Flyers

Jakub Voracek leading offense even without scoring a goal

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Jakub Voracek leading offense even without scoring a goal

OTTAWA, Ontario — If an NBA shooting guard started the season 0 for 29, there would be questions as to why he’s in the league.

If a major-league hitter started the year 0 for 29 at the plate, there might be a minor-league assignment to work on his mechanics.

But in the NHL, an 0-for-29 shooting start to a season may not even warrant a discussion or, in the case of Jakub Voracek, an afterthought.

It may appear bizarre that the Flyers' leading scorer (12 points), who also leads the team in shots on net, is without a single goal through the first nine games of the season. Tuesday against Anaheim, Voracek ripped a slap shot from the top of the circle that hit Ducks goaltender John Gibson right in the chest. At that moment, Voracek looked straight up to the rafters with curiosity as to when that first puck might find the back of the net.

However, this is a different Flyers team, a different season, and quite possibly, a different Voracek.

“I think it’s different this year, because we’re winning and I’m still putting up points,” Voracek said Thursday. “It would be worse if I wasn’t putting up points, and it would cost the team from winning the games. It’s different because as a team, I think we’re scoring, so I’m not that worried about that.”

Right now, Voracek and Washington center Evgeny Kuznetsov are the only two players in the league with a double-digit point total without the benefit of a goal. 

Goals will come eventually as Voracek’s been generating offense from the opening period in San Jose when he snared a Martin Jones pass and fed a wide-open Claude Giroux, who one-timed a shot into the empty net for the Flyers' first goal of the season. It’s one of the top lines in the entire NHL with Voracek, Giroux and Sean Couturier combining for 32 points and are first, second and fourth, respectively, on the team in scoring.

“If Jake keeps playing the way he’s playing, I’ll be real happy,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “He’s doing a lot of good things for our team. He’s going to score at some point in time with the number of opportunities. He’s producing offense, whether or not he’s the guy putting the puck in the back of the net, he’s producing offense for our team, whether that’s 5-on-5 or on the power play.”

The 5-on-5 portion of Voracek’s play appears to be his greater emphasis. Last season, despite leading the team with 61 points, Voracek also posted a team-worst minus-24, which was a reflection of how poorly the Flyers' top line performed at even strength and a reminder how much better Voracek needed to play defensively.  

“I’m more focused on the way I play,” Voracek said. “So far, Coots is helping as well. I’d say I’m playing a pretty good two-way game. I take it to heart last year because the plus/minus number for me wasn’t very good. It’s real important for me to be in the plus number.”

Voracek is driving hard to the net and creating quality scoring chances, which if it was an official NHL stat, he’d likely lead the Flyers in that category as well. 

"For me, I think that’s always been most important,” Voracek said. “Make sure I’m in the right spot. I earn those chances during the game because I work hard. That’s what I can do right now. If I get stuck on not scoring a goal, it’s only going to get worse.

"Obviously, it would be nice if I got that goal sooner or later.”

'Simmer' vs. the Senators
Wayne Simmonds expects to play tonight against the Senators after taking a puck off his leg and hobbling at times during the game Tuesday night.

“As long as I can contribute, right, and not be a detriment to the team, I’m going to play,” Simmonds said.

Simmonds comes into Thursday’s game against Ottawa looking for his first point against the Senators since Guy Boucher took over as head coach last season. The 'Wayne Train' generated just three shots in those three games, and with patience comes points.

“I think they want to lull you to sleep and then they jump on their opportunities,” Simmonds said. “It’s like going through a maze in the neutral zone. You get pucks deep, you can’t turn them over. For us, play smart, play fast and make sure their defense is facing their glass.”

“These guys for sure present a challenge,” Hakstol said. “They’re hard to play against with and without the puck. So much of the discussion about Ottawa is what they’re doing without the puck. You've got to remember once they turn it over, they’ve got a lot of team speed and they transition very well, and that’s where they hurt you.” 

