With an eight-day break at hand, Jake Voracek was real interested in getting out of the Wells Fargo Center immediately after Tuesday night’s win over the Penguins.
But before he did, he ran out of the Flyers’ locker room still drenched in sweat and walking carefully in a pair of socks, which also were soaked.
In the hallway just outside the locker room, 17-year-old Lada Fencl sat in his wheelchair, beaming with a smile that seemed as long as a hockey stick. Fencl, who is from the Czech Republic, was handed some souvenir pucks by his idol. The two chatted for a few minutes in their native tongue and exchanged some laughs before Voracek quickly hightailed it to the showers and then out the door.
“It was his wish to meet Jake and visit an NHL match,” said Irena Trnena, from the Golden Fish charity.
Fencl and the folks from Golden Fish, the Czech Republic’s equivalent of our Make-A-Wish Foundation, were at the Flyers’ practice facility Monday when Voracek was asked about his improved play over the last month.
“I think it’s been more than a month, to be honest,” he said. “The first 15-20 games, I agree I was sluggish. But since then, I’ve been playing pretty good hockey defensively.”
Voracek scored a goal Tuesday night, his second pretty goal of the week and his 10th overall goal this season. Earlier in the season, as Voracek struggled to adapt to his new coach’s system, he was stuck on the fourth line, where points are hard to come by. You’re only as good as the guys you play alongside.
“One of the things I like about Jake is that we came in here with some non-negotiables [philosophies] as far as what you need to do when you don’t have the puck, and the shooting lanes you need to get into,” Alain Vigneault said. “Jake has been real easy to manage. Sometimes those elite players, they need a little extra room with the puck — and I agree with that. But there are some non-negotiables without the puck, things that you have to do, and he’s doing it for our team.”
Voracek is no Patrice Bergeron when it comes to defensive forwards, but he doesn’t need to be when skating with Sean Couturier. Vigneault put Joel Farabee up on that line Tuesday after Michael Raffl’s injury.
The coach will have a decision to make when the Flyers gather again on Jan. 30 for their next practice. Will he keep that line together with Raffl expected to be healthy? Or does Raffl go in place of Farabee, who was terrific Tuesday?
“You know what I’m going to do? I’m getting on a plane tomorrow, and I’m going on my pontoon and I’m having a martini,” Vigneault quipped, “and when I get back, I’ll figure it out.”
Pontoon? Who knows, with hockey guys.
Anyhow, using Voracek’s whimsical time frame of the before/after of his improved play, the right winger was minus-3 after 20 games. In the 30 contests since, he is plus-14.
Just about all of the 16 minutes Voracek spent on the ice during even strength Tuesday was against Sidney Crosby, except late in the game when the Penguins were pressing and coach Mike Sullivan put Crosby and Evgeni Malkin together.
There was a breakdown, with about 11 minutes to go in the third period, when Crosby feathered a pass past Voracek to a wide-open Bryan Rust, who had gotten ahead of Couturier, but Brian Elliott made a solid stop.
It was the Penguins’ last shot on goal, as Elliott recorded his first shutout in more than a year.
“They played a smart, simple, hard game,” Rust said, “and they were rewarded for it.”
And afterward, so was Fencl, who said he was promised a goal by Voracek. It stood up as the game-winner. Voracek’s second in a week.
“It was great,” Fencl said.
Goaltender Alex Lyon and centers German Rubtsov and Connor Bunnaman were sent down to the Phantoms on Wednesday.