When the Philadelphia Flyers acquired Steve Downie from the Colorado Avalanche on October 31, he added an immediate and badly needed spark to the club's lineup. On Sunday, however, Downie was a healthy scratch because of his recent ineffective play.
In his first 19 games with Philadelphia, Downie was very effective. He scored two goals and added 10 assists while making the third line of himself, Matt Read and Sean Couturier the most productive unit on the team. It didn't just produce points, but it was a solid defensive and checking unit that was able to get under the skin of opponents. In their first dozen games together, they combined for 12 goals.
But in recent weeks, while the rest of the Flyers offense has perked up, Downie's play has slumped. He failed to register in point in his past nine games. In addition, his usual spirited play fell off, and his value as a grinder and defensive forward was also reduced.
Coach Craig Berube explained his decision to bench Downie to Frank Seravalli of the Philadelphia Daily News. "I think Steve's intensity level isn't high enough on a shift-to-shift basis," Berube said. "I think he's got to find that intensity. He's got to be playing on the edge without being undisciplined."
The undisciplined aspect is taking foolish or unnecessary penalties. He has also been prone to costly giveaways in the defensive zone recently, something that he rarely did after he was acquired by the club.
Downie has been the first to admit his game has fallen off. "Whether it's intensity or not, I haven't been playing well," Downie told Seravalli. "I've never really had that problem in my career. You've got to come to work every day and win your battles. It comes down to my heart. I've got to find my game again."
Injuries may be part of the reason for Downie's recent slump. He missed two games with an upper-body injury just prior to the Christmas break.
Still, when a coach makes a skater who has been a regular in the lineup a healthy scratch, he is trying to send a message to that player.
Rest assured, Downie has received the message. Whether it's a question of health, intensity or just a minor slump, the Newmarket, Ontario, native knows he needs to play better to stay in the lineup.
If he scores the occasional goal, it's a bonus, but the key for Downie is being smart in his own zone and tough to play against without taking foolish penalties. If he can do that consistently, he'll remain a valuable part of the Flyers' lineup for the rest of the season.