Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Point/Counterpoint: Splitting up G and Jake

Welcome back to a third season of Point/Counterpoint, where the Phanatic's main hockey man tackles all sorts of pressing issues with a rotating cast of guest argumentators.

For the first of the year, I've brought on Michael DiNicola, head of Orange and Black Pack, who wants to argue whether or not Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek should be split up when the club struggles offensively. 
Point, by Mike DNic: The Flyers are closing out the month of October on a good note. Granted, we still have two more games before November rears its moustached head. But escaping the opening block with at least three wins and two overtime tallies is enough to hang your skates on, especially when you consider the strength of schedule. With what this Philadelphia defense looks like on paper, and the injury bug swinging an early-season scythe in some sensitive areas, it’s almost a miracle the club has gained any traction at all.

Never mind how the points have been harvested, as the late Al Davis once said, “Just win, baby.” And this past Saturday’s victory over Detroit is the epitome of that expression. Victories don’t come without their share of lessons, though. Despite climbing out of October’s barbed wire with at least three straight wins, the Flyers still have a few glaring issues -- many of which cannot be realistically amended immediately and mainly defensive personnel issues. But our problem scoring at even strength can be alleviated with adjustments or, as I call them, experiments. Assuming our players continue building on the backcheck, I propose that Craig Berube starts testing our offensive chemistry by splitting up Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek at even strength.

Counterpoint, Bob H:  The Hell you say, sir. John, Paul. Page, Plant. Mick, Keith. Peanut Butter, Chocolate. Some things just go together and have to stick together forever, like linemates on the dedicated No. 1 source for scoring. In the NHL of the 21st Century, dips in production across all lines, including that of your top producers, is an accepted part of life, early season, mid-season and late season. Terry Murray used to split up the Legion of Doom two-thirds into a 2-1 game where the shots and action were stunted as a hasty reaction to the Panthers' restrictive road trap, but now we just call that an in-game adjustment. Two straight years the Flyers have gone cold out of the gate, and for the second straight year, the tide is turning, albeit much quicker than last.

"Exparagus" or not, the training of professional hockey players leaves them about two steps away from slabs raw meat, so why not actively prevent confusion or lack of chemistry and keep 28 and 93 on the same line even when the going gets tough? They understand each other. They can look deep into each other's eyes and know. Total ESPN. You ain't getting that with Michael Raffl or Pebbles Bellemare.

Mike D: If you treasure advanced statistics, then you know this forward duo combine for top-flight possession metrics. Together, these skaters bring the Orange & Black’s pinnacle scoring threat. Their puckhandling, their creativity, their general hockey IQ draws the best efforts from their teammates like salt sucking the moisture from raw meat. Voracek’s puck-management and ability to create space has produced Jaromir Jagr-like plays. Giroux’s awareness and stick work could turn an ECHL call-up into a scoring threat at the point. Both skaters can gain the blue line and carry the puck into the offensive zone with precision.

But there’s something missing to this dynamic dyad… A pure goal-scoring cornerstone.

Acquiring this piece in the immediate future is not likely, mostly because of immovable financial obstacles left over from the Paul Holmgren era. And the answer is not in-house, either. Our best chance is to try to create balanced possession down our lineup. Berube took a step closer by icing four skill lines this season, but the 5-on-5 production is still lacking. If depth gets you far, if possession gets you goals, and if goals get you wins, then it’d be in our best interest to strengthen our depth’s attempts at increasing puck possession.

As of Tuesday morning, Philadelphia is ranked 15th in goals-for at 5-on-5. Our ratio in that department has us pegged at 26th (0.73) in the League – this means we average scoring 0.73 goals for every one yielded at even strength. Through eight games, Giroux and Voracek combined for 13 points; that’s 33 percent of the team’s production with all sides square. When you add Raffl’s contributions, then the first line accounts for 45 percent. I get it – the first line SHOULD be producing those types of percentages. But on a team like the 2014-15 Philadelphia Flyers, that may be too much to depend on through the whole season. Distributing our elite possession from the top 3-to-6 could reinforce our success. And with that in mind, here are my forward line suggestions:

Raffl – Giroux – Simmonds
Read – Couturier – Voracek
Schenn – Bellemare – Umberger
Rinaldo – (VandeVelde)Lecavalier – Akeson

Bob H: Ah yes, that mythical "one player" which can put the top line, and by extension, the Flyers "over the top" from playoff hopefuls to title contenders.  It's been a common theme ever since the Chris Gratton fiasco. Here's two things on which stat heads, old heads, progressives, geeks, sluts, bloods, sportos and motorheads can agree: the Flyers need one and it's not Vinny Lecavalier. Scott Hartnell wasn't the guy despite two above-average seasons. Raffl might be the guy in time, but playing checkers with skaters on each of the three lines to try and maintain that level of puck possession, without allowing proper time for players to reset and focus with new line mates, is not something I'd advocate.

Having trouble at 5-on-5 with virtually the same personnel -- and the same principal scorers as last year? Sounds more like a mental issue among those players, amenable more through a trade rather than something which can be solved with line shuffling. And as far as distribution is concerned, I really don't know what the answer is or if it can be solved with a look at metrics and/or simple matching as you've presented above. All I know is, it sounds like Ronald Reagan's "trickle down" theory of wealth distribution where there was, in fact, very little trickle.

I don't find anything particularly wrong with the lines as set above, so long as it's the only experiment or the one allowed to progress the longest.

Mike D: Keeping Giroux and Voracek together on a line is ideal in a perfect world. But without that uncontested, 30-plus goal-scoring winger to complete the trifecta, we could be missing out on more scoring chances from our bottom nine. Strengthening the possession factor for players like  Simmonds would absolutely help him continue breaking into that next level. For a defensive duo like Read and Couturier -- known for making so much out of virtually nothing -- Voracek could be just what they need offensively.

Looking at that top six, I see the potential for comprehensive reciprocation. Weaknesses are supported, and qualities are enhanced. The bottom six adds reinforcement with an offshoot blend of grit, skill, and offensive & defensive aptitude. Our opponents will be forced to stay honest by not focusing so much of their best defenders versus a singular unit. Even for a team that’s forced to stuff square pegs into round holes until Ron Hextall can right the mess from his predecessor, the Flyers have an ability to conquer more balance, more depth, and more balance by recalibrating what everyone figured to be untouchable.

We split up Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

Bob H: Michael, you ignorant slut.

Simmonds can be left to fend for himself, all you need to do is recall his effort from Game 1 of the regular season to Game 7 of the playoffs a year ago -- he doesn't need either of the Ginger Nightmares to boost his overall game.

It's a neat idea to think Voracek is going to help unleash the offensive beast that rages within Read and Couturier, but with so many defensive zone starts and Jake's propensity for taking the puck to the boards instead of being creative like Giroux on the rush, all an opposing defense needs to do is erase  #93 on the boards and the line is effectively neutered.

Time and space are precious commodities on NHL ice, and that's what Giroux and Voracek need to work their special brand of magic that keeps the rest of the Orange and Black engine running. 

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