Flyers

The Jakub Voracek balance doesn't have to be so complicated

The Jakub Voracek balance doesn't have to be so complicated

VOORHEES, N.J. — Jakub Voracek has the NHL’s seventh-most assists since the 2013-14 season.

His job description as a playmaker comes with a double-edged sword. Throughout his career, he has been tasked with creating offense. To do so, it requires pushing the envelope — taking risks, making bang-bang decisions and playing instinctually.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

When a facilitator like Voracek tries to make plays at a prolific clip, he’s bound to make mistakes. It’s no coincidence the year Voracek set career highs in assists (65) and points (85), he also had his most giveaways (65). That was 2017-18, the Flyers’ best season (42 wins, 98 points) since 2011-12, when the franchise last won a playoff series.

Voracek is in a new system with a new head coach. He and Alain Vigneault are still getting to know each other — from the player’s tendencies to the coach’s style. 

In the third game of the relationship, Voracek was demoted from the first line to the fourth unit during the third period and played his fewest minutes (14:30) since 2015-16. In the fifth game, Voracek climbed from the third line to the second unit alongside Kevin Hayes and Oskar Lindblom after scoring a goal during the first period. He ended up with two goals and an assist during the 6-3 loss to the Oilers, although his final two points came late in the third when the game was out of reach.

“That’s why I made that quick change after the first period where I put him with Haysey and Oskar,” Vigneault said Friday following practice. “I thought his first period was good. He had good vibes, good energy. He was protecting the puck well. For the most part, that for him was a step in the right direction.”

Ultimately, Voracek needs to be himself. The Flyers are better when he’s himself. Over the past five seasons, the Flyers went 59-18-10 when Voracek had a multi-point game. When he’s himself, he’s not overthinking, he’s playing freely — and, yes, he’s playing harder and smarter. Voracek understands there must be a balance between aggressiveness and conservativeness with his playmaking.

And he knows fans might struggle to grasp the intricacies of that balance.

Prior to his three-point effort against Edmonton, Voracek had gone scoreless through the first four games of the season for the first time in his career.

If I play good defense, nobody is going to see that because I don’t produce offensively. If I produce offensively and I still make a couple of mistakes, they’re going to say I’m sh---y defensively. It’s a no-win situation. 

But I think defensively, I was pretty good when you look at those games. But it’s not good enough for me and for the team. I expect more out of myself offensively. And that’s what it takes sometimes, you have to … not take chances, but you have to create more. Obviously with creating more, being on the puck more, there’s a bigger chance you’re going to f--- it up sometimes.

With me right now, I’m 30 years old, I think we’re focusing on helping the team to win the game. If it’s scoring goals, getting an assist, making a good defensive play, focusing on playing good defense — it doesn’t matter as long as we find a way to win.

Confidence often drives Voracek. An important play or big goal can lead to points in bunches from the winger. He has mentioned that word a lot in his time here. Vigneault, Voracek and the Flyers will have to find ways to boost confidence together.

“A lot of it has to do with confidence,” Voracek said. “If you go in, if you don’t produce and if you are careful, it’s hard to gain something. I could still end up with four of five points in the first four games, the chances were there — passing, couple of chances, but it didn’t. If it did, it would be a different story. If you get the goal, if you get an assist, that builds up your confidence little bit.

"Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t good [in those games], either. Especially during the seasons in the past, you can’t have four or five games and end up with one point [and say] your game could be at the top level.

"The funny thing is, when you play well, it’s easy to find the balance because you have confidence.”

As Voracek makes plays, he will also make mistakes.

Is it frustrating when the fans or media only see the mistakes?

“Obviously from upstairs, you see the different perspective of the ice,” Voracek said. “There are different lanes when you have the puck, you see different things. I got here the way I played before and the way I was, I think, doing the right things. But sometimes it’s hard to satisfy everybody, you know what I mean? Especially today, it’s really hard to satisfy everyone. It’s almost impossible in today’s society.”

That’s why Voracek just needs to be himself. There is no perfect balance.

Overthinking in search of it won’t help Voracek or the Flyers.

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Flyers finally cooled off by the Capitals (and in the shootout of course)

Flyers finally cooled off by the Capitals (and in the shootout of course)

BOX SCORE

The Flyers went toe to toe with the NHL’s best and highest-scoring team Wednesday night.

And they of course took the action into overtime and the shootout.

The skills competition is where they were finally cooled off.

The Flyers lost to the Capitals, 2-1, at the Wells Fargo Center as T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored in the shootout for Washington.

The Flyers (10-5-3), who have gone past regulation six times in the last seven games, had their four-game winning streak snapped. They did, however, extend their point streak to seven games (5-0-2). They are 8-2-2 since Oct. 21.

Sean Couturier nearly won the game for the Flyers when he nailed the post in overtime.

The Capitals (14-2-4) lead the NHL with 32 points and are on a 13-game point streak (11-0-2). They entered scoring an NHL-most four goals per game.

• Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux went scoreless over the team’s big weekend sweep of the Maple Leafs and Bruins.

With the Flyers in desperate need of a play in the third period, Voracek and Giroux connected for a power play goal to make it 1-1.

The sequence makes you wonder if those two will reunite soon on the first line to get both of them going.

• Head coach Alain Vigneault shuffled his lines in the second period and then not long after pieced them back together. It seemed to work as the Flyers turned it up a notch in the back end of the stanza.

The Flyers came inches away from knotting the game when Travis Konecny rung the post as a power play expired with 4:51 left in the middle frame. A minute later, Tyler Pitlick had an acrobatic chance in front but was turned away.

• The Flyers’ third line could change soon. Carsen Twarynski, Kevin Hayes and Voracek haven’t gotten much going. The group has good size but hasn’t used it to its advantage.

Vigneault expects more out of Voracek and Hayes — and justifiably so. Voracek had the timely assist on the power play, while Hayes is without a point in eight straight games.

• Carter Hart came in 4-0-0 with a 1.92 goals-against average and .929 save percentage during November. He was brilliant against the league’s top-scoring team, making 35 saves.

Hart was once again clutch during the first period, making 15 saves as the Capitals took it to the Flyers in the opening 20 minutes. Prior to Washington’s goal by Brendan Leipsic, the Flyers had outscored the opposition 6-0 during the first frame in their previous four games.

Washington goalie Braden Holtby went 3-0-0 with 84 saves on 90 shots against the Flyers last season. He cracked only once Wednesday, finishing with 30 stops. Giroux was the only Flyer to beat him in the shootout.

• For the first time in 12 NHL games, Joel Farabee took a step back. He didn’t look like himself with the puck, quickly giving it away a few times instead of keeping it on his stick and making a smarter decision.

In the second period, he was briefly taken off the first line and both power play units, possibly a message from Vigneault telling the 19-year-old to get his game going and not be intimidated by the Capitals.

The rookie didn’t play much in the third period and didn’t see action in OT.

• The penalty kill continued its yeoman’s work. The Flyers, who entered as the NHL’s seventh-best shorthanded team at 85.4 percent, held the Capitals’ vaunted power play to 0 for 3.

The Flyers have not allowed a power play goal at home since Oct. 21.

The team’s own man advantage had fallen into a 2-for-17 funk before snapping out of it in the final stanza.

• Matt Niskanen, who spent his previous five seasons in Washington and won the 2018 Stanley Cup with the Capitals, played his first game against his former teammates since being traded to the Flyers during June.

He was his typical steady self.

Radko Gudas, who was sent to Washington in the trade, received a tribute from the Flyers during the first period.

• The Flyers open their fifth back-to-back set of 17 this season when they visit the Senators Friday (7:30 ET/NBCSP+).

The team returns home Saturday to play the Islanders (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

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Matt Niskanen's fine balance of saying hello and cutting the cord

Matt Niskanen's fine balance of saying hello and cutting the cord

Matt Niskanen will never forget his time with the Capitals.

When you give hundreds of thousands of fans a parade in a city craving a championship, it would be impossible to move on with no sentimental feelings for the past.

But Niskanen is now a Flyer and playing for a city that hasn't seen its hockey team win a Stanley Cup since 1975. Performing in orange and black is his focus, as hard as that is when facing his former teammates for the first time since being traded during June.

Niskanen won the 2018 Stanley Cup in Washington, the city's first major championship since 1992. The Capitals visited Philadelphia to play the Flyers Wednesday night and held a morning skate at the Wells Fargo Center.

The 32-year-old defenseman hadn't yet caught up with his old buddies. Following the game might be a better time for Niskanen.

"There’s that kind of special connection that you get when you have that kind of success with a team," he said Wednesday morning.

"There’s a fine balance of wanting to say hi to these guys and also you’ve got to cut the cord a bit, too. My focus is playing well with the Flyers right now. But I’m not that far removed from playing with these guys, so if I see somebody, I’ll chat and say hi.”

Niskanen has been excellent for the Flyers, impacting the club's improved goal prevention, special teams units and young defensemen. Some of his new, younger teammates have asked him about winning a Stanley Cup.

"A bit," the unassuming Niskanen said. "It’s not something that comes up all the time, or usually not in front of a big group. I try not to bring it up too much. On occasion, a few times they have.”

Alain Vigneault knew about Niskanen from coaching against him in the Metropolitan Division. The Flyers' head coach also heard from Scott Arniel — one of the Capitals' assistant coaches who was on Vigneault's staff in New York — about Niskanen.

“He told me that I was going to have a real solid leader, quiet leadership, but great role model and that’s exactly what we have," Vigneault said.

“Just by the way he conducts himself. If you watch him in practice, he’s always doing things the right way and he pays a lot of attention to details. When he talks to, whether it be a teammate or coaches, it’s soft-spoken but right to the point. We’ve got a great person there and we’ve got a defenseman that’s really helping us out.”

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