Flyers

Jakub Voracek: NHLers in 'no-win situation' with 2018 PyeongChang Olympic argument

Jakub Voracek: NHLers in 'no-win situation' with 2018 PyeongChang Olympic argument

NEWARK, N.J. -- A showdown is looming between commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL's players over the league's non-participation in the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea.

On Monday, Bettman laid out his reasons (break in the schedule, time difference, financial gain, etc.) in announcing that the league will bypass the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Ironically, the league intends to go to China in 2022 because of that country's vast marketing potential. Yet the IOC has already stated that participation is arbitrary. You miss one Olympics, don't expect to attend another.

A day after the NHL's announcement, to no one's surprise, Alex Ovechkin said that regardless of what the owners do as a league, he and other Russian players intend to play for Team Russia.

"Yeah, I didn't change my mind and I won't," Ovechkin told reporters on Tuesday after the morning skate at Air Canada Centre.

Why go?

"Because it's my country," Ovechkin said. "I think everybody wants to play there. It's the biggest opportunity in your life to play in the Olympic Games. So, I don't know, somebody [is] going to tell me, 'Don't go,' I don't care, I just go."

Canadiens goalie Carey Price told the CBC: "I feel it's very disappointing. I feel like we're shortchanging some of the younger players of that opportunity. It's tough to swallow for some of those kids for sure."

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist tweeted: 

Flyers forward Jakub Voracek wants to play for the Czech Republic and sounded torn over what decision he'll make.

Is this the end, or is this more like a ploy from Bettman to get something from the players, like an extension of the current CBA?

"I don't know," Voracek replied. "I'm still hoping that somehow we'll find a way to go there. You can see every single player wants to go. But we really don't have the power."

Voracek isn't sure he would defy the league and attend, either. He said he feels loyalty to the Flyers who pay his salary.

"Tough question," he replied. "Ovechkin is a three-time Hart Trophy winner. He has a little different position than me here in Philly. It's something as a player, you consider it. But in the end, it's hard to say whether I would go over. I don't know the answer.

"If you don't go, you feel like an a------ for the Czechs. If you go, you feel like an a------ to the guys here and toward the organization. This is a no-win situation in this case, for sure."

The NHLPA clearly wants the players going to every Olympics. Part of the union's statement read:

"The players are extraordinarily disappointed and adamantly disagree with the NHL's shortsighted decision to not continue our participation in the Olympics.

"Any sort of inconvenience the Olympics may cause to next season's schedule is a small price to pay compared to the opportunity to showcase our game and our greatest players on this enormous international stage." 

Best of NHL: Senators snap 5-game skid in return home

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Best of NHL: Senators snap 5-game skid in return home

OTTAWA, Ontario -- Craig Anderson made 27 saves to stop his seven-game losing streak and the Ottawa Senators snapped their five-game skid Wednesday night with a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers.

Bobby Ryan, Cody Ceci and Zack Smith scored for the Senators (10-13-7), who returned home from a seven-game road trip and improved to 2-10-2 in their past 14 overall. It was only their second victory in regulation since Nov. 11, which was the last time Anderson had won.

Michael Grabner and Pavel Buchnevich scored for the Rangers (16-12-3), who dropped to 4-7-0 on the road. Henrik Lundqvist had 27 saves, becoming the 15th goalie in NHL history to reach 20,000 for his career.

Ottawa, which eliminated the Rangers in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last season, was coming off a 3-2 loss at last-place Buffalo on Tuesday night (see full recap).

Pitlick, Benn lift Stars over Islanders
NEW YORK -- Tyler Pitlick scored twice and Jamie Benn had a goal and two assists to lead the Dallas Stars to a 5-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Wednesday night.

Alexander Radulov and Remi Elie also scored for the Stars, who won their second straight after a three-game skid. Kari Lehtonen stopped 32 shots for his 300th career victory, and John Klingberg had two assists.

Anders Lee scored twice for the Islanders, who have lost five of seven (2-4-1), and John Tavares and Josh Bailey each had two assists. Jaroslav Halak, starting for the seventh time in nine games, was pulled near the midpoint of the second period after giving up four goals on 20 shots. Thomas Greiss came on and stopped six of the seven shots he faced (see full recap).

Sean Couturier proving he belongs in Selke Trophy conversation

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Sean Couturier proving he belongs in Selke Trophy conversation

VOORHEES, N.J. — By definition, the Frank J. Selke Memorial Trophy is awarded to the NHL forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game.

Since the day Sean Couturier arrived in the league as an 18-year-old rookie straight out of the June draft in 2011, the defensive element has always been part of his game. He was tasked with shutting down one of the league’s premier centers in Evgeni Malkin as a teenager and a fourth-line center. His commitment to defense was the primary reason the Flyers drafted Couturier eighth overall in 2011.

Of all the NHL’s major postseason awards presented in Las Vegas next summer, the Selke may be the one piece of hardware the Flyers have the greatest chance at claiming, as Couturier has refined his all-around game. The paradox of the award is how winners typically need respectable offensive numbers to receive serious consideration for what’s regarded as a defensive accolade.

The last 21 winners have all scored at least 20 goals, while 11 of the last 12 winners have racked up 50 or more points. Couturier has never reached either scoring plateau, which probably explains why he’s never finished higher than eighth in the voting. He’s currently on pace this season for 41 goals and 82 points.

“It would be a nice recognition,” Couturier said Wednesday. “Obviously, just getting your name thrown out there with those guys that are there every year, it’s kind of nice. It gives you that extra boost to kind of push yourself and try to be as good as you can.” 

This season, Couturier has proven he belongs in that elite conversation. Tuesday’s game against the Maple Leafs was a vintage Selke effort: winning faceoffs, including draws that led to goals, staying committed defensively while playing 1:35 of the final 2:12, preserving a one-goal lead.

Over his last 50 games dating back to last season, Couturier also owns an impressive plus-32 rating.

“I know some people don’t like the plus/minus. Five-on-five, if you’re in the plus, it's usually a good thing and you’re helping your team win," Couturier said. "My mentality is still the same: being solid, taking care of details and like I said, if you take care of details defensively, the offense will come and that’s always the thought process I’ve had.”

Another Selke measurable is faceoffs — an area in which Couturier has improved greatly over the past two years from a 48 percent success rate to winning 55 percent from the beginning of last season.

“It’s the one area of his game that he’s taken a lot of pride in,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I think if you look at the numbers in both faceoff dots, he’s done a real good job, as well as the neutral zone."

For an award voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, there’s almost no way to accurately assess the defensive play of 300-plus forwards without extensive video review, as most writers are solely covering the team in their city. So faceoffs, plus/minus, consistency on the penalty kill coupled with shorthanded goals can be areas that separate Selke candidates.

Currently, Boston’s Patrice Bergeron is the Selke gold standard as a four-time winner, and he’s finished first or second in voting in each of the past six seasons. Fair or not, Bergeron’s reputation alone will likely land him in the top three once again barring injury.

“When you look at (Anze) Kopitar, Bergeron and (Jonathan) Toews, I think Coots is up there with those guys,” Jakub Voracek said. “Without a doubt [Couturier is a Selke candidate]. He’s got 15 goals in 30 games. His stick is very good and he’s always one step ahead defensively. He doesn’t over-backcheck. He just knows what kind of responsibility that he has. You can see it on the PK, it’s really hard to get a puck through him. Those kind of players are very hard to find.”

Just ask the Flyers' organization. They haven’t had a Selke winner since Dave Poulin 30 years ago.