of last season, and more recently when they've had trouble scoring this season. While the Flyers would love to activate their defense in the offensive zone, that doesn't necessarily include just sending pucks on net from inside the blue line. 

Lately, it's been the No. 1 line and the fourth line of Taylor Leier, Laughton and Michael Raffl that has created the offensive pressure. The Flyers need more than that or these scoring droughts will continue to linger.