Projected Lines

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Jori Lehtera-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny/Dale Weise
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere
Brandon Manning- Radko Gudas
Travis Sanheim-Robert Hagg

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Update: Patrick did not play because of an upper-body injury. The rookie center is considered day to day.

Here come Flyers with nasty OT combo

Here come Flyers with nasty OT combo

BOX SCORE

WASHINGTON — It may have taken eight straight unsuccessful overtime periods, but Dave Hakstol has finally found a deadly combination.

For the second time this week, the trio of Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier and Ivan Provorov scored on the opening shift of OT, as the Flyers beat the Washington Capitals, 2-1, at Capital One Arena Sunday, while also earning their third straight win (see observations).

Konecny knifed his way through a defender along the wall before cutting to the middle and beating Caps goaltender Braden Holtby with a snap shot from between the circles. Just three days ago, it was Couturier who connected 18 seconds into overtime of Thursday’s 3-2 victory against the Maple Leafs.

“We got a good opportunity and we capitalized on it," Couturier said. “It’s all about starting with the puck and trying to control it. We did a good job of hanging onto it.”

“We’re just finding ways to win hockey games,” Konecny said. “They’re tough games to win when you’re playing against good teams. We’re just keeping things simple and trusting our abilities. I know that those two are on the defensive side of things, and Coots makes sure I know that every time by giving me a heads up to stay below my guy in the defensive zone. It just seems to be clicking right now.”

The offensive-minded Konecny has now scored goals in back-to-back games for just the second time in his career with the previous occasion coming in November 2016 of his rookie season.  

The victory was also the Flyers' seventh in their last eight games, which propelled them back into a playoff spot for the first time since Nov. 11, a day that coincided with the start of the team’s 10-game winless streak. Currently, the Flyers occupy the first wild-card position and are just a point behind Columbus for one of three automatic berths in the Metropolitan Division (see standings)

“It’s about finding the way to get the win and I think earlier in the season that was one of the issues is that we didn’t find a way,” captain Claude Giroux said. “We were playing good hockey, but we didn’t find ways. Now, we’re finding ways and we can’t stop here.”

“It’s big and I think if we keep going on the same track, we’ll keep plugging away at teams above us,” said goaltender Brian Elliott, who made 27 saves on 28 shots. “We've got to keep our heads looking forward and not behind us. We can be our best and our worst enemy.” 

Right now, the Flyers have the luxury of relying on two steady goaltenders. Michal Neuvirth has won his last three starts, allowing just four goals, and Elliott looked refreshed in just his third start over a two-week period after receiving some extended rest with the bye week.

“He was sure sharp tonight,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “As much as rest, it’s just a day or two of maintenance work. When you play as much hockey as Moose has played for us, you don’t get those quality practice days in. Sometimes you forget the value of just good, simple work.”

“I think it’s the confidence level right now. Obviously, Moose and Neuvy stepped up over the last couple of games and they played outstanding,” said Michael Raffl, who scored his ninth goal that gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead. “When you have good goaltending, you have a chance to win every game in this league.”

Impressively, the Flyers (23-16-8) have three different three-game winning streaks in which they’ve been forced to play three games over a four-day period. The first set of three came on their Western Canada road trip beginning in Calgary. They also ripped off three straight victories in four days leading into their bye week.

“I think it’s just guys battling through that extra step, that extra fight. That’s what you want,” Couturier said. “You don’t want to just sit back and try to save your energy. You've got to push and push through it and fight for your chances.”

“That’s a real credit to the players with their preparation,” Hakstol said. “The mental side is about your preparation, especially a 12:30 p.m. game is a little bit different routine. I thought the first period was going to be one of the keys to this game. Our checking and our brains were turned on that way. Getting through that first period made us a better team with the puck and pushing the game in our direction.”

The Flyers have two more games before the All-Star break as they travel to Detroit on Tuesday before hosting the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.

Flyers complete weekend sweep of Metro's top-2 teams

Flyers complete weekend sweep of Metro's top-2 teams

BOX SCORE

WASHINGTON — For the first time since Nov. 11, the Flyers are back in a playoff spot.

