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.

Sean Couturier pulls a Chris Pronger as Flyers force Game 6 with Penguins

Sean Couturier pulls a Chris Pronger as Flyers force Game 6 with Penguins

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH — Whatever qualifies as the writing on the wall should probably be ignored when it comes to Flyers hockey.

A team that was humiliated and booed off home ice after it was outscored 10-1 in Games 3 and 4 had just about everything working against it during Friday night’s elimination game in Pittsburgh.

The eulogy had been drafted and all it needed was Sidney Crosby’s finishing touches in front of a sellout crowd of screaming, yellow towel-waving fans. The Penguins were ready to bury the bodies and move on to the next round.

“There’s a lot of commotions,” Sean Couturier said. “When s--- hits the fan and things start not going our way, you've got to kind of focus and stick together.”

Couturier was the catalyst in Friday’s 4-2 Game 5 victory. The Flyers' center knew not long after the morning skate, that regardless of his health, he was determined to play. Claude Giroux even conjured up the memory of an old teammate as additional incentive.

“I told him the story of (Chris) Pronger in Game 6 in Buffalo (2011), and he surprised us at 3:30 after our naps that he was going to be in,” Giroux said. “Before he went on the ice, I said, ‘You gonna pull a Prongs or what?’ And I told him the story and he texted me right after the morning skate and said, ‘I’m pulling a Prongs.’ So it was pretty funny.” 

Despite playing seven and a half minutes below his playoff average, Couturier gutted out nearly 17 minutes of ice time (nearly seven minutes on the penalty kill alone) and scored the game-winning goal with 1:15 remaining in regulation.

“Coots, what he did, he’s a warrior tonight and obviously our MVP,” Shayne Gostisbehere said. “Just him being out there, it’s huge for us. I think the penalty kill was phenomenal. I think they’re the real reason why he won that game.”

Valtteri Filppula’s shorthanded goal was arguably the turning point with the Penguins threatening to take a two-goal lead late in the second period. While one was left wondering about the Flyers' line combinations, head coach Dave Hakstol trusted Filppula enough to center the top line with Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

It was the 34-year-old center, not Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or Giroux, who stepped up offensively in Game 5 with his most productive game as a Flyer, posting a goal and two assists.

“I don’t want to start ranking games and stuff like that, but Fil was good,” Hakstol said. “You've got to do that, especially at playoff time, when injuries are part of it. When your roll changes a little bit, you've got to step forward.”

And before the opening puck drop, it was Michal Neuvirth, not Brian Elliott, who led the team onto the ice. Neuvirth’s last start came in Colorado on March 28 and he hadn’t played a game in net from start to finish in over two months.

His glove save on Crosby inside the final minute sealed the Penguins' fate. 

“He looked great and looked really comfortable in there,” Couturier said. “He had to fight hard for a lot of pucks, and he made some big saves at the end and you can’t ask more from a goalie in the playoffs.”

The Flyers are now 60 minutes (and possibly more) away from forcing a winner-take-all Game 7. 

Two days ago, that was a scenario nobody could draw up.

Flyers force Game 6 with Penguins on Sean Couturier's late goal

Flyers force Game 6 with Penguins on Sean Couturier's late goal

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH — After sitting out the previous game with a right leg injury, Sean Couturier scored the game-winning goal Friday with 1:15 remaining in regulation during the Flyers’ 4-2 Game 5 victory over the Penguins. The Flyers kept their postseason hopes alive as they cut the series deficit to 3-2.

Making his first start of the series, Michal Neuvirth came up with the save of the game when he robbed Sidney Crosby on a point-blank glove stop with 50 seconds left in the third period. 

Neuvirth denied 30 shots in the game.

Claude Giroux opened the scoring with his first goal of the playoff series and his first postseason goal since 2014, which gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead in the first period.

Playing on the top line with Giroux and Couturier for the first time this season, Valtteri Filppula scored his first goal in his last 16 playoff games that tied the game at 2-2 late in the second. Filppula had a three-point night with a goal and two assists.

Matt Read sealed the win with an empty-netter. 

Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust added goals for the Penguins.

Game 6 is scheduled for Sunday in Philadelphia (3 p.m./NBC).

• Despite suiting up and providing a gutsy effort, Couturier appeared to labor early while dealing with his leg injury. Early on, he didn’t have much power behind his shot and didn’t have much of a skating burst as he relied more on solid positional play. However, he seemed to get better as the game moved along. 

Apparently Couturier wasn’t healthy enough to play on the top line or on the No. 1 power-play unit, but he did receive his typical workload on the penalty kill.

• After the Flyers bottled up the Penguins in the first period, Pittsburgh adjusted its attack in the second. That led to easier offensive zone entries and a longer sustained attack in the Flyers’ zone. 

The Pens’ third line capitalized against the Flyers’ fourth line as Rust broke loose from Read and no one picked him up on the backside wraparound.

The Flyers were also held without a shot over 11½ of the second period. Offensive zone time was 4:10 for Pittsburgh to 45 seconds for the Flyers in the second period.

• Neuvirth appeared to have the post covered, but apparently Rust was still able to pop it up and over the goalie’s blade. Regardless, a bad goal. 

Later in the second period, Neuvirth allowed another goal that he should have stopped as Guentzel snapped a shot that slipped between his legs. 

Overall, Neuvirth made some key saves early and on the Penguins’ power play to offset the goals.

• Regardless of the outcome, the Flyers gave Pittsburgh their most physical effort in this seres. They battled for loose pucks and made some of the Pens’ most skilled players, primarily Evgeni Malkin, fight for their possessions. 

Brandon Manning got in Malkin’s face and Radko Gudas came to the defense of Giroux when he fought Jamie Oleksiak after his incidental contact.    

• Despite some concerns that Filppula couldn’t handle the responsibilities as a top-line center, No. 51 was arguably one of the Flyers’ best forwards. Filppula scored shorthanded, played a near perfect first period and provided solid defensive play. He also led the Flyers with four shots on goal.