Flyers

How 'a little more snot' helped elevate Shayne Gostisbehere's game in 2017-18

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How 'a little more snot' helped elevate Shayne Gostisbehere's game in 2017-18

Shayne Gostisbehere knows a few things about his body, and it’s hard to hide. At 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, he won't move mountains by chiseling away at them with his bare frame. He has to utilize the utensils in his toolbox, specifically speed and smarts.

Gostisbehere, 25, knows his offensive game will always be there. He had the most points ever by a Flyers defenseman in his first three NHL seasons with 150. He added 65 more this season. He became the fastest blueliner in franchise history to reach 100 points (155 games).

The accolades go on, but after his third season, Gostisbehere is “kind of like a veteran now,” as Flyers GM Ron Hextall put it, and this year, he incrementally improved defensively. He had respectable shot suppression numbers and saw significantly more defensive zone starts.

Since the Flyers drafted him in 2012, he’s added 20 pounds. He felt stronger coming into this season and maintained it throughout the year.

It showed in puck battles. The added strength may have factored in, as did his experience. There was another source too …

“A little more snot,” Gostisbehere said last week.

One momentous change was, as the season went on, Dave Hakstol entrusted Gostisbehere with more responsibility. He was elevated to the top pair with Ivan Provorov on Dec. 23, a game that proved to be the turning point for another young Flyer.

Not many Flyers played well in the playoffs against the Penguins, but Gostisbehere’s struggles were apparent. He finished the series as a minus-8, including a minus-4 in the Flyers’ 7-0 Game 1 loss. There was the Sidney Crosby gaffe, where he left arguably the best player ever to play hockey alone. Other coverage mistakes and defensive lapses that were more prevalent during his first two seasons reappeared in his game, leading to Hakstol to move him away from Provorov.

“I don’t think I played well in the playoffs,” Gostisbehere said. “I played in the playoffs before and I didn’t really play against first lines in my first playoff series and then this year, I did. It’s tough. You think you’re so well prepared for it and you go out in your first game and you’re minus-4. It’s a tough pill to swallow. I was on some crappy goals and some that were my fault.”

While the Flyers broke up Gostisbehere and Provorov in the postseason, the expectation is the duo will begin next season together. They created matchup nightmares because they’re both dynamic in the offensive zone and at any given time, either could activate.

Gostisbehere finished fourth in the NHL in scoring among defensemen and led all blueliners with 33 power-play points. He won the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the Flyers’ best defenseman for the second time in three years, yet lost in it all was Provorov’s 17 goals, tied for the league lead among d-men.

“He’s a 1,000 of years better than me defensively,” Gostisbehere said. “We use that to our advantage and it really showed as a pair. Provy’s very good defensively, but offensively, he took another step. He’s probably one of the best, if not the best two-way defenseman in the NHL.”

There is an old hockey adage that goes something like this: Pair a puck-mover with a stay-at-home defenseman. We saw it in the early months with Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg. Hagg, in many ways, permitted Gostisbehere to roam freely. But the Flyers learned that partnering two puck-movers together isn’t such a lousy idea, nor is it revolutionary.

“[Provorov’s] a machine,” Gostisbehere said. “I think he’s like 35, really. … He helped me years with my defensive side of my game just watching him and him helping me along the way.”

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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