Losses on Tuesday and Thursday of this past week aside, the Flyers have been one of the hottest teams in the league over the last few weeks. They are currently crawling into the playoff picture, with at least a game in hand on each team in front of them.
After a streaky start to the season, the Flyers started putting up consistent performances night in and night out starting in December. Since December 15th, the Flyers are 8-5-2 and have climbed back into playoff contention. Coincidentally, that was also the first game that Jakub Voracek played on left wing -- at the time, with Sean Couturier as his center.
The Flyers' 18 points in those 15 games have coincided with the resurgence of Voracek and Couturier. They each seemed to boost each other's play.
The team struggled last night without Couturier, one of its most important players, against the Penguins. The Flyers are a completely different team without their shutdown center, and we saw just how important he can be to them via his absence last night. (Voracek, on the other hand, kept up his hot pace with two points, a goal and an assist, both on the power play.)
You may think that things are looking a bit bleak after last night, but this week's two heartbreaking losses were just a blip on the radar in the big picture.
Voracek and Couturier each had multi-point games in the overtime victory over Carolina on December 15th and haven't looked back. That game sparked a five-game point streak for Voracek, and he has a total of 17 points over the past 15 games. In comparison, he had 16 points in the first 30 games.
That's just brushing the surface. Voracek's points per 60 more than quadrupled, from 0.70 prior to that timeframe to right around 3 since it, and his scoring chances for per 60 increased from 28.3 to 36.2. Not only was he generating more chances, but he was converting them as well.
It also sparked Couturier, who finally started scoring after months of great possession play. Couturier is also playing at a point per game pace since December 15th, with six goals and eight assists over that span. Like Voracek, the scoring surge was the complete opposite from how he began the season. He had a measly eight points in his first 24 games.
Couturier's points per 60 more than tripled - from 1.1 to just under 4, with similar scoring chance numbers. He has been converting the chances that he had been getting all season long.
The two started on a line together which sparked both of them, but even having been separated since then, the pair has continued to thrive.
Each of them were a bit rocky through the first quarter of the season, but hit a stride come December. The California road trip saw them hit a valley, but they quickly bounced back after that.
Both were struggling immensely prior to playing with each other, but their points per 60 skyrocketed after just one game together. Couturier has finally found his offensive groove after being asked time and time again to focus on his defense. Dave Hakstol has given him a chance, and he has ran with it.
Voracek's poor start was the storyline of the first few months of the season, and many of us still mentioned him as our disappointment of the first half. After last season's breakout, we expected Voracek to play at the pace he has over the past month, rather than how he played over the first two months of the season. Some of that has to do with luck, but once he started finding the back of the net, the points started piling up.
Much of the Flyers' recent success can be attributed to them having a legitimate top six. Claude Giroux is obviously a great top-line center, but now the Flyers have another center that looks like he can carry a line in Sean Couturier. His disappointing performance last season can be blamed on his usage, as well as his linemates. This season, he has been playing with talented wingers in Wayne Simmonds, Voracek and Brayden Schenn, and the results are showing how good he can be.
We saw just how important having two good top lines is in last night's loss. With Couturier out, Dave Hakstol went with Sam Gagner as his second line center. No knock against him, but trying to replace Couturier's play and production with anyone right now is near impossible.
Couturier and Voracek are two of the major keys to the Flyers success. When they are both in the lineup and playing well, this team will thrive. If one of them is out or slumping, the Flyers are in for a long night.
The Flyers aren't going to be a Stanley Cup contender, but they have the foundation to build for the future. Two legitimate top lines, solid goaltending and young budding defenseman are the keys to success for building an NHL franchise in this era.
All statistics and charts via war-on-ice.com.