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March 01, 2016

Flyers notes: Without Voracek, first line picks up the slack

Flyers NHL

Due to Joe Watson’s induction into the Philadelphia Flyers Hall of Fame, the puck didn’t drop until 8:08 on Monday night. Fortunately for the home faithful, the Flyers’ first line was well worth the wait.

When Wayne Simmonds deposited an empty-net goal at 19:23 in the third period to make the score 5-3, it was the final act of a game during which the combination of Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, and Claude Giroux took a blowtorch to the Calgary Flames defense.

“You know with the three of us – Me, [Giroux], and Simmer – I feel like we got some pretty good chemistry,” Schenn said.

Against Calgary, they had better chemistry than Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Numbers can sometimes lie, but for the game’s three stars, this was not one of them:

Corsi-For 5v5

Schenn will receive most of the headlines with the hat trick (and deservedly so), but Giroux dominated this game in the offensive zone. As good as the first line’s offensive numbers were, they could have been better: Schenn saw a potential fourth goal controversially denied by the powers that be up in Toronto, which of course also would have been Giroux’s fifth assist.

Against the league’s worst defensive team statistically, the captain was locked in. Every pass from Giroux’s stick was right on the tape.

“Tonight I was trying to get the puck to G’s hands as much as possible,” Schenn said after the game. “He was feeling it tonight.”

So was Schenn, who is on pace to improve on his point total for the sixth consecutive season. As Simmonds said after the game, “He could have had seven goals.” After the game, Dave Hakstol talked about how Schenn’s work rate effects his performance:

Dave Hakstol on the first line from Rich Hofmann on Vimeo.

A restricted free agent this summer, Schenn is playing the best hockey of his career at the right time. Ron Hextall has indicated that he’ll wait until after the season to negotiate with Schenn. As long as the 24-year-old continues to produce, he will command an amount of money that isn’t inconsequential.

“For me right now, what are we now, sixty games into the season?” Schenn said. “So I just keep playing it out and see what happens, I’m not worried about that right now.”

Giroux’s line will continue to have quite a bit of responsibility. Before the game, Ron Hextall announced that Jake Voracek will be out approximately two more weeks with one of those ultra-specific “lower-body injuries.”

Mathematically, the Flyers are still in the playoff race. Most projections I have seen estimate their postseason chances somewhere from 30 to 46 percent. Not great, but also not nothing. Without Voracek for a few weeks and Michael Del Zotto the rest of the year, Hakstol needs his top line to produce if the Orange and Black want to stay within striking distance of a wild-card spot.

Against teams better than Calgary, they also need to toss out the roughly eight-minute stretch in the third period when Hakstol said “we forgot to keep playing.”

“Yeah, I think we got sidetracked a little bit,” Giroux said. “It’s frustrating. We can’t put ourselves in a situation like that. We played a good game and then in the third, we start lying down like we think the game’s over. But it’s a good thing we got the win.”

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann