Jake Voracek

Why the Flyers are struggling to score

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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.

Flyers Weekly Observations: As the top line turns

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Flyers Weekly Observations: As the top line turns

Only two games were played over the past seven days, but we still have plenty to talk about in the world where the Flyers roam.

Of course, we do … there’s always plenty to talk about with the Flyers.

The not-so-busy week gave the Flyers time to heal up. When the skates returned to the ice, we were shown glimpses of the potential the Flyers possess but also saw the deficiencies that could anchor them going forward.

The week kicked off in a big way Thursday with a commanding 3-1 victory over the visiting Chicago Blackhawks and swiftly ended with a thud thanks to a deflating 1-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild Saturday evening.

Let’s dive into this week’s main course, shall we?

• What you saw Thursday from the trio of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek, now that’s what an elite NHL top line looks like. The triumvirate made the Blackhawks look silly with the way they controlled the puck and had helpless defenders guessing the night away. Each player scored and each was sparkling in its own separate way. Giroux’s was a torpedo off a great Voracek steal and pass. Voracek's was a missile of his own off a threaded Shayne Gostisbehere cross-ice feed. And Couturier’s was the exclamation point of a lovely rush featuring a Giroux primary assist that was so good Corey Crawford’s head is still spinning and looking for the puck three days later.

Oh happy day, indeed. But … not so much two nights later as the Wild stymied the top line and the Flyers were left scoreless for a league-leading (?) fourth time already this season. There’s a theme here and it’s not the best one for the Flyers. Look, it’s great for them the top line is producing the way it is. But what about everyone else? The top line can’t score all the goals. That’s a recipe for disaster.

My colleague Tom Dougherty astutely pointed out earlier this week that Couturier’s scoring surge has been masking this secondary scoring wart. But as time goes on here, that mask will wash away. The top line has combined for 23 of the Flyers’ 50 goals thus far. That’s a whopping 46 percent. The unit has also combined for 60 of the 140 points the team has recorded. That’s good for 42.9 percent of the pie. This is not sustainable and something is going to have to change soon for the Flyers to find continued success. It’s not a coincidence they haven’t reeled together consecutive wins in almost a month.

• Is it time to worry about Nolan Patrick as a concussion has knocked the prized rookie out for the last couple weeks? I’ll put it like this: there is always worry about any concussion. But, sure, when a concussion has sidelined a player for this long, it’s worrisome. The plan is for Patrick to practice with the team Monday before the trip to Minnesota, but who knows from there. Remember he practiced back before the game in Toronto? GM Ron Hextall said prior to Saturday’s game Patrick hasn’t experienced any setbacks but is still trying to work back. It’s a scary thing because everyone responds differently to a concussion and you can’t push the envelope. The Flyers are rightfully being cautious with Patrick. Right now isn’t as important as the 19-year-old’s future.

• Wayne Simmonds hasn’t scored since he wired the game-winner Oct. 21 late against Edmonton, an uncharacteristic span of nine games. Hextall admitted Saturday evening Simmonds hasn’t been completely healthy in recent weeks but has been battling through for the team. And that has been evident as Simmonds hadn’t been his noticeable self over the last couple weeks. Something was just missing in his game. But this week, Simmonds was noticeable again. While he didn’t find his way onto the score sheet, he had that spark and jump that we’ve become accustomed to. And that’s excellent news for the Flyers. A healthy Simmonds obviously takes some of the scoring pressure off the top line, which is just what the doctor ordered right about now.

• Count this guy as one who thought Michal Neuvirth would take the lion’s share of starts in net this season. Well, that’s why they play the games, right? Brian Elliott has played very well in net and given the Flyers plenty of chances to win on most nights. In 11 starts this season, Elliott is 6-4-1 with a 2.73 goals-against average and .908 save percentage. Yes, Neuvirth’s numbers (2,17 GAA, .928 save percentage) are better, but that’s in only six games.

Elliott has the early trust of Dave Hakstol, who is notoriously fickle with his goalie decisions. And this was Elliott’s best week in a Flyers uniform yet. He was superb against Chicago, stopping 38 shots in the 3-1 win. His breakaway stop on Brandon Saad was excellent, as he waited Saad out and didn’t give him much real estate to shoot at. He followed that performance up Saturday with 27-save outing but took the hard-luck defeat after a bad bounce victimized him early in the third. Things can change with the snap of Hakstol’s finger, but it sure looks like Elliott has the No. 1 job on lock right now.

• The Blackhawks’ regular-season winless streak in Philadelphia, now at 14 since 1996, is just befuddling. How is that even possible? It’s like that 23-year winless streak the Flyers had at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit that was only snapped a few years back. I mean, it’s not like the Blackhawks have never won in South Philly … OK, I’ll just end that sentence and this column here for your health.

