Highlights: Flyers beat Flames, 4-1, extend win streak
Michael Raffl has recorded six assists over his last eight games. (USA Today Images)
CALGARY, Alberta -- Of the myriad things that sparked the Flyers’ season turnaround, Michael Raffl has arguably been the most unexpected.
The rookie forward rose from relative obscurity to fit in as the missing piece on the Flyers’ top line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. But he only got that shot after plenty of other options (Steve Downie, Vinny Lecavalier) were exhausted.
Since he moved to the top line, the Flyers are 7-1-1. No one, least of all Raffl himself, expected he’d fit in so seamlessly where he has.
But he’s definitely benefiting from it.
“You get more time and more scoring chances,” Raffl said. “So I think it’s easier to score goals and points if you play with those two guys.”
Since Dec. 12, when he was elevated to the top line, Raffl has raised his game and become noticeably more comfortable. He had just four points, total, in the 19 games that preceded his move, but has seven points in the nine games since.
And, of course, there was the game-winning shootout goal in Edmonton, scored on the first such attempt of his NHL career.
“Michael, when he first came up, he was doing a lot of great things without the puck and defensively,” coach Craig Berube said. “He can kill penalties. But he had to adapt to the quickness with the puck. You’ve just got to do things quick with the puck, get the shot off, move the puck -- that kind of stuff. He’s got it. He’s doing a good job. He’s played well.”
Lost, perhaps, in Raffl’s wild ride is the fact that playing in the NHL is a huge adjustment for him. Rinks are smaller, players are bigger and faster and, he said, “It’s like a different hockey game altogether.”
Nonetheless, Raffl seems to have been a big part of the Flyers’ transformation from slumping disappointment to playoff contender. A year ago, he was playing in a second-tier league in Sweden. Now, he’s playing alongside some of the best players in the world.
And, somehow, he hasn’t been phased by any of it.
"Me and Jake [Voracek] played together last year, and now for 'Raff' to come in, new in the league, new on the team with new teammates it's never easy,” Giroux said. “But he's been doing a great job for us and he's been playing very well.”
Compliments from the Flyers’ captain aren’t enough for the 25-year-old who’s never satisfied.
“It’s different, but at the same time I think I’ve got room to improve more still,” Raffl said. “I’m trying to get better every day, and we’ll see how far I can get.”
To add to a very good December, Raffl recently learned he will represent Austria at the rapidly approaching Olympics (see story). He’ll join the only other two Austrian NHLers, Michael Grabner and Thomas Vanek, on the team.
Not a bad way to close out 2013.
“It’s been a fun month,” he said.