Flyers

Jakub Voracek: Flyers' core could be 'blown up' if things don't change

Jakub Voracek: Flyers' core could be 'blown up' if things don't change

Jakub Voracek struggled to find answers.

He wasn't sure why the Flyers saw such a goal-scoring plummet after the first two months of the season. He didn't know exactly what this team needs moving forward.

In fact, Voracek said "I don't know" three times during his end-of-the-season press conference last Tuesday. He looked worn down but pensive after just finishing his 82nd game of the season. The 2016-17 campaign was still fresh but disappointingly done.

But Voracek did know one thing. He knew darn well the history of the Flyers' current core and what's next if the script doesn't soon change.

"We're in our prime years," Voracek said. "We've got to make sure that we step up our game and get this team to the playoffs and start winning some series because if we don't, it's going to get blown up and we all know it."

The Flyers are watching the playoffs for the third time in the last five years, marking their worst five-season stretch since 1989-90 to 1993-94, when they missed the postseason all five times. The Flyers have not won a playoff series since 2011-12.

Voracek is well aware.

"There's no reason not to believe in ourselves," Voracek said. "It's tough to tell you something else. We have what, won one [playoff] series vs. Pittsburgh in six years? Right? If I'm not mistaken. It's not good enough."

General manager Ron Hextall laughed two days later when he heard of Voracek's comments.

"Jake said that?" he asked. "Jake's a hockey player. Jake can play hockey."

Hextall, comfortable with the veterans in place, said this is the team's leadership group -- no one is coming in here to change or add to it.

"We expect that of them," Hextall said. "They're not 20 years old. They're mid-to-late 20s those guys, absolutely, they should be the leaders of our team."

The Flyers' core of Voracek, Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier welcomes that responsibility. All five are under 30 years old and see some of their best years ahead.

That doesn't mean the pressure isn't on -- those five feel it. They know things can change quickly in the NHL, just how the league is turning younger and younger.

"Of course," Giroux said. "When you don't make the playoffs, when you don't meet your expectations, change might happen. But at the end of the day, it's not up to us. For us, it's to keep working, keep doing what we're doing. We like our team, we like our group. We didn't really change from last year."

Voracek sounded like a player growing impatient with the results. Hextall and the front office have practiced plenty of patience. Voracek believes it's time to reward them for it.

"It's a time for us to take that kind of responsibility," Voracek said. "G's 29, he's not a young guy anymore. I'll be 28, Simmer's going to be 29. It's the time for us to take over I think. We've been around for a while." 

Giroux is the oldest of the five aforementioned players, a group that has been intact since the 2011-12 season. The Flyers' captain turns 30 years old in January. He took another step back in 2016-17 -- both health and production wise.

The Flyers see a much stronger Giroux next season. It still all starts with the nine-year Flyer.

"He's going to get some time to get some rest, get some training," Simmonds said. "He'll come back healthy. Just the type of player and the type of competitor he is, he'll be back 100 percent."

The organization's abundance of youth is a reason why the Flyers still see promise in their core.

"Overall, we have some young guys getting their first steps here in the league," Couturier said. "I think it's just growing as a team, more mature as a player. I think everyone needs to step up next year and be better."

The Flyers finished eight points behind last year's team, which snuck into the playoffs on the second-to-last day of the regular season.

Does the fear of change ever sink in?

"It's not my decision," Couturier said. "I can't control that. I like our core. Next year, all these guys are back and we're a pretty good team. It's just little things during the year, a few points that we let slip basically cost us. We've just got to be better and get more wins."

Voracek, always honest and transparent, was harshest on himself. It was an early sign of leadership from the core facing increasing pressure.

"As a player, you've got to take pride in plus-minus, and I'm minus-24 -- it's embarrassing," Voracek said. "It goes on a stretch and you have to take pride in that."

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Connor McDavid comes to town; Matt Read to play?

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Connor McDavid comes to town; Matt Read to play?

VOORHEES, N.J. — Believe it or not, the Flyers are aware of 20-year-old Oilers phenom Connor McDavid. That doesn't make preparing for the 2017 Art Ross Trophy (most points in NHL) winner any easier, let alone slow him down.

“You have to be understated a little bit and say you're going to be aware when he's on the ice, but obviously there's more to it," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said Friday. "He's a heck of a player and a guy that can make something happen at any time.”

McDavid has picked up right where he left off last season when he led the NHL with 100 points and 70 assists. Six games into the 2017-18 campaign, the third-year centerman already has three goals and five assists, and he's doing it in style. His two helpers helped lift Edmonton over the Blackhawks on Thursday, one of which led to the game-winner in overtime, the other — a no-look, behind-the-back pass — making highlight reels everywhere.

So, yeah, the Flyers are well aware of McDavid and what he's capable of. That doesn't mean he'll be easy to stop.

"We just have to take time and space away from him," defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. "That's the biggest thing. You just can't give him space out there. He's going to wind it up and wheel.

“We're aware of it. We're going to stick to our game plan, nothing special, but obviously be aware when he's on the ice.”

The Flyers knew all about McDavid last season, too. He still managed to find the back of the net twice and rack up three assists in those two meetings.

McDavid has also experienced success against both of the Flyers netminders. As a member of the Flames, probable starter Brian Elliott posted an 0-3-1 record with a .870 save percentage in four appearances against the Oilers in 2016-17. Michal Neuvirth was 0-1 and allowed six goals in his only meeting.

It seems all the Flyers can do is be aware of the challenges McDavid presents.

