Flyers right winger Jakub Voracek has always been far more concerned with his team's record than his personal statistics. Last season, when he led the race for the Art Ross Trophy — the top scoring player in the NHL — for much of the season, he inevitably responded to questions about his own numbers by saying that he could not take satisfaction in individual stats when the team was struggling to climb into the playoff picture.
To a large extent, nothing has changed. Voracek still prefers to keep the focus on the team than on himself. Prior to the Flyers' 4-3 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday, Voracek said that he was happy overall with the club's play to date.
"The important thing, and I don't know where we were last year right now, but now we're 4-2-1. So we're doing something right," he said, before the team dropped to 4-2-2 .
Through eight games last season, the Flyers had a 3-3-2 record. They hit a high-water mark of 7-5-2 before the bottom dropped out in the second half of November through early December.
As for himself, Voracek said on Monday that he was not overly concerned about a production downturn that has seen him produce just three assists and no goals to date this season. Dating back to last season through the first eight games of the 2015-16 campaigns, Voracek has just five goals — four on the power play and one at even strength — and 23 points in a span of 40 games.
The All-Star right winger appeared on the brink of a breakthrough two nights earlier when the Flyers defeated the New York Rangers in a shootout, and the scoring chances were coming with more and more regularity even though the puck was not going in the net.
"Physically, I feel good. Now it's question of being more patient with the puck. It's still early in the season and I still have to calm myself sometimes from forcing things that, let's say, I didn't do last year in the middle of the season. I did that at the beginning of the season but I was finding a way to pick up points so nobody noticed," Voracek said.
"Now I don't have points so people are thinking I'm off to a bad start but, really, it's the same as last year. But whoever doesn't watch the game and looks at only stats is gonna say I'm off to a bad start."
Over the course of the game against the Sabres game, however, Voracek allowed some frustration to set in. He had no fewer than three good looks at the net and was unable to finish any on a night where the Flyers spent much of the night trying to play comeback hockey. Overall, Voracek attempted 11 shots against Buffalo. He put six shots on goal and had another five that were either blocked or missed the net.
Recognizing that he is one of the players on whom the club relies the most to generate not just a puck possession edge but also to set up and score goals, Voracek admitted after the game that repeatedly coming away empty in the goals and assists column was getting tiresome.
"It’s just kind of getting old. I’ve got to put pucks in the net. It’s been eight games. Obviously, it’s a little frustrating but I’ve got to stick with it. Obviously, I’m not happy that I get two second assists in one game and one primary but the bottom line you need to make a difference in the game today as a line and that’s might have made a difference," Voracek said.
Prior to the start of the current season, a former NHL head coach and GM made an observation about Voracek that he tends to try to guide the puck rather than just firing it. This tendency to be too fine with his shots becomes especially prominent when Voracek puts too much pressure on himself.
"His shooting mechanics are still not like a big goal scorer. I don't think so, anyway. When I watch him shoot the puck, he shovels it. Even one-timers," the source said.
Voracek has never been a big-time goal scorer. Rather, he is a top-notch playmaker who has also shown himself capable of scoring between 20 to 25 goals a season while ranking among the NHL's assist leaders. On Wednesday, he told the media assembled at the Flyers' practice in Voorhees, NJ, that he doesn't care which player on his line scores the goals, so long as someone does.
"Let's be honest, I've never scored 35 or 40 goals," Voracek said to NJ.com. "At least last year when I didn't score I was creating chances and I had primary or secondary assists. As a line, the puck hasn't gone in for us."
To date, Voracek has put a team-high 34 shots on goal and come away empty. Team captain Claude Giroux, who has five points, has found the net on three of 28 shots. Left winger Michael Raffl, who has one assist, has recorded 22 shots on goal but, like Voracek, is still searching for his first goal of the year. Combined, the three players have a 3.6 percent shooting percentage.
Sooner or later, that is bound to change. Last season, Voracek had 10 percent shooting percentage. He found the net on 9.8 percent of his shots in 2013-14. The lockout shortened 2012-13 campaign was an outlier, as Voracek racked up 22 goals in 48 games while scoring goals at a 17.1 percent shooting clip.
Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol told the media after Wednesday's practice that he would consider separating Voracek and Giroux at even strength at some point, as he did briefly in the third period during the team's recent 5-4 overtime comeback win against Boston. Giroux ended up scoring twice, including a game-winning goal in overtime. Voracek recorded two of his three assists on the season in that game.
If Voracek moves to another line at some point, Wayne Simmonds is the most likely candidate to skate on Giroux's right wing. In any scenario, Voracek will remain on the top power play unit.
Bill Meltzer is a columnist for Flyerdelphia. Follow him on Twitter @billmeltzer.