Flyers

Have Flyers found key to beating Penguins?

Have Flyers found key to beating Penguins?

If it felt like Sean Couturier didn’t leave the ice Friday night, well, it was because he rarely did, and perhaps the Flyers have discovered their key to defeating the class of the NHL.

Couturier accomplished something no other Flyers forward has ever done in a regulation playoff game, and he did so while not only shutting down two of the game’s best players but also registering his second career playoff game with three or more points.

The 25-year-old finished the Flyers’ 5-1 Game 2 win with 27 minutes, 15 seconds of ice time, setting a franchise record for most by a forward in a playoff regulation game. Couturier, in the third period, led all Flyers with 12:10 and teamed up with Ivan Provorov to combine for 23:21.

After Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin torched the Flyers in Game 1, combining for four goals in Pittsburgh’s 7-0 win, Couturier eliminated the two from the equation Friday.

When we further look at his minutes, Couturier finished with 19:07 against Crosby and 10:27 against Malkin. Crosby, on home ice, spent just 6:06 away from Couturier.

Crosby finished as a minus-1, and despite playing over 25 minutes, he was mostly unnoticeable except for breaking his stick after pushing the puck wide of the net at the end of the second.

Both Couturier and Provorov were dominant against the Penguins, and without them, the Flyers are not coming back to Philly with the series knotted 1-1.

Provorov led all players with 27:30, but as the Flyers’ horse, we expected that. Coming into the series, we suspected that Provorov would end up playing nearly 30 minutes a game.

Couturier, that’s a different story. It shouldn’t be a surprise Couturier was the Flyers’ leading minuteman among forwards, as he finished the regular season behind only Provorov in time on ice.

But to see Couturier play nearly half the game, that’s on another level. Couturier’s Game 2 effort was one of the most all-around dominant performances a Flyers forward has had in a long time. We often tend to throw the term “elite” around too often, especially when it comes to Couturier’s defensive prowess, but Friday, he was nothing short of elite.

While it’s unrealistic to ask Couturier to play 27 minutes a night the rest of this series, Dave Hakstol may have discovered how the Flyers can unseat the Penguins. The Flyers were outclassed in Game 1 and the opening minutes Friday. They survived the initial Penguins push in Game 2 and then controlled the game the rest of the way.

Hakstol rightfully shortened his bench, leaning on his top forwards more and using the rest periodically. If the Flyers want to advance, they’ll have to follow this formula.

We can drool over Couturier’s monster minutes, but he was equally active offensively. His relentless effort with a Penguin on his back led to the Flyers’ first goal. Then 47 seconds into the second period, he scored his fourth career playoff goal for the game-winner. Let’s not forget his no-look, between-the-legs pass that set up Nolan Patrick for his first career postseason marker.

Couturier unlocked his offensive potential this season, setting career highs in goals (31), assists (45) and points (76). Now it looks like it's bleeding into the postseason. In 20 career playoff games before Friday, he had just four points, and they all came in one game. Couturier scored a hat trick and an assist against the Penguins, in Game 2, on April 13, 2012.

And on Friday, April 13, 2018, the Flyers unlocked a formula for playoff success.

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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