"Probably everywhere they go, they have reporters asking the other team what their plan is against him," Elliott said.

“He's just a unique talent that you have to be aware of at all times. He's able to make plays that a lot of other guys aren't. You just have to be on your toes. You have to respect him, but you have to play your game and make sure you're tough no matter who it is out there.”

Laughton confident
Brandon Manning isn't the only member of the Flyers who has experience with McDavid. Scott Laughton has been up close and personal with the budding superstar, having played against him in junior and in some camps.

With Laughton centering the Flyers' fourth line, he should have some opportunities to put his familiarity of McDavid to the test. The Flyers are going to need any advantage they can get — no matter how small or insignificant it might seem.

"I went to a pro camp with McDavid in Toronto in the summer, and he's special," Laughton said. "He's got the best hands I've seen. He's a world-class talent.

“At the same time, tomorrow I'm going to try to limit his space, get in his face and make it hard for him to get going and get speed. I think I can try to keep up with him once I get my speed going.”

Laughton seemed confident about potentially matching up against McDavid. At least he has a plan, anyway.

“There's not much you can do," Laughton said. "You just have to be hard to play against, be in his face all night and kind of get him off his game that way.”

Injury report
Flyers forwards Wayne Simmonds and Taylor Leier both missed Friday's skate with what the club termed as maintenance days.

Simmonds was already dealing with a lower-body injury before he was clipped in the face by a stick during Thursday's 1-0 loss to the Predators. It doesn't sound like anything that should prevent the 10-year veteran from suiting up against the Oilers, but clearly, he's banged up right now.

Leier's absence was a bit more of a mystery, and given the 23-year-old rookie's inexperience, missing practice would seem to point to an injury of some kind.

In a bit of good news on the injury front, Jordan Weal returned to practice for the Flyers. However, he refused to let on as to whether he'll be on the ice Saturday.

“Just got out there, went for a twirl," Weal said. "It's day to day right now, so just taking it day by day.”

Matt Read replaced Simmonds during the skate and could be preparing to make his regular-season debut. Read joined Weal and Valtteri Filppula on Simmonds' unit, while Jori Lehtera took Leier's place on the fourth line.

Don't read too much into those combinations, however, as the availability of Simmonds, Weal and Leier will no doubt play a role.

Sanheim sticks in the lineup
Following his strong showing against Nashville on Thursday, it appears rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim will suit up for his second game in a row.

Sanheim was a healthy scratch for the Flyers' previous two contests but drew rave reviews for his performance against the Predators. He was paired with Radko Gudas at practice, while Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg continued their partnership.

Manning may be the odd man out Saturday, despite his history with McDavid. Ivan Provorov and Andrew MacDonald remained a unit at practice, with Manning getting some work in MacDonald's spot.

Manning was hopeful he would be in uniform. Hakstol, on the other hand, downplayed Manning's personal rivalry with McDavid as it pertains to any decision about which defensemen will skate.

“It's a situation for us every game where we have that tough decision," Hakstol said. "Regardless of whether it's one particular team, we'll look at it situationally and consider all of those factors as to who the six are that dress tomorrow. There's a lot of different factors involved."

Best of NHL: Red-hot Devils storm back to beat Senators in overtime

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Best of NHL: Red-hot Devils storm back to beat Senators in overtime

OTTAWA, Ontario -- John Moore scored 1:20 into overtime and the New Jersey Devils used three unanswered goals to beat the Ottawa Senators 5-4 in overtime Thursday night.

This year's No. 1 draft pick Nico Hischier scored twice for New Jersey. The Swiss center's opening goal was the first of his NHL career.

Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson also scored for the Devils, who improved to 4-0-0 on the road and 6-1-0 overall. Cory Schneider allowed four goals on 24 shots before leaving with a lower-body injury. Keith Kinkaid started the third period and stopped nine shots. Taylor Hall chipped in with four assists.

Kyle Turris, Derick Brassard, Alex Burrows and Tom Pyatt scored for the Senators, and Craig Anderson made 41 saves (see full recap).

Bergeron sparks Bruins’ win over Canucks
BOSTON -- Patrice Bergeron had a goal and three assists in his season debut, moving up to seventh on Boston's career scoring list as the Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks 6-3 on Thursday night.

Anders Bjork scored twice for Boston, Brad Marchand had a goal and two assists and David Pastrnak added a goal and an assist for the Bruins, who scored five straight goals after falling behind 1-0 early in the first period.

Anton Khudobin made 26 saves for Boston while starting in place of Tuukka Rask, who is out indefinitely with a concussion he suffered in practice Wednesday.

Derek Dorsett, Bo Horvat and Thomas Vanek scored for the Canucks, and Michael Del Zotto had two assists (see full recap).

Sergachev, Vasilevskiy help Lightning blank Blue Jackets
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Mikhail Sergachev scored his first two NHL goals and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 43 saves for his fifth career shutout in the Tampa Bay Lightning's 2-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night.

Nikita Kucherov assisted on both goals to push his NHL-leading points total to 14. His goals streak was stopped at seven games.

The Lightning took advantage of the few openings offered by Sergei Bobrovsky, who stopped 19 shots for the Blue Jackets and lost for the first time this season. Columbus had won four straight.

The Lightning, coming off an overtime loss to New Jersey on Tuesday night, improved to 6-1-1 for their best start opening 7-0-1 in their Stanley Cup-winning 2003-04 season.

Columbus dropped to 5-2-0, hurt by uncharacteristic sloppy passing and continued power-play problems in its first shutout loss of the season (see full recap).