Flyers

Flyers composing own post-Christmas blues

Flyers composing own post-Christmas blues

BOX SCORE

SUNRISE, Fla. — Elvis Presley sang about a Blue Christmas. The Flyers are composing their own lyrics to the post-Christmas time blues.

In what's becoming habit coming out of the three-day, league-wide holiday shutdown, the Flyers brought a lackluster effort in the opening 30 minutes Thursday night on their way to a 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers (see observations).

“We really didn’t start playing until halfway through this game,” said head coach Dave Hakstol, who began switching up his lines near the end of the first period. “We spotted our opponent three goals and then we got into the intensity level of the game.

"As we went into third, we’re looking for nine forwards that could meet or match the intensity level that the game was at.”

One noticeable move Hakstol made early on was Scott Laughton jumping up into Nolan Patrick’s center position on the second line, as Laughton finished with seven more shifts than the 19-year-old rookie.

“You got to do something when we’re that sloppy to start with,” Laughton said. “Nothing’s going on, giving up odd man rushes every shift it seemed like. We had a good late push, but early in the game, we just weren’t good enough.”

The last time the Flyers won the game proceeding the Christmas break was Dec. 28, 2013, and their record over the past three years after Dec. 25 reflects something resembling a week-long hangover:

• 0-3-1 in 2016-17

• 0-3-0 in 2015-16

• 0-4-1 in 2014-15

“They were off too, so there’s no excuses,” Shayne Gostisbehere said. “It is what it is.”

Before the viewer at home could settle in for an evening of Flyers hockey, Hakstol’s team was whistled for two penalties in the opening three minutes, which led to the Panthers' early 5-on-3 power play for one minute and 19 seconds. Even after the Flyers successfully killed it off, they still couldn’t muster any momentum.

“I think our urgency was a little off, coming into this one,” Brian Elliott said. “They came at us hard and we really didn’t match it until the final 10 minutes of the game. We've got to have a little bit more jump tomorrow night.”

Hakstol preached attention to details following Thursday morning’s skate, and the Flyers responded with precisely the opposite, as sloppiness and repeated breakdowns led to numerous odd-man rushes for the Panthers throughout the first half of the game.

The Panthers jumped out to a 2-0 lead after Derek MacKenzie scored shorthanded — the fifth shorthanded goal the Flyers allowed — after Claude Giroux’s pass along the boards was cut off leading to a 2-on-1 break for Florida.

“We just couldn’t get anything going,” Giroux said. “The power play wasn’t sharp and that starts with me, and it was a bad game.”

Perhaps forward Michael Raffl perhaps summed it up best.

“I don’t think our passes were crisp enough," he said. "We weren’t skating. We weren’t working hard enough. We didn’t win enough battles. At the end of the day, we weren’t good enough. There’s a lot of excuses out there if you look for them.”

Right now, the Flyers need to look for answers and quickly as they fly to central Florida. That's where they will face the NHL’s top team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, with an overall record of 27-7-2.

Why Wayne Simmonds could come out stronger than ever for Flyers

Why Wayne Simmonds could come out stronger than ever for Flyers

Wayne Simmonds had just finished describing the season from hell.

He was the Flyers' 2017-18 version of the walking wounded, fighting so many injuries that he lost track running them off in late April.

At the time, no one would have blamed Simmonds for lacking some aplomb. Sitting at his end-of-the-season press conference, Simmonds was destined for surgery to address a tear in his pelvic area while coming off a stability-shaken year that produced his fewest goals (24) and points (46) over a full campaign since 2010-11.

Then again, it takes a lot to knock down a player like Simmonds.

This wasn't going to do it.

When asked if he believed he would be fully healthy for 2018-19, Simmonds responded with a resounding confidence.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "One hundred percent, no doubt."

Simmonds, a driven athlete, might have the most fuel he's ever had in a Flyers uniform. There are motivational factors flying at him from every angle and would you expect anything different than Simmonds embracing them all with open arms?

"When you're as dedicated as Wayne is and you put in the effort, the time, the preparation on a daily basis and get better every year, that's what we all should strive to do," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said in March 2017. "I think Simmer is an example for everybody to get better every year."

What exactly is the motivation this year?

Everything.

For starters, Simmonds is about to step foot into a contract year, unless his representation and Hextall agree on an extension beforehand. That very well could happen, but the Flyers may want to see Simmonds prove his health and production. Not only would that serve as reassurance on the soon-to-be 30-year-old, it also could help with trade value, if the Flyers decide to contemplate that route.

"If it has to go into next year, we're comfortable with that," Hextall said July 1.

Such a scenario wouldn't be a terrible idea for Simmonds. A loud and fast start to 2018-19 would provide him leverage in what he'll ultimately receive from the Flyers or elsewhere.

