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December 3, 2013 | 9:33pm ET
Much more needed from slumping Voracek
By David Strehle,

PHILADELPHIA, PA -- When he finished the 48-game lockout-shortened 2012-13 season with a career-high 22 goals and 46 points, everything appeared to be coming together for Philadelphia Flyers' forward Jake Voracek.

The promise that led the Columbus Blue Jackets to select the 6-foot-2, 214-pound winger seventh-overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft seemed to finally be coming to fruition.

He surpassed his previous best goal-scoring total -- 18, which was set the season before in his first year in Philadelphia -- in an abbreviated campaign. He was appropriately given the Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Award as the Flyers' most-improved player, as well as being named the Bobby Clarke Trophy recipient as team MVP.

The strides Voracek made were noticeable as he not only notched big goals of his own, but also created numerous quality scoring opportunities for his teammates with crafty playmaking abilities. He exhibited a heightened hockey sense, as well as exuding a tremendous amount of confidence. When you saw Voracek barreling down the wing with the puck, you knew something good was about to happen for the Flyers.

Big contributions were expected of Voracek this year as a curtain call, but things have certainly not gone according to plan. As a matter of fact with just three goals and 12 points through the club's first 27 contests, it's looking like the top line right winger has taken a gigantic step backwards. Outside of several isolated spectacular plays, he has not shown nearly the same level of confidence -- with and without the puck.

The nine-goal, 36-point pace he's presently on would be an almost identical match to his production in 2008/09, his first year in the NHL in Columbus. The differences in production between Voracek's 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons have been rather dramatic:

  • On only 14 occasions during last season's 48-game schedule did Voracek go without recording a point, and the longest stretch he failed to post at least one point was two consecutive outings (three different times).
  • He's already registered 16 games without a goal or assist this year. The 24-year-old is currently riding his second five-game streak without a single point after he and Philadelphia were blanked 2-0 during Monday night's contest with the Minnesota Wild.
  • It also left Voracek without a goal in 10 straight games, having not lit the lamp since a two-goal performance against the Ottawa Senators on November 12. His longest goalless drought last year was six games early in the campaign, but the most after the midpoint of the season was only three consecutive contests without registering at least one goal.

The defeat in Minnesota was especially tough to stomach. On a night when both the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers lost, the Flyers -- who entered the third period in a scoreless deadlock -- had a chance to move into a tie for third place in the Metropolitan Division.

After Philadelphia yielded a pair of quick goals early in the frame, Voracek had the best opportunity to beat Minnesota starter Josh Harding midway through the period. With the goaltender at the other side of the crease and preparing for what he thought would be a shot from Wayne Simmonds, the winger instead sent a beautiful backhanded pass to Voracek with Harding out of position. The chance to cut the deficit to a single goal was thwarted when the goaltender made a spectacular diving save to keep Philadelphia off the board.

It's been that kind of season for both the Czech and the Flyers.

While it's one thing to be snake-bitten, it's quite another to continue making critical mental mistakes. Turnovers while attempting to send the puck through two and sometimes three opponents have been fairly consistent throughout the season, but the winger's decision-making process has seen other questionable instances.

One recent example saw the Flyers on a power play Saturday night in Nashville, and Voracek heading to the bench for a player change. His decision at that moment left the right point vacant, and a teammate's pass from the corner expecting him to be there instead found its way towards Voracek along the wall at the Flyers' bench. With an opportunity to get out of the way and off the ice, he decided to make a play on the puck and drew a bench minor for too-many-men-on-the-ice to give the Predators a man advantage.

In the second season of a four-year extension signed in July of 2012 -- carrying with it a $4.25 million annual cap hit -- much more is needed from Voracek. There is no doubt he's feeling increased pressure as his slump continues to drag on, you can see it almost every time he tries to do too much with the puck in a given sequence. It's as if he thinks one highlight-reel play will somehow rekindle the spark that he and the team's leading scorer, linemate Claude Giroux, shared last year.

With Voracek's early-season struggles coming in tandem with those of Giroux, it should explain why the Flyers managed only 22 goals in their first 15 games. While Giroux has shown signs of life and helped the club's offensive production recover to just about three goals per game since that time, Voracek's continuing slump has hurt. Philadelphia has netted 57 goals in their first 27 contests, which ties them with the Carolina Hurricanes for the second-lowest total in the entire league to only Buffalo's 48.

With all of the negatives surrounding the squad, there has still been a bit of good news for the Flyers.

There has been an increased offensive contribution from the third line of Matt Read, Sean Couturier, and Steve Downie. Since Downie's return from an eye injury, the line has actually been the Flyers' most productive trio. That's toned down some of the pressure on the top line as well as the second unit of Simmonds, Vincent Lecavalier, and Brayden Schenn. It's also given opponents more to consider regarding defensive assignments when they go up against Philadelphia, just another benefit of a somewhat balanced scoring.

Add in the fact that while Philadelphia slumped mightily for nearly a quarter of the season, the rest of the Metro Division teams have taken turns with problems of their own. The inability of the teams in the NHL's worst division to pull away has kept the Flyers right in the hunt. They are presently in sole possession of fifth place, just one point behind New Jersey and two off the Rangers' pace for the third and final divisional playoff spot.

The most unexpected positives for Philadelphia -- and the sole reason they're still in the mix at the 30-game mark -- has to be the spectacular goaltending they've received from both Steve Mason and Ray Emery, and the club's overall defensive work being much better than they could have hoped for prior to the start of the year. Even with a power shortage from their main offensive weapons, the goaltending has been so good they've still managed to pull out a number of games in which they had no business having a chance to win. How else would you explain a team that has scored two goals or less in 21 of their 27 contests hovering around the .500 mark?

Voracek could still provide yet another giant boost, but much more is needed from him. It was just eight short months ago that he was rightfully named the club's MVP, and he looked to be blossoming into a legitimate NHL star.

Even in the league's worst division a return of Voracek to that 2012-13 form is mandatory for the Flyers, and could be the key to any shot at a season that doesn't end with another massive overhaul.

David Strehle is the Philadelphia Correspondent for The Fourth Period.

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