If the Flyers are going to complete an unprecedented run into the playoffs — no team in NHL history has ever been 16 points behind and qualified for the postseason — they cannot afford to have right winger Jake Voracek sidelined for a long stretch.
Voracek, who missed Sunday’s 4-1 win over the Islanders with an unspecified lower-body injury, has played like an all-star lately and has helped key the Flyers’ 16-3-2 run. He underwent an MRI (the team didn’t make the results available) before Sunday’s game, which was the first he had missed after playing in 242 straight contests.
The Flyers said they would have a medical update on Voracek and injured players Nolan Patrick (head) and Carter Hart (ankle) on Tuesday morning. They host powerful Washington on Wednesday.
“We’ll find out soon enough, right?” interim coach Scott Gordon said Sunday when asked if the Flyers had enough depth if Patrick and Voracek were sidelined for a while. Gordon said the Flyers were “really fortunate” to have several players who can play center or wing and “give us some versatility.”
During their 16-3-2 run, Voracek is second on the Flyers with 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists), behind only Sean Couturier’s 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists). The goaltending and defense have been reliable during the streak, and defenseman Travis Sanheim, who has four goals in his last four games, has come of age.
“There hasn’t been one thing that’s been the key trigger. I think it’s been a lot of little things,” Gordon said about the surge. “Whether it’s been special teams, our play in the neutral zone or defensive zone – it’s been everything. I can’t say we’ve done one thing that much better. But the consistency in everything we do has been much better.”
The Flyers are five points out of a playoff spot with 16 games remaining.
“We’re obviously not where we want to be,” Gordon said, “but we’re working on it every day and every game to make sure we worry about the game in front of us and not the teams ahead of us. Just worry about the game at hand and, for the most part, we’ve done that for over a month now.”
Early in Sunday’s game, Patrick, who has eight goals over the last 21 games, was hit by a Cal Clutterbuck shot and went to the locker room for some stitches on the side of his head. He did not return to the game.
Hart has missed the last five games with a sprained ankle. He has been skating but has not participated in any practices.
Brian Elliott has had four of the five starts since Hart was injured, and the veteran has been solid, including a superb performance against the Islanders.
“After Moose made some big saves I thought we played a strong defensive game,” Couturier said. “Our offense came off good defense.”
The Flyers avenged an early-season 6-1 loss to the Isles. Now they will try to defeat a Washington team that defeated them, 5-3 (with an empty-net goal), on Jan. 8. The losing goalie was Mike McKenna, who made what turned out to be his only appearance for the Flyers.
At that point, the Flyers were just 3-7-2 under Gordon. Since then, they are 17-4-2.
“Nobody’s folding the tents, for sure,” said Gordon, whose team has thrived since he switched to a 1-3-1 neutral-zone forecheck.
“It could have been very easy when we got back from our Christmas break and went 0-6-2. “We got some momentum. We changed some things with our systems and finally got some practice time. I think in the first four weeks, I had only three [full] practices, so there wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity to … let the players feel comfortable with changes.”
The Flyers have inched back into the Eastern Conference wild-card race thanks to a 16-3-2 run. Here are the team’s top scorers during that 21-game spurt:
Sean Couturier: 11 goals, 16 assists (27 points)
Jake Voracek: 7 goals, 16 assists (23 points)
Claude Giroux: 5 goals, 17 assists (22 points)
Travis Konecny: 10 goals, 8 assists (18 points)
James van Riemsdyk: 11 goals, 6 assists (17 points)
Travis Sanheim: 5 goals, 11 assists (16 points)
Nolan Patrick: 8 goals, 7 assists, 15 points
Oskar Lindblom: 8 goals, 6 assists, 14 points