Voracek has moved on from time with Columbus

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Voracek has moved on from time with Columbus

When Jakub Voracek  recalls his days in Columbus, he doesn’t think about Scott Arniels’s comments in the spring of 2011 about him being an “out of shape” player.

He’s moved on.

Indeed, Voracek recalls the good times he had with Rick Nash, R.J. Umberger, Antoine Vermette and Derick Brassard - his buddies.

“We had a great group of guys in Columbus,” Voracek said. “But I think they made the playoffs just once in 10 years and they needed a scorer to play with Nash and traded me for Jeff Carter. It was for me, personally, a good decision.”

Voracek was shipped to the Flyers the afternoon before the 2011 NHL draft in Minnesota along with two draft picks who became Sean Couturier and Nick Cousins.

On Saturday, Voracek and goalie Steve Mason return to Columbus for the first time as Flyers. Mason was traded here straight-up for Michael Leighton last April. It’s a homecoming in Ohio.

“I’m not going to lie,” Voracek said. “As soon as the schedule came out, I wanted to see when we went to Columbus. I got traded 2½  years ago and haven’t played there since. It’s going to be exciting for me and Mase. Ask me tomorrow after the morning skate how I feel. Maybe it’s just deja vu. I had three great years there. We had a good group of guys there. When I got traded, I moved on. I’m the kind of guy that everything happens for a reason. I’m here with a bunch of great guys and really enjoying it now.”

Mason beat his former teammates in that wild 5-4 Flyers’ comeback Thursday night in Philly. He will likely not be in goal tomorrow in Columbus as it appears Ray Emery will get the nod.

“I was definitely aware of where they were [on the schedule],” Mason said. “As the season has gone on, it’s not something that I’ve really looked ahead to. But now that it’s come out, it’s an exciting time.”

Neither player said they feel a need to prove themselves to Columbus.

“No, I have nothing to prove to that organization,” Mason said. “They gave me this chance to come here and start from scratch ... have that fresh opportunity. There’s no hard feelings whatsoever.”

Carter would eventually end up in Los Angeles and win a Stanley Cup with Mike Richards and the Kings, putting that much more of an exclamation point on the Voracek deal.

“I don’t look at it that way at all,” Voracek said. “I look at it as I got traded for a very good players and there were expectations for me. I think I am filling out those expectations so far. It’s my third year here. It’s very hard to win the Stanley Cup in this league. The NHL is the best league in the world. You got 30 teams try to win the Cup every year. You have to work hard every day. Go game by game. I’m sure this room has quality players and character to win the Cup.”

Mason’s lone regret was not being able to say goodbye to teammates in Columbus. Even his roommate.

“I was traded after practice one day and the same day we were supposed to be taking off to St. Louis or Nashville,” Mason recalled. “I was back at my place, living in the same building as a couple of the other guys. The other guys in the building were traded also. They were the only ones I got a chance to say goodbye to. I roomed with R.J. Umberger for five years, never got a chance to say goodbye.”

Mason saw Umberger this week in Philly, had dinner with him, and caught up on things he was unable to say last spring.

Both Mason, who won a Calder Trophy in Columbus and thought things would come easily thereafter, and Voracek have advanced themselves as Flyers, professionally and personally.

Mason has found his game again and seems very relaxed despite some recent hiccups in net. Voracek has made great strides in changing his “pass the puck” mentality, focusing on a a shooting mentality that now makes him the elite threat the Flyers projected.

“When I was there, I was still a kid, 19 or 20,” Voracek said. “I wouldn’t say I was a bad boy off the ice, but I was a young kid playing in the NHL and I think I had some successful years there. Put it this way – it didn’t hurt me to get traded. It’s so different now. They changed the organization from the GM to the defensemen to the goalies to the forwards that it’s like four or five players that I played with are part of the team.

“I don’t feel any [animosity] towards the people there or management or team right now. It’s an NHL game, just try to help the team win.”