The Flyers earned their third straight win and their seventh in their last eight games Sunday afternoon after knocking off the Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals 2-1 at Capital One Arena.

Travis Konecny connected on the opening shift in overtime as he took the puck away in the neutral zone, cut to the middle of the ice and scored on a shot that deflected off Caps forward T.J. Oshie.

Konecny now has four goals in his last eight games.

Goaltender Brian Elliott made 27 saves to earn the victory in net.

Michael Raffl opened the scoring with his ninth goal of the season and his third in his last eight games, and Alex Ovechkin tied with a power-play goal in the second period.

The Flyers have beaten the Capitals in the first two games of their season series and the two teams will renew their rivalry Jan. 31 in Washington.

• The Flyers kept the Capitals' offense on the perimeter until Ovechkin picked the puck right off of Ivan Provorov’s stick, which ignited a 2-on-1 the other way. Ovechkin took the shot with the rebound kicking right out to Evgeny Kuznetsov, who fired the puck right into Elliott’s pad. The puck was bouncing and rolling on its side, otherwise, I think Kuznetsov would have been able to finish that play.  

• With the Flyers clogging the middle of the ice by placing a forward between the circles, the Capitals were looking to challenge Elliott with some sharp angle shots in the first period. The shot chart from naturalstattrick.com highlights where in the Flyers' zone the Caps were firing from with the bright orange circles indicating a higher frequency of shots.

For the most part, Elliott had some rather routine saves until the final five minutes of the opening period when the Capitals were able to find the soft areas in the slot. Dave Hakstol was able to utilize the Valtteri Filppula line against Ovechkin for most of the first period keeping his chances at a minimum, except for this chance late in the period.

• The Flyers were trying to get Capitals pest Tom Wilson off his game in the opening period. Provorov laid out Wilson with a perfectly-timed shoulder-to-shoulder hit leveling him to the ice and Konecny doing some major chirping with Wilson in an attempt to get under his skin until Wilson had enough and gave Konecny a nudge. Sure enough, Wilson showed his true colors with a tripping penalty in the first 10 seconds of the second period.

• I liked how the Flyers came out and dictated the pace in the second period, outshooting the Capitals 6-2 in the first six minutes. The Filppula-Michael Raffl-Jakub Voracek line was the Flyers' best line throughout the first half and finally exposed the Caps' top line with a strong forecheck that resulted in Raffl’s 1-0 goal from the left circle. Raffl’s shot placement was perfect as he elevated it just enough to graze the top of Braden Holtby’s pad and ricocheted into the net.

• Tyrell Goulbourne took his first penalty late in the second period when Jay Beagle was hooked in the act of shooting. I didn’t think it was a bad penalty on Goulbourne’s part considering the close range of Beagle’s shot, but the play evolved as defenseman Brandon Manning was stripped cleanly behind his net by Caps fourth-line forward Jake Vrana.

• If you thought the save on Ovechkin was solid, Elliott may have topped it as he turned aside Nicklas Backstrom from the low slot with a full extension kick out of the pads. However, Claude Giroux was guilty of slashing Backstrom that put the Capitals back on the power play, which led to vintage Ovechkin, who ripped home his ninth power-play goal of the season and No. 587 of his career, tying the game at 1-1.

• Shayne Gostisbehere put together another solid game following his performance against the Devils. Ghost blocked an Ovechkin shot with his stick early in the third period where Ovechkin had a clear break coming down the left wing.

• On Ghost’s next shift, he made a superb defensive play filling the middle of the ice, spinning around and using his stick again to spoil a potential high danger chance with Ovechkin looking to drop a pass to Kuznetsov. 

• Dmitri Orlov, Kuznetsov and Oshie applied some real hard pressure to the Flyers' defense including a give-and-go from Orlov to Backstrom. Kuznetsov was wheeling around the offensive zone in the third period and was a tough to contain for the Flyers' defense.

• Not a good penalty for Raffl to trip up Matt Niskanen on a puck battle along the boards behind the Capitals' net. It put the Caps back on the power play with just over five minutes remaining in regulation of a 1-1 game.