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by Anthony SanFilippo / Philadelphia Flyers

PHILADELPHIA – It was a subtle move, but one coach Craig Berube had been thinking about for some time.

Moving Scott Hartnell down from the first line and replacing him with Michael Raffl has been a boon – for all of two games so far.

Raffl, Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek have thrived as a unit in those games, combining for 11 points.

Raffl has had a bit of a breakout, benefitting from playing with top-end talent.

Giroux has been good for awhile now, averaging a point per game in the past 17 contests.

But Voracek is the one that has really made the line tick of late.

Actually, Voracek has felt his game coming along for some time now. Even though he has five points in the last four games (three points in the two games with the new line combination)He’s really felt like he’s been back to skating like he was last season for the past five weeks.

That’s a little difficult to fathom, since mixed in that five weeks was a seven-game stretch where he didn’t notch a point, but all told, he’s really been much better since the win over Edmonton on Nov. 9, or, coincidentally, the same day Claude Giroux scored his first goal and got his game going in the right direction as well.

He had eight points in seven games, starting with that Edmonton game, went through the seven-game drought, and then has been back rolling again in the last four.

You could define that as streaky – much in the way Jeff Carter used to be streaky – but with a little more scoring consistency – and having productive line mates will help that, he could be right back on pace for a 50-plus point season.

“It’s always good to score,” Voracek said recently. “But I’ve had so many games where I’ve played well and had so many chances that I knew it was going to come. Sometimes they weren’t going in. What can you do? But overall I’ve been feeling pretty good on my skates, and that’s the biggest thing.”

Prior to last season, Voracek had shown a lot of consistency. For three seasons with Columbus and one with the Flyers, Voracek missed just eight games.

After his rookie season in which he posted a modest 38 points as a 19-year-old, Voracek registered a 50, a 46 and a 49-point season in consecutive campaigns.

Then came last season, where in a lockout-shortened slate, Voracek made a leap forward, posting 46 points in just 48 games.

With that kind of output, which saw a spike in goal scoring as he recorded a career-best 22 goals, many expected Voracek to suddenly elevate his game to the 80-plus point plateau.

But really, it was a smaller sample of games, and it was bolstered by an unusually high shooting percentage of 17.1 percent, a full eight percent better than his previous career average (9.1 percent).

And while his shooting percentage so far this year is a bit low (7.5 percent) getting t back to his career average – last season not withstanding – would account for another Voracek-esque season.

After all, he’s shooting the puck more now than ever before.

Prior to last season, Voracek averaged 1.97 shots per game. Last year, that spiked to 2.69, but again, it was an anomaly in a shortened season.

So far this season, he is averaging 2.42 shots per game, which is a bit more realistic.

If he can get back to his average shooting percentage of 9.1 percent for the remainder of the season, he should post 13 more goals in the remaining 49 games. If he produces at a slightly higher percentage (15.1) the rest of the season, he’ll get back to his career average for the full year and pot another 18 goals in 49 games.

Let’s split the difference and give him 16 more goals. That’s 22 for the season.

As for assists, a lot of that has more to do with his teammates, But he has posted between 29 and 34 every season (except last season) when he was on pace for 41. Again, let’s split the difference and say he makes it to 35, which is 24 assists in the next 49 games – again, a realistic expectation.

That gets Voracek to 22-35-57 for the season, which will be a pretty solid year after a brutal 15-game start.

“If I play with Giroux and [Raffl] and I play on the first power play unit, I’m going to get points eventually,” said Voracek. “It’d be pretty sad if I didn’t. I think maybe I was thinking too much earlier this season when I was in the goal area [as to] what the goalie might do or where I was going to try to shoot it. Then I started to just shoot, and not think about it, and it started to go in. Sometimes you just have to simplify things and it works.”

And for right now, albeit in a small sample, it’s worked for Voracek – and the Flyers top line.


NOTES: Interesting to hear Berube talk about his new line combination of Scott Hartnell, Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds and refer to it as a “forechecking line.” While it’s an accurate description, it might mark the first time it has been uttered publicly that they have slid down the depth chart to the third line behind the Steve Downie, Sean Couturier and Matt Read combination. Schenn was the Flyers leading goal scorer through 22 games (7) but hasn’t scored in 11 straight and has just four assists since then. Simmonds has a 10-game drought with just three assists in that time. Hartnell has been a bit more productive with two goals and four assists in the last 12, but it’s a group of forwards Berube would like to get more offense out of… Steve Mason starts in goal again for the Flyers… Today is Berube’s birthday. He turned 48.

To contact Anthony SanFilippo email or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers

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