Perhaps it is the nightly challenge of keeping up with Claude Giroux that has kept Jake Voracek from getting ahead of himself. The 10 pounds he took off before this season may have made Voracek quicker, but not speedier to declare himself among the best of the best NHL players.
On November 6, when he was just 13 games into this pace that has made him the top scorer in the league, Voracek said, “I wouldn’t get too confident.
“It’s only the beginning and we can talk about it 55 games in.”
Twenty games short of that marker, we are going to talk about it anyway, in part, because the Flyers, down eight points on a playoff spot despite only two regulation losses in the last 11 games, have a sense of it getting late early, in part because Giroux and Voracek have been keeping a pace as fast as any clock.
Time flies like Voracek into the offensive zone. Opportunity knocks like a goalie’s knees when Giroux goes down to his left one in the course of a one-timer from the edge of the circle. It is not too early to consider the chances for Voracek or Giroux to become the Flyers’ first-ever Art Ross Trophy winner.
Voracek’s best chance against Pekka Rinne Saturday night in Nashville went over the net in the third period. Giroux’s beat Rinne on the short side on a two-on-one to give the Flyers a short lived 1-1 tie, just before the Flyer captain’s stick came up high in killing a Matt Read penalty, putting the Flyers down two men, enabling the Predators to strike twice on the way to a 4-1 win.
Penalties have not been nearly the issue for the Flyers as a year ago, when they were the NHL’s most shorthanded team. But the margin for sloppiness has shrunk, just like Voracek’s lead in the scoring race did Saturday night to three points over Dallas’s Tyler Seguin, four over Giroux, and five over Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin.
If Voracek again goes pointless Monday night in Arizona, it will be for the first time in back-to-back games. Giroux, like Voracek, has suffered eight donuts, but also not once in consecutive contests.
A 22 per cent power play has helped them maintain such consistency. Even more, so will the secondary scoring the Flyers lately have been are getting. Usually, that’s a post-season necessity more than a regular-season requisite but guess what, the Flyers already are playing playoff games every night and Giroux and Voracek are not only hanging with the league’s big guns, but also together exceeding every one of them but Seguin.
Of course, big names with huge track records are just a hot streak away from catching up. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, both of whom have won an Art Ross, plus Steven Stamkos, Rick Nash and Patrick Kane, who have not, all are no more than 10 points behind Voracek in a race that won’t just be a footnote to the Flyers playoff push, not with the franchise looking for its first scoring champion.
Eric Lindros finished second to Jaromir Jagr in the shortened 1994-95 season – a points tie was broken by Jagr’s 32 goals to Lindros’s 29 – and Bobby Clarke was a close runner-up (by six points) to Guy Lafleur in 1975-76 and a distant one (26 points) to Phil Esposito in 1972-73.
Giroux has been third twice, in 2011-12 and last season, when he finished 18 points behind Sidney Crosby and one in back of Ryan Getzlaf. Mark Recchi, whose Flyer record 123 points in 1992-93 was good for only 10th place in the league that year, was third once, in 1999-2000.
Despite an all-time win-loss record of 1835-1268-457-110, only 21 times in the Flyers’ 47-season history has one of them even finished in the top 10.
Clarke did it seven times, Eric Lindros and John LeClair (the latter counting a 1995 season begun as a Canadien), on three occasions and Bill Barber, Tim Kerr, and Michael Renberg just once each. Brian Propp, the Flyers third all-time leading scorer, and Rick MacLeish, who is fourth, never cracked a top 10. Neither did Reggie Leach, one more reflection of the degree of difficulty to outscore so many good scorers over a season.
We’ll check in again at milepost 55. Jake told us to do that and who we are we to ignore the NHL’s leading scorer? In the meantime, there is no need to wait a game longer to declare Giroux and Voracek the best one-two punch the Flyers have had since Lindros and LeClair.
The beauty of Voracek and Giroux is that they are feeding each other almost equally, close to 66 per cent of the points of both coming on assists. Even better, Voracek is a plus-16 and Giroux a plus-12, despite ten of their combined 25 goals being on the power play, a reflection of not only linemate Michael Raffl’s sense of defensive responsibility but of how much the line has had the puck at even strength.
To challenge for a scoring race, you have to score five-on-five, five-on-four, four-on-four. You have to score against the opposition’s best defensive pair, and, depending upon the night either their top checking unit or top scoring line.
Jake is right, you don’t have to talk about it, just have to do it game after game after game.