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."

Panthers upset West-best Golden Knights in OT

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Panthers upset West-best Golden Knights in OT

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Aaron Ekblad scored 40 seconds into overtime to lift the Panthers to a 4-3 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday night, spoiling former coach Gerard Gallant's return to Florida.

Ekblad grabbed a rebound in the high slot and fired it past Malcolm Subban to give Florida its second win in six games this month.

Aleksander Barkov scored his league-leading fifth short-handed goal of the season and had two assists, and Evgenii Dadonov and Jamie McGinn also scored for the Panthers. James Reimer stopped 33 shots.

William Karlsson had a goal and an assist, and David Perron and James Neal also scored for Vegas. Subban finished with 22 saves (see full recap).

Pacioretty, Canadiens snap 3-game skid
WASHINGTON -- Max Pacioretty had two goals and an assist to help the Montreal Canadiens break a three-game losing streak with a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Friday night.

Paul Byron also scored for the Canadiens. Antii Niemi, playing in place of Carey Price, who had been in goal for eight consecutive games, stopped 24 shots.

John Carlson and Lars Eller scored for the Capitals, and Philipp Grubauer finished with 22 saves.

Pacioretty, who has six goals in the last six games, scored Montreal's first goal at 7:08 in the second period and added an empty-netter with 1:18 remaining in the game (see full recap).

Ducks get upper hand on rival Kings again
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ryan Kesler deflected home Francois Beauchemin's shot for the tiebreaking goal with 7:39 to play and the Anaheim Ducks won their second Freeway Faceoff in seven days, beating the struggling Los Angeles Kings 2-1 Friday night.

Adam Henrique scored early in the third period and John Gibson made 23 saves for the Ducks, who have won six of nine overall.

Rookie Alex Iafallo evened it for Los Angeles moments after Henrique's goal, but Kesler's long deflection sent the puck bouncing past Jonathan Quick. Anaheim then hung on in a frantic final minute to even the archrivals' season series at two games apiece.

Quick stopped 29 shots in the Kings' sixth consecutive loss, extending their longest skid of the season (see full recap).

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

It’s about to get real for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Real serious and potentially really hard. The Flyers have played the fewest divisional games of any team in the NHL.

That might be beneficial if the team located about 40 minutes off the shores of the Atlantic Ocean actually played in the Atlantic Division. The Flyers have hammered Atlantic teams this season: an 8-4-0 record including a win in Tampa and their most recent three-game series sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Whereas the Atlantic houses a collection of domesticated poodles and Pomeranians, the Metropolitan Division is more a breeding ground for vicious Dobermans and pit bulls.

And the Flyers are about to enter the teeth of that beast.

Dave Hakstol’s club plays 19 of their remaining 37 games against the rock-solid Metropolitan, the only 8-team division in hockey without a legitimate doormat or two. 

“It’s good or bad depending on whether you’re winning or not,” general manager Ron Hextall said.“It’s great taking points from other teams and adding to your total. It does put a higher importance on those games for sure. Every game is important, but certain games are just a little more important. Your lows can’t be too low. That’s the bottom line.

“They’re divisional games. They’re huge games for us, especially with how tight it is with that wild card spot,” center Sean Couturier said. “We’ve got to step up and be ready for the challenge.”

Unfortunately for the Flyers, their sore spot over their past two-plus seasons has been their play against the Metropolitan elites — the teams they’re typically chasing in the standings.

4-4-1 vs. Capitals
3-5-2 vs. Rangers
3-6-1 vs. Penguins
2-3-4 vs. Blue Jackets

Collectively, that’s a 12-18-8 record in the Dave Hakstol era with just a 4-9-6 mark on the road. Interestingly, defenseman Brandon Manning believes roster formation has been part of the reason behind the success of the Flyers' opponents.  

“Credit to them, I think they’ve done a good job of getting better every year,” Manning said. “You look at what Pittsburgh does with their turnover and still finding a way to win. Columbus is so much better and you look at Jersey, which hasn’t been the greatest team the past couple of years, but this year they have a really good hockey team. I think credit to those teams for finding a way to get better.” 

And if there’s a direct path to the postseason, then winning these crucial divisional games has to be the way to get there. Since the formation of the NHL’s current four-division alignment in 2013-14, the Metropolitan has sent 17 teams to the playoffs and only once has a team reached the postseason without a winning record within the division — the Pittsburgh Penguins finished 9-17-4 in the Metro in 2014-15. 

The Capitals, Rangers and Blue Jackets also have the luxury of rostering a Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender in crucial divisional games, whereas, Hakstol will rely more on a platoon based on Elliott’s first-half workload and Neuvirth attempting to regain his early season form.  

“I haven’t studied the schedule that much in depth, but considering Moose started a stretch of 25 out of 30 games, that’s a real heavy workload,” Hakstol said. “I would expect the workload to be more spread out than that. We’ll find the best rhythm to be able and have both of them help our team.

“You need two goalies. I don’t care who you are,” Hextall said. “Look around the league. I said it before, there’s no Marty Brodeurs.”

Maybe not, but Saturday it all starts with Brodeur’s former team and with a back-to-back against the Devils and the Capitals this weekend. The Flyers' position within the division can change very drastically one direction or the other.