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Flyers 5, Islanders 2: It’s Jake Voracek’s world and we’re just living in it

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Five thoughts as the Flyers move to just five points back from a playoff spot.

Philadelphia Flyers v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

They did it! Not only did they beat the New York Islanders twice in a week, but they also chased both of their starting goaltenders! After coming out flat (as usual) they woke up and poured on four unanswered goals as they cruised to another victory.

Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and Money Puck

1. The Couturier line thrives after being reunited

Following Jakub Voracek’s two-game absence, his individual return also marked the return of the trio of Voracek, Sean Couturier, and Oskar Lindblom. And boy, were they good. The three were the Flyers’ only line to finish the game north of 50% in on-ice shot and scoring chance share, and picked up a goal early in the second period — Couturier’s team-leading 28th of the season.

It’s no secret that whichever line Couturier plays on tends to be the team’s most effective unit, but last night it felt more like Voracek was the main driver behind their success. While all three positively impacted the game, it was Voracek who looked to be involved in everything from the very beginning. He left the game with a unique statistical profile — two primary assists and seven penalty minutes, including a five minute major for interference — but it was his play throughout that drove the Flyers to a successful outing. Physically involved throughout, the bearded one who is often criticized for his lack of defensive play made a mark in all three zones last night. His reverse-hit on Johnny Boychuk will surely be what’s talked about most, but let’s take a moment to appreciate the fact that Voracek accomplished something last night that only fourteen other players in Flyers history have done: score 500 points as a member of the orange and the black.

2. Flyers concede quantity, not quality

While the Islanders hit the net two more times, and out-shot them 45 to 38 at 5-on-5, it was the Flyers who were able to generate a higher number of dangerous chances and also capitalize on them. Per Money Puck’s expected goals model, the Flyers owned 62.6% of the flurry, score, and venue-adjusted expected goal total at even strength, and 56.06% of it across all situations. They held the Islanders to just 1.44 xG at 5-on-5, with their only shot with over a 30% chance of becoming a goal coming at the end of the game, Nick Leddy’s rebound goal. The Flyers on the other hand had three of such chances, all leading to goals.

The team’s success in this department had a lot to do with the play of their two stalwarts on defense, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. When the two were on the ice the Flyers owned 76.48% of the xG share, but neither of the team’s two other defensive pairs managed to finish with an xGF% above 30. The Flyers were a different team when they were on the ice, and they, along with the Couturier line, were absolutely driving factors behind the Flyers’ success last night. Maybe the biggest.

Usually it’s the Flyers that we tend to see cycle the puck with seemingly no purpose as they continue to fire away from the point time after time, but this time they were the team forcing the opposition to play that style of offense. It was nice to see the role reversed.

3. Sigh, the power play

The first unit’s struggles in their last game — really this last stretch of games — carried over into last night’s contest as they failed to strike on both of their opportunities. In two minutes and sixteen seconds of power play time, the first unit generated a grand total of one scoring chance. One! They also only took three shots at the net, which, well, isn’t ideal either. It’s been said many times by many people that ever since they moved Claude Giroux to the right side of the ice, the power play looks less threatening. And I wholeheartedly agree. So, where’s the disconnect between what a lot of us are seeing versus what the coaching staff sees? Thankfully, we sort of have an answer.

When asked about Giroux playing on his natural side of the ice on the power play rather than his off-side, Scott Gordon gave a very long, detailed answer. You can read the full quote for yourself here, courtesy of Dave Isaac, but for the sake of space and time let’s summarize it with a few bullet points:

  • The power play was at 12% before the change and has since improved.
  • They wanted to maximize James van Riemsdyk’s effectiveness.
  • They were taking too many point shots in the old set-up, and the shots weren’t getting through to the net.
  • It’s easier for players to protect the puck on their natural side.

But to me the most interesting point he made was that they don’t view Voracek as a shooter, and that it might be different if they had someone opposite of Giroux who was a “clear-cut one-timer” guy. The Flyers don’t really have a left-shot skater who possesses a threatening one-timer outside of Shayne Gostisbehere, who they’ve tried in that role both this year and last — or do they.

