Voracek's hat trick helps Flyers to wild win over Pens

022013-voracekgiroux-slideshow-ap.jpg

Voracek's hat trick helps Flyers to wild win over Pens

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- Jakub Voracek got his first NHL hat trick.
 
Wayne Simmonds had a Gordie Howe hat trick -- a goal (two actually), an assist and a fight.
 
And North America got yet another wild, emotionally-taxing 6-5 Flyers' victory over the Penguins on Wednesday night at CONSOL Energy Center that seemed to resemble last year’s playoffs.
 
“The first two [games] -- even the games in our building,” coach Peter Laviolette said, “it carries a lot of emotion and a lot of energy. Great games for the players, the fans, for everybody. Good playoff-type atmosphere.”
 
This time, the Flyers took the seven goals and achievements against the Islanders and made them count for something the next time out.
 
Recall the Flyers routed Florida 7-1 in January, then got pasted the next night in Tampa.
 
“I couldn’t tell you what happened in this game, so many things happened,” said a drained Claude Giroux.
 
“Up and down. I don’t know if it’s fun to watch but it’s fun to play.”
 
Twice the Flyers had a two-goal lead in the final period and lost it, thanks primarily to a series of penalties that gave the Pens a continual 5-on-3 power play -- the most lethal in the Eastern Conference.
 
Ilya Bryzgalov took a 3-2 lead into that stanza and then Voracek gave him some breathing room at 18 seconds with his second goal.
 
Five minutes later, Tyler Kennedy made it a nail-biter until Simmonds led a rush up ice, shot it and it tipped off James Neal’s stick to regain the two-goal lead.
 
That should have been it -- 5-3 --  but consecutive penalties, including a four-minute high-sticking penalty to Mike Knuble gave the Penguins a 5-on-3 power play for a full two minutes.
 
Evgeni Malkin scored once, making it 5-4. Then, Max Talbot went off for a closed hand on the puck, keeping the 5-on-3 alive.
 
“It’s a new rule this year -- the puck was under me and I tried to put it out of there and on our first goal it kind of happened the same thing around their net,” Talbot said.
 
“But things happen fast. The crowd is screaming. These are calls people make and sometimes they won’t. I was obviously frustrated, but guys did a good job killing them.
 
“Usually, I’m on the ice. It was more stressful sitting in the penalty box. ... Our guys stepped up and did a great job killing the penalties.”
 
Pittsburgh appeared to have tied it again with 5:39 left to play, but the play was overturned for kicking the puck in the net, setting up a frantic finish.
 
Didn’t matter. Brandon Sutter tied it with a wraparound with 2:03 left to play.
 
That set up Voracek’s heroics with 1:31 left from an impossible angle in the right corner.
 
“Sometimes the bounces go in and sometimes it doesn’t,” he said. “It’s been a while. I think the last time I scored a hat trick was Triple-A back home, I can’t remember. It’s been a while.
 
“I got smothered by [Brooks] Orpik in the corner there. The puck came to me and I didn’t want to do something stupid with the puck, so I threw it on net. Tough angle for the goalie [Tomas Vokoun].”
 
The first period was reminiscent of last spring’s Game 1 playoff meeting against the Penguins here when the Flyers spotted Pittsburgh a 3-0 lead.
 
Danny Briere brought them back to 3-2 by the second period in what would become a 4-3 overtime win for the Flyers.
 
For all the talk the Flyers had about the momentum generated off their 7-0 rout of the Islanders, they came out lethargic.
 
Which is why coach Laviolette used his timeout 5:07 into the game. It was already 1-0 at that point on Matt Niskanen’s 56-footer.
 
“They came out hard and we were just lax everywhere, to be honest,” Laviolette said. “Faceoffs, forecheck, puck battles. We needed to wake up a bit.”
 
Harry Zolnierczyk picked up a boarding call behind the Pens' net, then got slammed to ice by Pens defenseman Deryk Engelland without a return call.
 
The resulting power play saw Malkin score twice. His first attempt, on review, was ruled no goal with Bryzgalov gloving the puck inside the right post.
 
His second attempt saw him at the same post alone -- no Luke Schenn -- as a puck rebounded off the boards for an easy 2-0 lead at 7:15.
 
That ended the Flyers' successful string of 21 consecutive penalty kills. By the way: Malkin stretched his league lead to 13 power-play points in this one.
 
Pittsburgh has the second-best power play in the NHL -- 27.4 percent.
 
