UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Line chemistry is a tricky thing, but it’s also a critical thing for any hockey team with playoff aspirations.
And for much of the 17 games of this 2013 season, it’s been a thing that the Flyers simply haven’t been able to find.
Last year, of course, Claude Giroux’s line with Jaromir Jagr and Scott Hartnell was the Flyers’ most dangerous; the three players combined for an impressive 84 goals.
But this year has presented a different story. Chemistry has evaded the Flyers, and offensive productivity has followed suit. Giroux, for much of the season, has looked like his skates were stuck in the mud. Before Monday afternoon’s thrashing of the New York Islanders (see story), the Flyers had given up 11 more goals on the season than they’d scored on their opposition.
In the Flyers’ 7-0 Presidents Day victory, though, something changed. Whether it was simply a case of a weak opponent or something more, the Flyers finally found the chemistry they were desperately in need of in Uniondale, N.Y., by moving Jakub Voracek onto the top line with Matt Read and Giroux.
It was palpable immediately. It took Giroux a mere 26 seconds to crush Isles center John Tavares and give the Flyers a 1-0 lead, the line as a whole setting a tone that, as Danny Briere put it, the rest of the team had “no other choice” but to follow.
“That first shift I think was really important by Claude’s line,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “Not only did they score the goal, they were physical right off the bat. That set the tone for the game.”
Giroux, Read and Voracek combined for 10 points and a plus-9 rating. Voracek, following his four assists in the game, now leads the team in points with 15.
“Obviously, I liked it,” Voracek said of his new line. “We scored a bunch of goals [Monday], which was good. I enjoy playing here with everybody on this team ... when I found out I was going to play with G, I was like, ‘all right, we’ve got to find a way to make a difference today.’ And I think that’s what we did.”
While starting the line from the get-go was a new decision by Laviolette -- who actually shuffled up all the Flyers’ lines Monday, moving former top-line winger Wayne Simmonds to a line with Briere and Brayden Schenn -- Giroux, Read and Voracek had played together before, as recently as Saturday night’s loss in Montreal.
And while that game was by and large a disaster, what bright spots could be gleaned from the 4-1 loss could be attributed to Giroux’s line. Laviolette said he was actually pleased with some of what they were able to put together that night at the Bell Centre.
On one shift, for instance, with about five minutes left to play, the line peppered Canadiens goalie Peter Budaj with three quick shots before play was stopped and goalie Brian Boucher was eventually pulled.
“We ended [the Canadiens] game with that intact,” Laviolette said. “We started to generate some offense in the last 10 minutes last game and got going. [Voracek] brings some speed and he brings a threat off the wing with that. That line was real sharp [Monday].”
The real test, of course, comes Wednesday when the Flyers face their arch-rival Pittsburgh Penguins. Expect the new top line to once again hit the ice together. Same for Briere’s new line, which shouldn’t be overlooked, having added five points of its own.
The Flyers certainly don’t want to get ahead of themselves, but they’re hoping for more of the same of what they were able to accomplish on Long Island. Maybe not seven goals -- but more of that elusive chemistry.
“It’s only one game,” Giroux said. “But we’ve been working well, me, Reader and Jake, and hopefully we can keep the chemistry going.”