Flyers

Jakub Voracek leading offense even without scoring a goal

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Jakub Voracek leading offense even without scoring a goal

OTTAWA, Ontario — If an NBA shooting guard started the season 0 for 29, there would be questions as to why he’s in the league.

If a major-league hitter started the year 0 for 29 at the plate, there might be a minor-league assignment to work on his mechanics.

But in the NHL, an 0-for-29 shooting start to a season may not even warrant a discussion or, in the case of Jakub Voracek, an afterthought.

It may appear bizarre that the Flyers' leading scorer (12 points), who also leads the team in shots on net, is without a single goal through the first nine games of the season. Tuesday against Anaheim, Voracek ripped a slap shot from the top of the circle that hit Ducks goaltender John Gibson right in the chest. At that moment, Voracek looked straight up to the rafters with curiosity as to when that first puck might find the back of the net.

However, this is a different Flyers team, a different season, and quite possibly, a different Voracek.

“I think it’s different this year, because we’re winning and I’m still putting up points,” Voracek said Thursday. “It would be worse if I wasn’t putting up points, and it would cost the team from winning the games. It’s different because as a team, I think we’re scoring, so I’m not that worried about that.”

Right now, Voracek and Washington center Evgeny Kuznetsov are the only two players in the league with a double-digit point total without the benefit of a goal. 

Goals will come eventually as Voracek’s been generating offense from the opening period in San Jose when he snared a Martin Jones pass and fed a wide-open Claude Giroux, who one-timed a shot into the empty net for the Flyers' first goal of the season. It’s one of the top lines in the entire NHL with Voracek, Giroux and Sean Couturier combining for 32 points and are first, second and fourth, respectively, on the team in scoring.

“If Jake keeps playing the way he’s playing, I’ll be real happy,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “He’s doing a lot of good things for our team. He’s going to score at some point in time with the number of opportunities. He’s producing offense, whether or not he’s the guy putting the puck in the back of the net, he’s producing offense for our team, whether that’s 5-on-5 or on the power play.”

The 5-on-5 portion of Voracek’s play appears to be his greater emphasis. Last season, despite leading the team with 61 points, Voracek also posted a team-worst minus-24, which was a reflection of how poorly the Flyers' top line performed at even strength and a reminder how much better Voracek needed to play defensively.  

“I’m more focused on the way I play,” Voracek said. “So far, Coots is helping as well. I’d say I’m playing a pretty good two-way game. I take it to heart last year because the plus/minus number for me wasn’t very good. It’s real important for me to be in the plus number.”

Voracek is driving hard to the net and creating quality scoring chances, which if it was an official NHL stat, he’d likely lead the Flyers in that category as well. 

"For me, I think that’s always been most important,” Voracek said. “Make sure I’m in the right spot. I earn those chances during the game because I work hard. That’s what I can do right now. If I get stuck on not scoring a goal, it’s only going to get worse.

"Obviously, it would be nice if I got that goal sooner or later.”

'Simmer' vs. the Senators
Wayne Simmonds expects to play tonight against the Senators after taking a puck off his leg and hobbling at times during the game Tuesday night.

“As long as I can contribute, right, and not be a detriment to the team, I’m going to play,” Simmonds said.

Simmonds comes into Thursday’s game against Ottawa looking for his first point against the Senators since Guy Boucher took over as head coach last season. The 'Wayne Train' generated just three shots in those three games, and with patience comes points.

“I think they want to lull you to sleep and then they jump on their opportunities,” Simmonds said. “It’s like going through a maze in the neutral zone. You get pucks deep, you can’t turn them over. For us, play smart, play fast and make sure their defense is facing their glass.”

“These guys for sure present a challenge,” Hakstol said. “They’re hard to play against with and without the puck. So much of the discussion about Ottawa is what they’re doing without the puck. You've got to remember once they turn it over, they’ve got a lot of team speed and they transition very well, and that’s where they hurt you.” 

Projected Lines

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Jori Lehtera-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny/Dale Weise
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere
Brandon Manning- Radko Gudas
Travis Sanheim-Robert Hagg

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Update: Patrick did not play because of an upper-body injury. The rookie center is considered day to day.

Flyers weekly observations: A glaring concern goes on full display

Flyers weekly observations: A glaring concern goes on full display

The Flyers lost all three games this week and ended a five-game homestand a mediocre 2-2-1. Some observations:

• James van Riemsdyk put up a goal and two assists in Saturday's 6-5 overtime loss to the Lightning. In his second game back from injury, the Flyers scored three power-play goals, matching their total from Oct. 13 to Nov. 16, which spanned 43 opportunities.

Think he's a difference-maker?

However, what is truly worrisome is that a glaring concern entering the 2018-19 season was on full display Saturday. We knew the Flyers could score. This team has talent, the power play won't be this bad, pucks will be put in the net.

But can the Flyers stop teams?

With the situation in net and the ongoing penalty-kill woes, the Flyers can score all they want — it might not make a difference.

- Hall

• I didn't think Calvin Pickard played bad Saturday against the Lightning. I believe he was the victim of circumstance.

The Lightning's second goal was leaky but the rest? Ivan Provorov played soft and was outmuscled by Brayden Point, who is two inches shorter and 35 pounds lighter, on the third goal. Wayne Simmonds lost his man on the overtime winner. The other two were PPGs.

Still, Pickard finished with a .769 save percentage. His last start wasn't much better — .778 save percentage. He has a .852 save percentage in eight games. Pickard wasn't bad against Tampa, but the bottom line is, you need your goalie to makes saves and Pickard hasn't shown he's capable of doing it on a consistent basis.

With Brian Elliott out at least two weeks, the Flyers gave Pickard first swing Saturday. It's time to end this experiment. Alex Lyon deserves an opportunity.

- Dougherty

• The Flyers outshot their opponent in each of the three losses during the week.

Overall, they outshot the opposition 105-83 but were outscored 11-6.

For some context, this past week the Maple Leafs registered 104 shots and allowed 107 in three games but went 3-0-0 and outscored the competition 12-6.

It makes you wonder — are the Flyers getting the quality shots you need on a consistent basis to win games?

"We did give up some shots, but they weren’t scoring chances," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after the Flyers outshot Tampa 45-26, "so you can shoot a lot of pucks and it’s going to look good on the stat line, but if they’re not quality chances, it’s two-fold."

The Flyers have eight losses when they outshoot an opponent, which is tied for most in the NHL.
 
- Hall

• Through 20 games, the Flyers are 9-9-2. This was expected to be a season this team takes a step forward and a quarter of the way in, the Flyers are again average at best with huge, gaping deficiencies. Team defense remains a problem, the goaltending situation has been a total miscalculation by general manager Ron Hextall and the penalty kill has been a disaster.

The Flyers ended this week tying a season high three-game losing streak and while they did so by showing fight — something they didn't do three weeks ago — there needs to be accountability. There's a reason opposing players no longer fear Wells Fargo Center. The fans have been patient than ever but patience grows tired and it's reaching its tipping point.

Just look at the penalty kill — which allowed four power-play goals last week. It's been brutal for the past four seasons and it's been worse than ever. Yet, there's been no change in structure or coach, no accountability. Why?

- Dougherty

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This time, Flyers didn't crumble in face of adversity and that says a lot

This time, Flyers didn't crumble in face of adversity and that says a lot

Three weeks ago, this would not have happened. In fact, we have hard evidence to back this up. The Flyers were gut-punched by the Islanders on Oct. 27 at the Wells Fargo Center and laid down. The end result was a barbarous 6-1 defeat that created social media angst among fans.

On Saturday afternoon, the Flyers’ will was tested again. But this time, the outcome showed us just how far they’ve come since that depressing October Saturday three weeks ago. If there’s such a thing as a character loss, the Flyers’ 6-5 overtime defeat to the Lightning is the face of it (see observations).

This had the making of a story we’ve written before, one in which the Flyers face adversity on home ice and crumble. The Flyers were behind 5-1 in the third period after Tampa capitalized on a 5-on-3 power play for two goals in 51 seconds. Three weeks ago, that’s game, set, match.

Instead, the Flyers rung off four goals in 6:04 to force OT. It’s the ninth time in league history that a team erased a four-goal deficit in a game’s final 10 minutes.

“We showed some good character,” James van Riemsdyk said. “Any time you can get a point when you’re down four goals in the third period, I’d say that’s a pretty good thing. … 

“You want to have good responses. We had some pretty good process-related stuff as far as carrying the play, but we’re paid here and we’re here to get results, so it’s not good enough.”

van Riemsdyk, in his second game back from a knee injury, was a major part of the Flyers’ comeback. He snapped the team’s 0-for-15 power-play drought in the second period with his first goal of the season and had assists on the goal that began the comeback and completed it.

There is a lot to unpack after Saturday. The loss capped off a five-game homestand that began promising but ended leaving much more to be desired — 2-2-1. The Flyers have now lost three straight, tying their season-high losing streak that came after the Islanders loss on Oct. 27. The penalty kill had another merciless effort, allowing three more power-play goals. The Flyers have now allowed an NHL-worst 22 power-play goals and the PK ranks 30th at 68.6 percent.

Claude Giroux became just the fourth player in franchise history to reach 700 points with a two-assist game, which put his total up to 701 (see story). He also moved into a tie with Brian Propp for second all-time in team history with 480 helpers. The Flyers dominated just about every play-driving metric and outshot the Lightning, 45-26. Their power play awoke with three goals.

“It’s hard. We want to take a lot of positives out of that,” said Travis Konecny, who had his fourth career two-goal game. “It shows what we have in the locker room. It’s just tough to look at it that way. (Head coach Dave Hakstol) comes in between the second and third and says we’re actually playing a good game, it’s just we got to get our bounces and stick together.”

Stuck together they did, and if we want to take anything away from Saturday’s OTL, it’s that. That didn’t happen three weeks ago.

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