Loose pucks
Michael Raffl missed practice with a scheduled maintenance day off. Today was also the last day he could visit with his father who returned to Europe. ... Coach Craig Berube on Claude Giroux's game-winning goal: "Certain guys can do that. I'm not one of them." ... Hal Gill has been a healthy scratch 20 consecutive games. He walked into the dressing room singing Christmas songs. … Vinny Lecavalier skated and said he felt very good. He remains optimistic of returning to the lineup for the post-Christmas trip to Western Canada.

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

With the Flyers on their bye week, let’s discuss a few topics.

Going End to End this week are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

Today’s question: What adjustment would you make on the Flyers' defense?

Dougherty
There is not much in Dave Hakstol’s arsenal to significantly improve the team defense with a lineup change. Sure, scratching Andrew MacDonald could be a positive step, but that does not solve the problem here. We can point fingers at the defensive group because the Flyers have allowed the league’s second-most goals at 144. They’re part of the problem.

What is plaguing the Flyers is not just the play of their six defensemen on any given night; it’s their overall team defense. Some forwards are quitting on the backcheck, and not providing enough support in their own zone, missing their own assignments.

The Flyers, I believe, are struggling with the lack of practice time. And while it is true that every team is dealing with the same compact schedule as the Flyers, Hakstol has to maximize the little practice time he gets going forward and preach team defense. Gaps have been a major issue with the current group of blueliners, and that is an area assistant coach Gord Murphy has to fix. Hakstol has singled out the team’s rush defense as an issue, and that’s another area the team has to work on, too.

A lot of the same issues that were appearing in the beginning of the season when the Flyers were struggling are reappearing in their game now. They were able to make adjustments earlier in the season to hone their game defensively. More film study and more coaching are just a couple of the adjustments I’d make with the current options.

Hall
Sometimes it takes a fresh face, some new blood to spark change.

If anything, it sends a bit of a message.

The Flyers have options at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley and general manager Ron Hextall didn’t rule anything out last Sunday.

But, of course, given the Flyers’ salary cap conundrum, it’s not as simple as just calling up a player.

So, the easiest thing that can be done is change within the current personnel. That means scratching MacDonald from time to time, just how Hakstol has done so with Shayne Gostisbehere, Brandon Manning, Michael Del Zotto, Radko Gudas and many Flyers forwards.

MacDonald hasn’t been as bad as some may think. Oftentimes, his mistakes are magnified more than others. But too frequently do we see him out of position or misreading a play on a goal against. And that’s been true for all Flyers defensemen, yet MacDonald seems to be one of the only spared of the consequences.

Benching MacDonald isn’t a drastic fix and it may not do much at all, but it’s something we haven’t seen since Nov. 19.

Paone
This a really tough question because, to be quite frank, there is no easy solution here to fixing a Flyers defense that has been mired in a state of miserable play and has played a large part in the team's allowing 3.50 goals per game in the 14 contests since the 10-game win streak ended in mid-December. 

It's not like Hakstol or Hextall can push some magic button here and have things fixed in a matter of moments. The Flyers have salary cap and roster issues, so it's going to be tough to bring in a player via trade to help fix things on the back end. Same goes for bringing up a prospect because space on the roster would have to be made first.

This situation leaves the Flyers to fix the problem from within with the defensemen they currently have at the NHL level. They're going to have to play their way out of this. And that's why I'm interested in focusing on the younger defensemen like Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov right now. We know what the veteran defensemen on this team are and they've been through this sort of thing before. This will not be the last team-wide rut the younger defensemen will play through in their careers. It will happen again. They're going to have to learn how to play through this and not let it affect their individual play. That's why I didn't agree with Ghost's benching in Boston last weekend.  Sure, he has not played well this season and the warts to his game have been evident. And there are times when sitting back, taking a breather and watching can be beneficial. But I'm a believer that a young player has to play through his growing pains and grow from them.

This isn't going to be an answer most of you will like to hear, but with the way the Flyers' hands are tied, they're just going to have to play their way out of these defensive struggles with what they have.