“You can’t give them much space on the power play because they can counter on it,” Voracek said. “They have solid players over there.”
 
Midway into the period, the Pens were outshooting the Flyers, 12-2. By the period’s end, however, it was 15-13 in the Flyers' favor as they mounted a stunning comeback with two goals just one minute apart.
 
The Flyers' first goal came off a bizarre scrum at the net with the Flyers having a half-dozen attempts -- only two actual shots -- and Kris Letang pinned inside the net.
 
At one point, it appeared the puck crossed the line and Letang swiped it back out. When he did that, Nick Grossmann popped it back in at 11:49.
 
A minute later, Briere fed Simmonds, who rushed the net from the left boards to make it a 2-2 game.
 
That forced Penguins coach Dan Bylsma to burn his timeout.
 
“Kimmo made a great play there on the blue line as he always does,” Simmonds said. “I yelled for Danny as he was about to shoot it. He found me down low and I just kind of walked the puck to the net.”
 
Incidentally, Simmonds and Tanner Glass would tangle soon after in what might have been the best fight of the season involving a Flyer.
 
“[Glass] was coming after Schenner [Brayden Schenn],” Simmonds said. “I thought Schenner made a solid hit there [on Matt Cooke]. Obviously, the refs didn’t like it.
 
“Two guys went after Schenner and I stepped in there and the two of us ended up fighting. But, it's all in the spirit of the game.”
 
The second period was one of continual hits and a few scoring chances with the game remaining tied until the final 1:32 when Craig Adams elbowed Voracek, giving the Flyers a power play.
 
Voracek, who had a career-high four assists against the Islanders on Monday, had three shots on Vokoun during that power play, connecting off a Simmonds' shot finally for his first goal in six games as the Flyers led for the first time, 3-2, with 9.9 seconds left in the period.
 
“Every time we play Pittsburgh it’s a big battle,” Giroux said. “We had a tough start there, came out flat but we found a way to get those goals back.”

Flyers do their homework, trade down to draft Russia U-18 C German Rubtsov

Flyers do their homework, trade down to draft Russia U-18 C German Rubtsov

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Were it not for the Russian drug scandal involving its under-18 World Junior squad this year, chances are, German Rubtsov would have been a top-10 NHL draft prospect.

The entire U-18 team was banned by WADA for testing positive for meldonium, a performance enhancer, at this year’s championships in Grand Forks.

Which is why Rubtsov fell in Friday’s draft at First Niagara Center as the Flyers traded down four picks to No. 22 to pluck a kid who was supposedly their best two-way centerman (see story).

“We were caught taking a not-allowed substance and weren’t allowed to go into the tournament,” the 6-foot-1, 174-pound forward said. “Obviously, a disappointment but it is over and I look to the future.

“None of us knew. We had a little glass of juice and tablets and [were] told in the morning to take this because it is good for your health. The coaching staff gave it to us.”

General manager Ron Hextall said the Flyers did extra homework on him because of the scandal.

“We dug deep here in terms of his character,” Hextall said. “I dug deeper than I’ve ever dug. More research on this kid than I’ve ever done. Really good character and team guy.”

Rubtsov, who turns 18 on Monday, does not speak English and used Flyers scout Ken Hoodikoff as his interpreter. Hoodikoff spent much time with Rubtsov this past year.

“We had lots of contact, more than any other team,” Rubtsov said. “Not worried I didn’t go higher. I was hoping to be drafted by the Flyers. I like Philadelphia. All year they kept an eye on me and talked to me. They put a big effort in.”

Rubtsov’s agent is Mark Gandler, who also represents Ivan Provorov. Gandler wants him playing somewhere in North America this season but that could be a long shot.

“He’s got a contract [with Vityaz],” Hextall said. “We’re prepared he’s going to the KHL this year. Not a lot of chance of him coming over here.”

Hextall said even if Rubtsov did come here, he would not be ready, even for the Phantoms.

“I’d like to try to play at the NHL level,” Rubtsov said. “If not, I’ll play wherever they tell me.”

European observers believe were it not for the scandal, Rubtsov might have been a top-10 pick.

“The Russian factor and him not being at the Under-18 was a big platform for him and there were multiple reasons [for sliding down],” Hextall said.

By trading down from No. 18 with Winnipeg, the Flyers missed out on drafting highly-touted Kieffer Bellows, a pure goal scorer.

The club needs goal-scoring wingers. Rubtsov is projected as a solid, all-around centerman.