So, many eyes will be watching Simmonds' production. From where it comes will be one of the more intriguing storylines throughout.

With the Flyers, Simmonds has built himself into an elite power-play producer. Since the 2011-12 season, his first in orange and black, Simmonds owns 86 man-advantage goals, second in the NHL to only Alex Ovechkin with 131.

Which made it hard to believe when Simmonds lost grip of his first-unit net-front role down the stretch last season. The power forward went down from Feb. 20 to March 4 with a torn ligament in his thumb, opening the door for 19-year-old rookie Nolan Patrick, who impressed with his savvy and skill around the blue paint.

Patrick netted three power-play goals during Simmonds' seven-game absence and never lost his spot the rest of the way. He led the Flyers with five markers on the man advantage over the final 23 regular-season games and dished out this beauty of an assist.

Simmonds, a team-first guy who was never healthy, took it in stride.

"I've played in this league a long time and I think you come to realize as a player if you're not at your top, you're probably not going to be getting probably what you usually should," he said after the season. "I know that's what maybe went down at the end, there's not really much I can say about that. If I was 100 percent, then I think there might be some annoyance, but I wasn't 100 percent and I understand the situation that we're in, the position that we're in, we were fighting for the playoffs. 

"While I got hurt there, Patty got put on the first power-play unit and scored two goals the first [two games], so what am I going to argue with? The kid's a heck of a hockey player and he earned it, he definitely earned it, and there's not much I can say. Just going to go out there once I got back and do what I can to help the team."

None of this is to suggest Simmonds won't regain his post on the power play. When healthy, there aren't many better at it, but the competition is clear with the rise of Patrick and the addition of James van Riemsdyk, a net-front guy himself.

Even before JVR jumped back into the picture, Simmonds saw his ice time dip. He played 15:13 during the Flyers' last six regular-season games and just 14:36 in six postseason contests. Simmonds simply wasn't himself. As a result, he was relegated to a third-line slot and may see the same in 2018-19 now that the Flyers are deeper.

"He can play every way," Hextall said about Simmonds when the Flyers inked van Riemsdyk on Day 1 of free agency. "He's net front on the power play, he's a physical player, forechecker, straight-line, go-to-the-net-with-your-stick-on-the-ice guy. Simmer can play up top or certainly down your lineup."

No matter where he plays, Simmonds will be motivated, maybe even a little ticked off.

That's a scary thought.

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The best of Jakub Voracek on his 29th birthday

The best of Jakub Voracek on his 29th birthday

It's Aug. 15, the dog days of summer and hockey is still a few weeks away.

But Jakub Voracek turns 29 years old today and this summer, the winger has already played a big part in helping push the Flyers' process into its next stage by helping recruit James van Riemsdyk back to town (see story).

Voracek is coming off a career-best season at 28 years old, posting 85 points in 82 games in 2017-18. He finished fourth in the NHL with 65 assists and ninth with 35 power-play points.

All of this came after a somewhat disappointing 2016-17 season — 61 points in 82 games, not particularly bad numbers but also not the production you'd like from a player with an $8.25 million cap hit and in Year 1 of an eight-year, $66 million extension.

Last season, though, Voracek proved that he can still very much produce at a top level. Since joining the Flyers in 2011-12, Voracek is third among all wingers with 303 assists and fifth in points with 439. Since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, he's eighth among all skaters with 272 assists and 15th in points with 390.

With today being Voracek's birthday, let's take a look back at some of the best from his time as a Flyer because Voracek is one of the most personable players around.

Some plays

Jan. 27, 2016: Voracek scored the game-winner 38 seconds into overtime. It was an important goal in a big game as the Flyers were in the middle of a wild-card chase (see story).

Oct. 14, 2017: The Flyers put a pounding on the Capitals in an 8-2 win at the Wells Fargo Center. Voracek had three assists. This one was one of them. Poor Madison Bowey.

Jan. 13, 2018: Voracek has also torched other teams than the Capitals. Here is a kick pass to Giroux against the Devils in North Jersey.


Some fights

Voracek is not exactly a fighter. According to hockeyfights.com, he has four official fights during the regular season and all have come with the Flyers.

There was the time he dropped the gloves with Gabriel Landeskog for about 30 seconds in Colorado and then said, "I don't think I picked the right city to fight in."

Then there was the time when he roughed up Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi.


Some singing

Sportswriters aren't the only ones who like Bruce Springsteen. Yes, Voracek is also a fan.


A little charity

On Feb. 28, 2017, against the Avalanche, Voracek was eventually credited with a goal many Flyers fans believed was Wayne Simmonds' hat trick. In fact, 396 hats came pouring down to the ice.

As a gesture for taking a hat trick away from Simmonds, Voracek purchased 396 new Flyers hats and donated them to local hospitals for children battling cancer (see story).

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