After a sizzling hot month of March, the Philadelphia Flyers (39-28-9) have cooled off over the past two weeks, going 1-3-2 in their past six games. Coincidentally, or maybe not, right winger Steve Downie has missed those six games with a number of issues, one of which has been rumored to be a concussion.
The Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi reported today that Downie will probably play this Saturday against Boston, arguably the league’s top team. Not only was the reaction to the news less joyous than I would have expected, but some fans even blasted the 27-year old, with one saying “he literally brings nothing to the table.”
This dislike of Downie has been alive throughout much of the season; more than any other forward, Downie has been the subject of much criticism from both members of the fanbase and media alike.
While he has flaws, as any player does, Downie is undeserving of the vast majority of ridicule he receives, especially through social media, from fans who may not necessarily see his value because his contributions do not show up clearly on the stat sheet like Claude Giroux’s and Wayne Simmonds’. Since acquiring him, the Flyers are 31-13-2 with Downie on the ice. They are 5-7-4 when he has been scratched or injured.
Playing on the 3rd line when healthy, accompanied by left winger Matt Read and centered by Sean Couturier, Downie has been a force to be reckoned with offensively and defensively for this team. He is more capable defensively than any of his replacements, namely Tye McGinn who is currently taking his spot on the 3rd line, and has gelled very well in his own zone with two other talented defensive forwards in Read and Couturier. He also brings a lot of energy in this facet of his game, setting the tone with his physicality and making a lot of key defensive plays near the blue line with his stick.
His energy, however, is often cited as one of his biggest drawbacks because of the amount of costly penalties he takes. Now, Downie is not perfect; there is much to be desired when it comes to his discipline on the ice. To say, however, that he has single-handedly lost a number of games this year because of penalties would be embellishment of the truth; since his first game with the Flyers, a 17-PIM game against Washington, Downie only has 53 penalty minutes in 51 games, or 1.04 PIM per game, which ranks 121st in the league during that time period. Some of his penalties this year have been untimely, to be sure, but for that to be the end-all be-all of Steve Downie analysis is simply unfair.
Offensively, Downie is also a lot more valuable than we may think. With only 3 goals and 14 assists in 49 games, you may be wondering how I came to that conclusion. But it is not always just a player’s goal and assist numbers that reflect his playmaking ability. With Downie on the ice this year, the Flyers average 3.14 goals per game, good for third in the NHL. Without him, however, they average only 1.88 goals per game, which would be dead last in the league.
In addition, his linemates Sean Couturier and Matt Read both average half as many points per game in games he misses than they do in games that he appears in. He moves the puck well, creates space, and is especially good at generating traffic in front of the net, which leads to better scoring chances for his teammates. These are all things Craig Berube struggles to replace when he is out of the game.
Steve Downie draws penalties, brings energy and jump on both ends of the ice, and creates better scoring opportunities for his linemates when on the ice. In no way is he a great player, but he is certainly more valuable than the response he gets might suggest. Let us all hope that he can return this Saturday; the Flyers’ playoff chances would be better for it.
All statistics used in this article are courtesy of ESPN.com
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