Voracek-mate! – Thoughts on Flyers 5, Rangers 4 (OT)

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Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

For one, wild night in New York, the Flyers’ best line got them through two periods, and their highest-paid players got them through the third and a brief, yet exhausting overtime.

Games against the New York Rangers aren’t supposed to be this difficult for the Flyers, but when you come into the matchup reeling, having lost five of seven and fallen out of a playoff spot in the East Division, and haven’t gotten anywhere close to acceptable defense or goaltending of late, you have to expect anything and everything.

That would include blowing an early two-goal lead, and having to come from behind twice, including in the third period, before winning in overtime on a Herculean individual effort.

And so goes the story of the Flyers, who are sometimes a two-act comedy, sometimes a Shakespearean drama, and frequently a last-minute car chase with a “didn’t see that coming” ending.

On this night, the ending had a positive payoff, a breakaway goal by Jake Voracek in overtime that resulted in a 5-4 Flyers win and Jake still huffing and puffing to catch his breath, several minutes after the game’s conclusion when he met with the media.

“I was dead,” he said, after one of the longest shifts of the night where he was on the ice skating hard for close to two minutes.

And with the puck deep in the Rangers’ zone, and goalie Keith Kinkaid coming way out to play it and try and get it up the wall to Artemi Panarin, trying to catch the Flyers in a much-needed line change, Voracek stayed on the ice and, like a gambling cornerback in the NFL, went for the interception, and came away with the hockey equivalent of a pick six:

First, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fine defensive work by the much maligned, by Twitter experts anyway, Travis Sanheim, who shut down the dangerous Panarin on a one-on-one play in the Flyers zone, then was able to get the puck down the ice to allow his team to try and change personnel.

But this is all about Voracek, who, as a savvy veteran, saw an opportunity and took it.

He knew Panarin was equally as tired from being on the ice for not one long shift, but two of them in OT for the Rangers, who had controlled the possession for much of the extra session prior to the goal.

And when he saw Kinkaid come out of the net to play the puck, he knew there was only one place for him to go with it – and that was right back to Panarin. Voracek was close enough to at least tie up the puck, and maybe, just maybe, force a turnover.

Once that happened, it was a matter of fortitude. Voracek didn’t stop skating. Panarin did. It gave Jake the time he needed to put a wicked deke on Kinkaid in net and then score the game winner.

“That’s why he’s making $8 million,” said Joel Farabee, who watched in awe of his veteran teammates and their ability to carry the team on their shoulders when it needed it most. “That’s all I have to say right there.”

But it wasn’t just this one play. Voracek and Claude Giroux simply willed the Flyers to victory, especially in the third period, where they had great jump and were all over the ice. Each guy finished with a goal and an assist, and Voracek’s helper was on Giroux’s goal on a play completely drawn up by Voracek like your neighbor used to do when playing touch football in the street and you were the bottle cap and he was the penny and your teammates were the blade of grass and the pebble.

“When they’re on, it’s so fun for me to watch,” said Farabee, who also had a goal and an assist in the game, and was more loquacious when describing how the two of them worked together to score the tying goal. “G’s goal was probably one of the crazier things I’ve seen. Jake literally said that whole play (in advance). He’s like ‘We’re going to win (the faceoff), it’s going to go down to me. G, pretend you are going to go up the wall and then go back door.’ I was watching from the point and couldn’t even believe it. it’s one of the cooler things I’ve seen.”

This came on a power play after Giroux took a high stick to the face that resulted in a bloody nose and four-minute man advantage. Just an excellent audible by Jake, who said he and Giroux often alternate at calling set plays when they are together on the ice.

They’re so good, they’re such good leaders,” said Farabee. “As we keep going here, we’re going to really need them. And they’re always ready to step up.”

I bolded that one line because there is a narrative out there that Giroux and Voracek are not good players, because the team hasn’t gone far with them as the key pieces of the core, and that Giroux isn’t a good captain.

It’s all hogwash.

Are there times where one or both of them make a mistake, or could play better? Absolutely. I’m not sitting here being an apologist for either guy. If they make a mistake that costs the team, I have no problem pointing it out.

But, there’s a reason they are paid what they are paid. There is a reason they are on the ice in all the key moments of the game. There are so many things that they do well and do right and are so well-liked and respected in the locker room that they are both good players and good leaders. No matter what the vocal minority want to trumpet.

If it wasn’t evident with their play, maybe it was evident by their teammates’ reactions to a questionable hit on Giroux:

And it wasn’t just Nolan Patrick and Voracek jumping to Giroux’s defense. The whole bench had a problem with Brendan Smith after this hit:

Guess the captain doesn’t mean much to the rest of the team, eh?

Additionally, the notion that the Flyers are soft or that they don’t have each other’s back is another misleading narrative being thrown out by fans who long for the olden days of goon-it-up hockey.

Don’t get me wrong, I am someone who doesn’t like the direction the game has taken in recent years. Taking the physicality out of the game (not just fighting, but more hitting, shoving, and general animosity) has turned the sport into a game where the most that’s done is chirping at one another. It stinks. Today’s fans don’t get to enjoy what was the fabric of the sport for so many years.

