Jakub Voracek named winner of Bobby Clarke Trophy

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Jakub Voracek named winner of Bobby Clarke Trophy

Even now, Jakub Voracek can hear Jaromir Jagr’s voice in his head when he’s on the ice.
 
“Skate, skate, skate!”  Jagr would shout from the Flyers' bench.
 
Voracek’s skating was noticeably improved this season and it’s a big reason why he has scored a career-high 21 goals.
 
Thursday, Voracek was voted the winner of the Bobby Clarke Trophy by the Philadelphia chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association as the club’s most valuable player.
 
“To be honest, I haven't even thought about it,” Voracek said of the award. “There are so many great players on this team that can win that award.”
 
Voracek says that Jagr, in just one short season, was very influential in pushing him to the next level as an NHL player.
 
“When he said that I have to move my feet to be better than the others, he was exactly right,” Voracek said. “If I don’t skate, if I don’t feel very well, then I don’t have my speed and I am practically useless.
 
“He was always yelling at me off the bench, ‘Skate, skate, skate.’  To be honest with you, when I didn’t feel very good or was flat on the ice, I heard his voice from the bench, ‘Skate, skate, skate’ and that got me going.”
 
Former Columbus coach Scott Arniel publicly ripped Voracek in 2011-12 as being a lazy player who didn’t take fitness very seriously.
 
“Before my first year and before my third year, I was in Columbus working out with the team,” Voracek recalled. “I wouldn't say I didn't work hard enough. Whatever [Arniel] said, I can't control the things that he thinks.
 
“Obviously, I came here and wanted to prove that stuff wasn't true about me. I think I did, and I'm going to keep going.”
 
No one calls Voracek lazy in Philly and Jagr’s work ethic rubbed off on him, and other Flyers, as well.
 
Were it not for the lockout, Voracek would have projected to 37 goals over a full 82-game season. His 45 points would have projected to 80 points. Not too shabby.
 
With Jagr having moved on, Voracek was given a chance to play with Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell this season.
 
Things began slowly for Voracek, who sprained his left knee late during the lockout while playing overseas.
 
“After the lockout, he came back and was coming off that injury, but once he got about eight or 10 games into the year for us, the thing that came back that I noticed was his speed and quickness,” coach Peter Laviolette said.
 
“And from that 10-game mark on he's really attacked every game he's played. He's been a good fit with Claude and has been a good player for us. That line's been good. Whoever's gone up there has done a good job for us.”

Hartnell says Voracek hasn’t changed his style, but there is a noticeable difference.
 
“I think his speed is a lot better than it was last year,” Hartnell said. “It looks like it, anyway. He’s getting himself in position to get those shots, get those breakaway moves.
 
“On the power play, he does a great job of getting in position to get those shots. He makes great passes, so he’s had a hell of a year.”
 
The big change in Voracek this season was a craving for the puck. His game is more north-south and focused on going hard to the net now. When he gets the puck, he’s not looking to pass, but instead is looking to shoot and score.
 
“I think I got a little bit better than the years before and I'm shooting a little bit more pucks at the net, but there is still so much room for improvement about my game,” Voracek said.
 
“So many times I have a shot and I shoot the puck, but I shoot it wide or not hard enough. I still think I can get a lot better at it. Obviously, that's one of the things I'm going to work on.”
 
And while Jagr is no longer around, Voracek had that almost instant chemistry with Giroux.
 
“G is one of the best players and everyone knows it,” Voracek said. “He has shown it year in and year out. The last three years, he was a point-per-game guy. It's obviously a great opportunity for me to play with him.
 
“There are so many games we're working on so many things. I would say the last six, seven games together we really started clicking. You can tell on the ice that we both know where we are. We kind of get it together and hopefully it's going to work.”

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane scored three goals for his third career hat trick to lead the surging Chicago Blackhawks past the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Thursday night for their third straight win and eighth in nine games.

Kane has 23 goals to lead Chicago, which closed within three points behind first-place Minnesota in the Central Division and Western Conference.

Rookies Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman each had a goal and assist. Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival scored his first goal of the season in his first game since Jan. 15.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews added two assists to extend his points scoring streak to five games and increase his output to 22 points in his past 13.

Jakob Chychrun, Ryan White and Radim Vrbata scored for the Coyotes. Chychrun and Vrbata each scored for the second straight game (see full recap).

Rangers outlast Maple Leafs in shootout
TORONTO -- Mika Zibanejad scored the shootout winner and the New York Rangers continued a strong February with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves and J.T. Miller scored the game-tying goal in the third period for the Rangers, who improved to 8-1-1 this month.

New York moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division with 80 points.

Connor Brown scored for Toronto, which fell to 1-7 in shootouts this season. Frederik Andersen had a stellar performance in defeat with 37 saves.

The Leafs hold the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division (68 points), two points back of Ottawa (70) and four back of Montreal (see full recap).