Coming up this week: Tuesday at Minnesota (8:00 p.m. on NBCSP+), Thursday at Winnipeg (8:00 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday vs. Calgary (1:00 p.m. on NBCSP)

Flyers Weekly Observations: Tough call in Ottawa still leaving a bad taste

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Flyers Weekly Observations: Tough call in Ottawa still leaving a bad taste

Well, that was quite an interesting week for the Flyers, now wasn’t it?

It was one that had nowhere to go but up after it started, but still had unforeseen plot twists and turns along the way.

The week started Tuesday with a 6-2 dud of a loss to the Anaheim Ducks to finish off a five-game homestand, continued with a tough-to-swallow 5-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators and ended on a high note with a 4-2 victory over the high-powered Toronto Maple Leafs.

Considering what unfolded late in the game Thursday night in Ottawa, you probably have a good idea of where this week’s observations are starting.

So let’s jump right in.

• Let’s be blunt here right off the bat: The Flyers were hosed, bamboozled, swindled, sandbagged or whatever else you want to call it out of the game-tying goal late in the third period Thursday in Ottawa by one of the dumbest rules in sports.

The NHL’s “intent to blow the whistle” rule is just illogical in every single sense and Sean Couturier was the latest victim of it. Just the wording “intent to blow the whistle” is dumbfounding. So a play, in this case, a game-altering play, is ruled by something someone intends to do. Not something someone actually does, but something someone intends to do. What? Seriously? We all intend to do a lot of things. Doesn’t mean they get done. The puck was across the line before there was a whistle; it was a goal.  How many more times does this have to happen before the league realizes that something is inherently wrong here? Imagine a Stanley Cup Final game getting decided because of that. Just let the players play and let the play end when it ends.

Yet, here’s the other fact: The Flyers can’t be falling behind by three goals multiple times in a game like they did against the Sens. They were just flat as can be right out of the gate and dug themselves a hole. Not many things tend to go your way when you do that. And that’s the salt in the wound of the play that didn’t go the Flyers’ way. They scratched and clawed their way back into the game multiple times only for that call to basically take away at least a point from them.

• Have to love the power move Jakub Voracek pulled out of his bag of tricks for his goal in Toronto on Saturday evening. Good things tend to happen when you take the puck to the net, especially as hard and strong as Voracek did on that particular play. Voracek can be deceptively strong, even more so when he’s going to work in the offensive zone with the puck on his stick. He’s got a natural knack for protecting the puck. So you always like to see him make plays like that.

You can say what you want about Voracek’s goal-scoring numbers as he  has only two on the season with the first coming Thursday in Ottawa, but he’s still been a major cog in a Flyers offense that’s averaging 3.45 goals, seventh in the league as of Sunday evening. And Voracek is second in the league with 14 assists. He leads the Flyers with 16 points. The goals may not be there yet, but he’s still producing at a hefty clip. And if this week was any indication, the goals will be coming.

• The Flyers need to be holding their collective breath when it comes to Shayne Gostisbehere’s injury. “Ghost” left the game against the Maple Leafs after absorbing a hard hit in the second. Gostisbehere is such a unique talent. He’s a dynamic magician with the puck, especially in the offensive zone. And, of course, he has that booming rocket of a shot from the point. There aren’t many other players in the league who can do what “Ghost” can. Needless to say, it would be a huge loss if Gostisbehere were to be out for an extended period of time. That would be a gigantic hole on a Flyers defense that is already hurting. He has but a single goal, but also has 12 assists on the year.

• This week saw the Flyers lay their first egg of the season with Tuesday’s shellacking they took from the Ducks, a power in the Western Conference when healthy, just like they were at the Wells Fargo Center. An 82-game season is one long, winding journey with many bumps along the way. Duds like that are inevitable. They happen to every team.

But the continued rejuvenation of Couturier’s offensive prowess was on full display during that game with a beauty of a breakaway tally and a slam dunk off a beautiful set-up by Travis Sanheim. Couturier has been a revelation for the Flyers so far this season. Yes, skating alongside playmakers such as Voracek and Claude Giroux helps, but Couturier’s confidence with the puck and around the net can be easily seen. He scored on a lovely tip against the Sens and should have had another, but, well, you know...

Anyway, raise your hands if you had Couturier leading the Flyers with seven goals through 11 games. Not many hands raised, I see.

• Here’s a scheduling quirk: Starting with Monday’s game vs. Arizona, the Flyers won’t play another Eastern Conference team until Nov. 23 when they visit the New York Islanders. That’s a stretch of nine straight vs. the West. In fact, 17 of the Flyers’ first 21 games are vs. Western foes. Might as well save the most important games for later on, right?

Coming up this week: Monday vs. Arizona (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Wednesday at Chicago (8 p.m. on NBCSN), Thursday at St. Louis (8:00 p.m. on NBCSP). Saturday vs. Colorado (7 p.m. on NBCSP)