But, that being said, teams don’t respond to plays like this like they used to. It’s ingrained into them by coaches and management. This is not how the game is played anymore. Yeah, occasionally there will be a scrap, or a hit to respond to an earlier one, but they are few and far between when they used to be frequent.

As for the call for enforcers, or someone to drop the gloves to defend the captain after he takes a hit like he did, keep in mind the Flyers have had all of two fights in 26 games this season.

Today’s game is what it is. The sooner we accept that, the better off we’ll be.

PECO finally getting its money’s worth

For a while, the Flyers power play was unplugged. It couldn’t score. There were chances, sure, but finishing was a real issue. It was so bad, PECO considered pulling its sponsorship.

OK, that last line isn’t true. As long as Lou Nolan can still hold that baritone note for PECOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO that advertising deal isn’t going anywhere.

But, that’s how bad things had been going for the power play.

So, the Flyers decided to split up their two units to try and spread out the talent in the hopes that it would create more sustained pressure, more chances and ultimately, more goals.

After all, from Feb. 3 to March 2 the power play was 4-for-37 (10.8%). Something had to give.

And now, it has. The dam finally broke. In the last seven games, the Flyers are 7-for-24 (29.1%). This included two goals against the Rangers, which would have been three had not one goal been overturned by a squeaker of an offside review, that was, in fact, offsides.

I asked Giroux about the power play finally getting success after the game, and he credited the team have not one, but two units that can score.

“Sometimes the power play doesn’t score, but you can still get momentum out of it,” Giroux said. “But right now we have two units that are running pretty well and moving the puck really well and getting shots. When you have two units running like that it gets a lot of guys fresh on the ice and you can get real momentum from that.”

I can admit I was wrong about this one. I thought when things were going sideways for the power play that they needed to reunite the best players and try and score.

But the Flyers were patient with it, stuck with the two unit concept, and it’s paying off now.

And they are two different styles. The one unit, with Giroux and Voracek, is being run from below the goal line or the half wall. The other, is being quarterbacked by Shayne Gostisbehere from the point.

It gives the opposition different looks to think about and along the way there are little tweaks that are making a difference too.

Monday, it was shifting Farabee onto Giroux’s unit, switching him with Patrick. This was the outcome:

The kid is a sniper. Flyers fans have been asking for one, and they developed one in house. Get used to this.

Miscellaneous

  • Carter Hart looked better. His stats aren’t going to show it because he was hung out to dry by his teammates, but he made some really key saves to keep the Flyers in the game when the Rangers had all the momentum. Getting a win had to be a relief for Hart, who had not won a game since Feb. 28, a 3-0 shutout of the hapless Buffalo Sabres, and that was his only win since the Flyers came back from the COVID-19-induced 10-day pause in mid February. I think the Flyers go back to him Wednesday and Brian Elliott gets the start Thursday against the Islanders, but that’s just me reading tea leaves. Alain Vigneault could just as easily go the other way.
  • James van Riemsdyk scored his team-leading 13th goal in the first period. Sean Couturier also added an assist in the game. Couturier has 18 points in 14 games since returning from his rib/chest injury that sidelined him for three weeks. Couturier has appeared in 16 games for the Flyers this season and has points in 14 of them. One of the two he doesn’t was the game in which he got hurt, in which he took just one shift. That means of the 15 full games he’s played, he’s registered at least a point in all but one.
  • Michael Raffl returned to the lineup after missing time with a hand injury. Raffl is key to helping right the ship of the Flyers’ sad sack penalty kill. However, the PK did it’s job against the Rangers, killing all three New York power play opportunities. In fairness, the Flyers have killed off nine of the last 10 shorthanded situations, which is very good, but overall for the season, they still rank 26th in the NHL at 74.1%.
  • The Flyers can’t keep expecting to have to score five goals to win games. They’ve allowed 28 goals in their last seven contests, an average of four goals per game. The Flyers need to fix their defense, and as quickly as possible. I’m certain GM Chuck Fletcher is working the phone lines for trades and has irons in fires in Nashville (Mattias Ekholm), Buffalo (Rasmus Ristolainen, Brandon Montour), Arizona (Alex Gologoski) and maybe even Dallas (John Klingberg). But, all he can do is wait for the other team to say they are ready to deal. Until then… get used to what’s here, and hold your breath.
  • Despite their struggles of late, the Flyers are within one point of a playoff spot as Boston, who also is skidding, lost in regulation again to Pittsburgh Monday. The Bruins and Pens play again Tuesday. Another Boston loss would open the door for the Flyers to reclaim a playoff spot with a win Wednesday against the Rangers.

For more Flyers coverage, follow Snow The Goalie on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Also be sure to tune into The Press Row Show as Anthony SanFilippo and Russ Joy provide pregame and intermission coverage of every Flyers home game from press row of the Wells Fargo Center via the Crossing Broad Facebook page, YouTube Live, and Twitter, and their Twitter accounts   

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