Sure, some of this is recency bias because of the bullet he unleashed last night, but Couturier has shown the ability to score on one-timers in the bumper role on the power play already, so who’s to say he couldn’t do the same on the right boards? When Couturier was a key member of the second power play unit he received a lot of flack for the unit’s struggles. However, for the majority of his time on the unit he played the left boards, his natural side, before breaking out in a net-front, middle of the ice role on the top unit last season. Could the answer be as simple as using the team’s leading goal-scorer in a one-timer role? Maybe, maybe not, but it’d be an intriguing experiment with the possibility of a big payoff.

4. Konecny continues to impress

Travis Konecny has somewhat quietly produced like a first-line winger this season at 5-on-5, and he once again showed off his blistering speed and finishing ability last night with a beautiful shot off the rush for the Flyers’ fifth and final goal of the game.

It wasn’t his best outing — he and his linemates were on the wrong side of the shot and scoring chance share on the night — but he picked up his 22nd goal of the season and is now just two shy of his career-best 24 which he set last season. A bit lost in the chaos of this season has been that Konecny has taken an even bigger step forward than what he showed us last season production-wise. His 43 points in 68 games puts him on pace to finish the season with 51 points, which would be a career high, and his even strength production paints an even prettier picture for the third-year pro.

Among skaters with a minimum of 250 minutes played, Konecny currently sits 58th in the league in 5-on-5 points per 60 at 2.23, a mark that is bested by only Giroux (2.67) and Couturier (2.25) on the Flyers. Furthermore, since the beginning of November Konecny has taken more dangerous shots at 5-on-5 than any skater on the team and leads the Flyers in expected goals. In terms of actual goals? Well for starters only Couturier has more among Flyers’ skaters, but what’s even more impressive is that his 16 5-on-5 goals have him tied for 31st in the league with the likes of Artemi Panarin, Jamie Benn, and Steven Stamkos to name a few.

It really makes you wonder what Konecny’s point total would be if he was on the top power play unit with Giroux. Even with this being a down year for the unit, just nine more points would have him on pace for a 60-point season, making it realistic to believe that he hits that number this season if he’s a member of the top unit. Even just a full season as a member of the team’s top line at 5-on-5 would likely result in that type of offensive production from him.

5. Keeping the playoff hopes alive

Another win, and another night of receiving no help from around the league. Yes, the playoffs are still a longshot, they will be for the rest of the season. No, I still don’t think they make it, but this win does keep the hope alive. In the position the Flyers are in, they absolutely cannot afford to drop two games in a row, and they managed to avoid doing so with last night’s win. The bad news for those of us who still believe the playoffs are a realistic possibility is that both the Carolina Hurricanes and the Columbus Blue Jackets won their games as well.

The positive is that the point pace has actually dropped since we last discussed this topic, and 95 points with the tiebreaker in your favor looks to get you in — for now. Problem being, the Flyers are at least four regulation-plus overtime wins behind every team their chasing, making it unlikely that the tiebreaker would be in their favor. So, we’re back to 96 points being the cutoff for the Flyers again, just as it was a month ago.

Playoff Picture

Team GP PTS PTS % Pace PTS Avail. PTS needed PTS needed % PTS needed % 82-game pace
Team GP PTS PTS % Pace PTS Avail. PTS needed PTS needed % PTS needed % 82-game pace
Islanders 68 85 0.625 102.5 28 10.26 0.366 60.09
Hurricanes 68 81 0.5956 97.68 28 14.26 0.509 83.52
Penguins 68 81 0.5956 97.68 28 14.26 0.509 83.52
Blue Jackets 68 79 0.5809 95.26 28 16.26 0.581 95.24
Canadiens 69 79 0.5725 93.88 26 16.26 0.625 102.56
Flyers 68 74 0.5441 89.24 28 21.26 0.759 124.52
Teams in bold currently hold a playoff spot.

Keeping the tiebreaker in mind, the Flyers need to win 11 of their remaining 14 games, and the three losses they’re allowed to have really cannot come in their four games versus the Canadiens, Penguins, or Hurricanes. And with half of their remaining games coming over the next two weeks, it won’t be long until we find out if they can really make another late season run, or if they’ll fall just short.