Islanders shut out Canadiens
MONTREAL -- Rookie Anthony Beauvillier scored in the first period, Thomas Greiss made 24 saves, and the New York Islanders beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 Thursday night.

Anders Lee scored in the second period and John Tavares added an empty-netter in the final minute to seal the Islanders' third straight win. New York has won the first two games on a crucial nine-game road swing and improved to 12-4-2 since interim coach Doug Weight replaced the fired Jack Capuano.

Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each had two assists, and Greiss got his third shutout of the season.

Carey Price finished with 21 saves as the Canadiens lost coach Claude Julien's 1,000th NHL game. Montreal is 1-2-0 since Julien replaced Michel Therrien last week and has totaled just 14 goals while going 2-7-1 in the last 10 games, including four shutouts (see full recap).

Flyers' outdoor game vs. Pens different because of football stadium

Flyers' outdoor game vs. Pens different because of football stadium

VOORHEES, N.J. -- He grew up as a youngster in Judique, Nova Scotia, as a Toronto Blue Jays fan even though the Boston Red Sox were closer geographically.

“My brother was the Red Sox fan,” Andrew MacDonald said.

While hockey was his passion, MacDonald loved to watch baseball. Joe Carter’s walk-off home run in the 1993 World Series clinched it for Mac, then a 7-year-old.

“Didn’t see it for a while though because we only had two TV channels,” MacDonald laughed.

“Yeah, I was Blue Jays fan from Canada.”

On Saturday, the Flyers visit Heinz Field for an outdoor game against their most bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2017 Stadium Series.

MacDonald was a starter for the Islanders during the 2014 Stadium Series game held at the new Yankee Stadium against the Rangers. He likes outdoor games in baseball stadiums even though that is not where this game will take place.

“When I had been to New York, I had gone to a few Yankee games at Yankee Stadium,” MacDonald said Thursday after practice. “Obviously, I got to take in the experience of being a fan there. It’s a pretty great stadium. To be on the field, although it’s a different sport and setting, it was pretty special.”

Michal Neuvirth was the backup goalie for Washington in the 2011 Winter Classic held at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

“It’s just as big as if you played inside for two points,” Neuvirth said. “I just backed up that game there but it was awesome. The big crowd and we won the game with Washington. A good feeling afterward.”

MacDonald said his experience at Yankee Stadium was similar.

“It was great,” he said of the Bronx affair. “Not everyone gets to play in one of those games, so it was special. Just being in that outdoor environment and the capacity of the crowd. Really like a center stage, special experience.”

In both previous Winter Classics involving the Flyers, they were held in baseball stadiums -- Fenway Park in 2010 and Citizens Bank Park two years later. Incidentally, Claude Giroux is the only Flyer to have played in both of the franchise's two Winter Classics.

This “Stadium Series” game will offer a different “look” for players and fans because it occurs in the Steelers’ football stadium.

“Obviously, the setup of the ice surface will be right in the middle of the field as a rectangular field as opposed to baseball where it’s kind of on a different angle,” MacDonald said.

“It’s good. We’ll get a good skate in. A family skate. Yeah, I hope [weather cooperates]. It might not be the best ice, but hopefully, it goes according to plan and go off without a hitch.”

Hot temperatures Friday followed by heavy rain on Saturday could make things difficult.

“Tough to say as to what to expect,” said Neuvirth, who will start in goal. “For me, I am going to prepare myself for 8 o’clock and play my game.”

The most unusual thing that players say affect them during outdoor games is not having fans on the glass. They’re far away in the stands.

Yet in a baseball stadium, some of those fans are a lot closer to the ice than the setup in a football stadium.

“Yeah, it was kind of unique and took a while to get used to,” MacDonald said. “There’s no fans on the glass. You are kind of isolated by yourself there on the middle of the field.

“It’s not until the TV timeout where you can look around and take it all in. It's almost a practice-type mentality when you are first on the ice and then you get acclimated.

“Obviously, once the puck drops you are ready to go and know what to do. It’s definitely a unique experience once you get going.”

When he played at Fenway Park as a freshman at Union College, Shayne Gostisbehere said his only regret was not taking time out to just stop and absorb what was happening around him.

He was so focused on the game against Harvard that day in 2012, he forgot to cherish the moment.

MacDonald said that is something NHL players sometimes forget to do, as well. Take it all in because it might never occur again.

“Everyone is a little different,” he said. “You do have to play it as if it’s like every other game. There is a little adjustment period there with the fans so far away.

“That being said, you have an opportunity to embrace the moment. At the same time, you have to focus on what we’re trying to accomplish out there. Try to get the win like any other time.”

Loose pucks
• Flyers forward Jakub Voracek left the ice early Thursday with a slight limp. He was not available after practice but general manager Ron Hextall confirmed Voracek is fine and will play Saturday. The Flyers' leading scorer was hit with a deflected puck earlier this week in practice in his groin area but played without incident during Wednesday's game against Washington. 

• The Flyers left for Pittsburgh this afternoon.