Even before his four-assist game during yesterday's 7-0 dismantling of the Islanders, Jakub Voracek was quietly having a really, really solid start to this season.
He entered Monday's game against the Islanders tied for the team scoring lead with Brayden Schenn, and now holds that lead by himself -- with 15 points in 17 games, he sits two points ahead of Schenn, Claude Giroux, and Matt Read.
He's shown an ability to succeed with different pairs of linemates (Giroux/Read on Monday, Schenn and Tye McGinn before that), and he's also been very good when it comes to defense and controlling play/shot attempts.
So Jake is great, and has been great. We've seen that, and we know that. Knowing that, something seems wrong with the following chart. (All these numbers on a per-game basis, all through yesterday's game.)
|Player||Total TOI||ES TOI||SH TOI||PP TOI||Shifts|
Let's hone in on that sixth row, and add another line to enhance the point.
|Total TOI||ES TOI||SH TOI||PP TOI||Shifts|
|Jake Voracek, 2011-12||16:17||12:22||0:33||3:21||20.6|
|Jake Voracek, 2013||16:03||11:52||0:02||4:09||19.1|
So the team's leading scorer (and, really, its most impressive forward so far this season) is ranked sixth among the team's top 12 forwards in ice time per game and seventh at even strength, and is getting less ice time as a whole and at even strength than he was last year. That's all despite him having a very good year last year, and despite the Flyers having to replace two top-6 wingers from that team.
Anyone else see something wrong with this picture?
The best reason I can think of for Jake's inexplicably low ice time -- and as you'll see, it's not a very good one -- is that maybe Peter Laviolette is concerned about his defensive performance/results so far this season. Jake is a minus-4 in plus/minus and has been on the ice for 4.66 goals against per 60 minutes, both of which are a team-worst. Is there anything to really read into there?
In short: No.
Ignoring the fact that, as Travis has outlined before, plus/minus is a fairly meaningless statistic, Jake's suffered more than a bit of bad luck in his ice time. At 5-on-5, Flyers goalies are stopping only 81.3 percent of shots while he's on the ice. In other words: nearly one out of five shots while he's on the ice has hit the back of the net. Even if he isn't doing a good job defensively, that number is pretty much inevitably going to improve in time.
But just to drive the point home, Jake's actually done an admirable job in his own end. Relative to the other 11 forwards above, the Flyers allow shots on goal at the third-lowest clip when Jake is on the ice, and they allow missed shots at the second-lowest rate when he's out there. I'm not too worried about his defense if he's suppressing shots towards the net as well as just about any forward on the team.
So the solution here, since he's performing very well at both ends of the ice, seems to be to play him more. And yesterday's game -- which found him on the top line with Giroux and Read -- was an encouraging sign that he'll get more playing time going forward. Still, if we're sending suggestions over to Laviolette, whose ice time should Jake be taking?
The best solution I can think of is pretty much to take that from line Monday and actually designate it as a first line, and have its minutes reflect that. Given that Claude, Jake and Matt have probably been the team's three best forwards, it makes sense to give them the most time (the way Laviolette has with Giroux and Read, but not Voracek.)
Meanwhile, have Schenn, Briere and Simmonds be the second line, and maybe give them a couple fewer shifts per game. It may serve Danny well -- even with three goals in his last two games, he's still off his typical scoring pace, and at 35 he could probably use a little bit of rest when he's skating around with a bunch of 20-somethings every shift. Plus you can keep that whole second line fresh for the power play, given that they're all purely offensive-oriented forwards who have really excelled with the man advantage.
For now, at least, that seems like the best answer. Things will get complicated again soon when Scott Hartnell comes back, and one of those guys will have to be dropped again. There are worse problems to have.
But in any case: when you're struggling (which the Flyers are), before you pull the trigger on something drastic like a trade, you've got to look at the guys you've got and see who's really performing amongst them. Jakub Voracek is really performing -- in my opinion, better than any other player on this team -- and he's shown he deserves a few more shifts per game. It can't hurt.