Image courtesy of Amy Irvin (38Photography)
Six goals. 16 assists. 22 points. That’s Jakub Voracek’s stat line right now and we’re only 14 games into the 2014-2015 season, leaving him just two points behind Sidney Crosby for the league lead. It’s clear that Voracek has been the Philadelphia Flyers’ best player night in and night out thus far, but how and why? The points help his case, and what’s even more important about those 22 points is that he’s been able to put most of them up during even strength situations and his 16 even strength points leads the NHL right now.
Anybody could see that Voracek has had the ability, physical traits, and skill set to be a point-per-game player at the NHL level. He has size at 6’2”, 214 pounds. He has good hands, good speed, excellent vision, and a high hockey IQ. He more or less turned Max Talbot into a 20 goal scorer all by his lonesome in his first season with the Orange and Black. But how has Voracek been able to go from a third-line little shoeshine boy to a top-line point producing machine this season? It’s about rhythm.
Being on Claude Giroux’s line has definitely aided Voracek’s ascension to prominence, but Jake’s been creating chances on his own this year with a higher level of consistency, best exemplified by his two goals against the Edmonton Oilers just a few games ago. Slimming down and being better conditioned has been a topic of conversation, but it’s just one of many contributing factors to Voracek’s early season success. A big difference, and one that hasn’t really been discussed at length, has been that Voracek has been provided with more opportunities to succeed this year to score at even strength due to the team being far more disciplined.
The Flyers have taken just 50 minors (tied for 3rd in the NHL), accruing only 75:36 of penalty kill time (4th in the NHL) in the process. Being more disciplined has left Philadelphia playing at even strength more often, allowing their top unit to get into games, establish a presence, and play more shifts with each other on a more frequent basis. As a team, they have all but eliminated the line juggling that occurs due to tired bodies needing to come off after playing hard minutes on the penalty kill. Voracek’s ice time has also increased about a minute per game, as he is averaging 18:23 to his 17:15 and 17:14 in the last two years prior. In his first season in Philadelphia, that one where he helped Talbot notch 20 tallies, Voracek was able to put up 49 points while playing just 16:17 per game. While the jump in ice time doesn’t solely explain the explosion we’ve seen from Voracek on the score sheet (since it’s only one more minute or about two extra shifts) it definitely makes a difference, but a bigger factor, and probably one that has largely gone unnoticed and unmentioned, is rhythm.
Rhythm in a game is important. It’s something that teams and coaches strive towards in all sports, though it’s referenced with much more frequency in football and baseball. In hockey, you hear players and coaches talk about identity and “playing their game”. When a team is forced to play down a man all the time, it takes longer to establish that identity and longer to “play their game”. The flow of the game becomes erratic and the rhythm is lost. For players like Jake Voracek who thrive in even strength situations and can be difference makers, rhythm is imperative. While it’s wonderful to see Voracek realizing his potential, the team should be credited as well for making a huge improvement in an area which has provided Jake with the chance to show how valuable he can be to his team.