Scouts say Rubtsov has considerable defensive awareness for such a young age. He likens himself to Evgeni Malkin and does not come from a hockey family background.

“I need to work on my quickness in every which way,” Rubtsov said. “I am a two-way player and pride myself on my hard work.”

Hextall emphasized his speed.

“He’s a really good hockey player, he brings speed,” Hextall said. “He’s got good size. Still 17. Really, really smart and plays the game the right way but pushes the pace.”

Flyers draft Russia U-18 C German Rubtsov at No. 22 after swapping pair of picks with Jets

Flyers draft Russia U-18 C German Rubtsov at No. 22 after swapping pair of picks with Jets

Updated: Saturday, 12:23 a.m.

The Flyers did not stay put at No. 18 overall in the NHL draft Friday night.

They traded the pick and the 79th selection (third round) to the Jets for the 22nd overall pick and the 36th selection (second round).

At No. 22, the Flyers drafted 17-year-old Russia U-18 center German Rubtsov (6-1/174), who turns 18 on Monday.

Rubtsov, a lefty shot, posted 12 goals and 14 assists for 26 points in 28 games with Russia’s U-18 team during 2015-16.

International Scouting Services ranked him as the 15th-best 2016 draft prospect and he's known as a two-way center with plus hockey smarts.

“We really liked the early part of the second round, so we actually looked at adding a pick, we have two later seconds so we talked about maybe moving up,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said in an interview with NBCSN following the selection. “So when this opportunity came along, actually German was a guy we had in mind and we felt like we’d get him at 22.

“The forward is our priority in this draft and we have a lot of picks so we’ll be drafting more.”

The Flyers now have three picks in the second round with selections 36, 48, 52. The draft finishes Saturday with Rounds 2-7, starting in the morning.

Draft notes
• As expected, Scottsdale, Arizona, native Auston Matthews went No. 1 overall to the Maple Leafs, becoming the seventh U.S.-born player to go as the top pick and the first since 2007.

• An NHL record 12 U.S.-born players were drafted in the first round.

• The Jets took 6-foot-7 Windsor (OHL) defenseman Logan Stanley with the No. 18 overall pick acquired from the Flyers. Stanley is the cousin of Capitals center Michael Latta.

• USNTDP (USHL) left winger Kieffer Bellows, who was popularly tied to the Flyers at No. 18 before Hextall moved back, was drafted No. 19 by the Islanders. Bellows’ father, Brian, was taken No. 2 overall in the 1982 draft and went on to play 17 NHL seasons.

• There were seven trades made during Round 1 of the draft.

2016 Flyers free-agent target: Islanders RW Kyle Okposo

2016 Flyers free-agent target: Islanders RW Kyle Okposo

Each day until July 1, the day free agency begins, CSNPhilly.com producers Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone will profile some of the NHL's top impending free agents and project their likelihood of signing with the Flyers.
 
Kyle Okposo, right wing
 
Age: 28
Height: 6-0
Weight: 217
Last team: New York Islanders
2015-16 cap hit: $2.8 million
 
Scouting report
One of the biggest names on the free-agent market, Okposo is a nifty puck-handler with a fearsome shot, making for a richly talented offensive winger.
 
Sounds just like Ron Hextall’s No. 1 offseason need.
 
The 2006 seventh overall pick finished last season with 64 points — which would have been second on the Flyers — by tallying 22 goals and a career-high-tying 42 assists. His last three seasons have gone for 50-plus points, while in 2013-14 he posted a career-best 69.
 
Okposo is a multifaceted scorer, understanding how to produce in a variety of ways, whether it’s using his body or skill. He knows how to play big and small.
 
The righty shot is dangerous on the power play and a bona-fide top-six forward.
 
Many believe he’s just reaching his prime.
 
Projection
The Islanders have essentially said so long to Okposo, so he’s up for grabs.
 
The Flyers have interest but it looks to be a daunting task to snag the 28-year-old.
 
With the extension of Radko Gudas and the need to re-up restricted free agent Brayden Schenn, it simply doesn’t appear monetarily plausible for the Flyers to reel in a top-six forward the ilk of Okposo.
 
Rumblings have it that Okposo could be searching for a long-term deal in the ballpark of $7 million a season. Whether he’s worth as such is one thing. Whether the Flyers could afford it is another.

I’m a believer the Flyers should seek out Okposo, but unless Hextall pulls off an unforeseen trade to surprisingly clear the barn and make room, I don't see it happening.