December 11, 2017
VOORHEES, N.J. — Despite finishing a sweaty grind of a Sunday morning workout, smiles covered the mahogany oval dressing room at the Flyers Skate Zone. Perhaps none beamed brighter than the one emanating from the deep right side of the Flyers’ room.
Winning can do that. So can scoring goals in three-straight games, as Michael Raffl has.
Raffl had an injury-plagued 2016-17 season in which he missed a total of 30 games with abdominal and knee injuries. This is the first time he’s been healthy in two years and the 29-year-old left winger has recently been paired on the Flyers’ second line with Valtteri Filppula and newly shaven Jake Voracek.
At the same time, Raffl's production and level of play has also been elevated – and playing alongside Filppula and Voracek likely has something to do with that.
He’s been a key reason why the Flyers went 3-0 during their Western Canada road swing – each goal during Raffl’s three-game run has been the difference in the Flyers’ current winning streak. Hopefully, Raffl can rediscover the form that led to his 21-goal campaign in 2014-15.
Through 29 games this year, he’s scored 5 goals and has 2 assists, almost equaling his point-total of 8 goals and 3 assists through 52 games last year.
Raffl started the season on the Flyers fourth line, paired with Taylor Leier and Scott Laughton. With the Flyers’ season in jeopardy during a 10-game winless stretch, Hakstol adjusted some lines, moving Wayne Simmonds to the first line with Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux, and elevating Raffl up from the fourth line to the second.
Raffl started the season by going 21 games before his first point. Dating back to last year, he went 42-straight games without a goal or assist, so this recent scoring burst has relieved some stress not just on Raffl, one of the more popular players on the team, but on the Flyers as well.
“You keep battling, and you keep telling yourself it’s fine, but at the end of the day, positive results are positive results,” Raffl said. “It boosts your confidence for sure. I think I’ve played the game the right way, I just wasn’t getting results. I didn’t change much since last year.
“You have good stretches and you have bad stretches. Right now, I can’t wait to play the next game and put one in. Sometimes all you need is that one scoring chance. When it goes in it feels nice. When you’re in a slump, it’s a different life out there.”
Raffl said the dry stretches didn’t so much bother him as they caused him to press more.
“You may hold your stick a little tighter in those moments when the pucks aren’t going in, it’s more mental than anything,” Raffl said. “That’s what I experienced. You put the puck in and all of a sudden it clicks.”
Just like the Flyers suddenly have.
They still sit at the bottom of the NHL’s Metropolitan Division, six points out of a playoff spot. But they’re 11-11-7 despite their recent 10-game winless streak. Things, however, could have been worse, and possibly far worse for Hakstol if the bleeding wasn’t staunched.
Hakstol maintained that the tactical changes have nothing to do with the Flyers’ turnaround – this run has been because of the players. And if that's the case, it’s certainly been because of Raffl.
“I can tell you Raffl is a popular guy in this dressing room and he has been one of our most consistent players since Day One in camp,” Hakstol said. “Offensively, nothing went right for him in the early part of the season. It was almost getting to a point where you wondered when it was going to turn because the opportunities continued to come for him.
“We know historically he can score goals in this league, so it was nice to see that turn for him a little. It couldn’t have come at a better time for our hockey team.”
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