While Craig Berube has used versatile Michael Raffl on all four lines over the last two years, the Philadelphia Flyers coach feels he may have found him a permanent home for at least the rest of the year on the top line.
Paired with captain Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek in March, the Austrian has caught fire at the end of the season. Raffl has four goals in his last five games, including scoring his 20th in just 61 games during Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks.
The forward, who signed as a free agent out of Europe with the Flyers before last year, had nine goals in 68 games a year ago.
“Raffl seems to really sit well with those two guys,” Berube said. “They have good chemistry. I think he really keeps it simple and plays a straight-line game and that’s what (Giroux and Voracek) need. They need a guy to play a straight-line game and not a cute game because they are going to do that.”
For most of the season, Berube put Brayden Schenn on the first line. However, with Giroux and Voracek, and nearly the entire team, in a scoring funk, Berube juggled his top three lines and moved Raffl alongside his two all-stars earlier this month.
Since his arrival, both players have regained their scoring touch and through Saturday’s games Voracek was two points behind Sidney Crosby for the scoring title.
This is not the first time Raffl has sparked Giroux and Voracek out of a slump. The two were scuffling last season until Raffl joined them.
“He’s a good player and he really helps our line,” Voracek said. “That’s why we’ve had so much success this year, not only because of him but he’s a big part of it.”
Raffl can’t put his finger on why they have clicked so well.
“(That’s a) hard question to answer,” Raffl said. “I guess I just try to keep it simple, get the puck in their hands, create some room out there and get to the net.”
The basic approach is working and it has allowed the team’s most nomadic player to remain in one spot for the final six games of the year.
“The biggest thing Michael has done is he’s learned to get to the net better and stick around the net better,” Berube said. “He knows the puck is eventually going to get to him playing with those two guys, and he’s done a better job of it.”