Flyers

Flyers-Sharks observations: Wayne Simmonds sparks opening win

Flyers-Sharks observations: Wayne Simmonds sparks opening win

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The "Wayne Train" was a freight train of goals on opening night Wednesday as Wayne Simmonds notched his second career hat trick in the Flyers' 5-3 season-opening win over the San Jose Sharks.

The Flyers blew a 2-0 lead and a 3-2 lead, but their power play bailed them out as they were able to pull out a win at the Shark Tank for just the third time in their last 22 matchups in San Jose dating back to 2002.

Simmonds scored the Flyers' final three goals of the game, the last of which was an empty-netter with 36 seconds remaining in regulation. The hat trick marked the Flyers' first on opening night in franchise history, according to NHL public relations.

• Brian Elliott got the start in net and appeared to struggle tracking the puck throughout the first period. However, he settled down and closed the door over the final half of the third period to collect his first win with the Flyers. Elliott stopped 32 of 35 shots. 

• One of my preseason keys was how the Flyers had to develop a potent second power-play unit. On its first rush following a change, it worked a perfect give-and-go as Travis Konecny flipped a pass to Jordan Weal, who beat Martin Jones with a cross-ice shot. Weal’s shot was perfectly placed, but it’s still a shot Jones should stop from that angle.

“It was a good breakout and we executed what we wanted to do,” Weal said. “I just put it in a spot where I thought I could either put it in, or if it didn’t go in, it would create a rebound for a guy going to the net. But it found a way in.”

• All of that preseason concern and panic over the Flyers’ power play was a worthless exercise. The Flyers’ two PP units needed just 1:09 to convert its first three power-play opportunities.

• Sharks goaltender Jones essentially put the Flyers on the board first when he hesitated behind his net and then sent a perfect tape-to-tape pass right to Jakub Voracek, who quickly tapped it over to Claude Giroux for a one-time goal in the opening period. Interestingly, Elliott nearly handed the Sharks a goal in the first few minutes of the game when he misjudged a puck, which resulted in an awkward lunge. However, San Jose couldn’t convert on Elliott’s turnover.

• Who in the world is Kevin Labanc and what was he doing on the Sharks’ top line? Well, Labanc proved just what type of player he is with a pair of first-period goals. San Jose’s sixth-round selection (171st overall) in 2014 brought some speed and energy alongside veterans Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. That’s what the Flyers were hoping for from their 2014 fifth-round pick Oskar Lindblom. One knock on Labanc: he committed the Sharks’ first three minors, two of which resulted in goals for the Flyers.

• On Labanc’s first goal, defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere was caught deep in the offensive zone and the Sharks broke out with what was shaping up to be a 3-on-1. However, the Flyers recovered nicely in their end, and if Elliott would have controlled the rebound, the team would have avoided that early goal. 

• If the Flyers’ top line is to have any sustained success, Sean Couturier has to develop some sort a finishing touch working with Voracek and Giroux. Couturier had a breakaway and after putting a nice move on Jones, the Sharks’ netminder got a piece of the shot with his right pad. Couturier would have scored a goal had he elevated the puck. Still, one benefit with Couturier on that line is the players will have more possession time in the offensive zone. Overall, he was very assertive and he makes that top line tougher to defend.      

• In his NHL debut, Nolan Patrick, the Flyers’ second overall pick, played 13:30 with three shots on net. He also won 5 of 9 faceoffs. Patrick played a responsible game and rarely seemed out of place. For Patrick, I’m sure it’s good to get that first one out of the way. 

• The Flyers are 23-19-8 all-time in season openers, and they’ve now won back-to-back season openers on the West Coast.

Lines, pairings and scratches

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

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratches: Jori Lehtera, Sam Morin, Travis Sanheim.

Panthers upset West-best Golden Knights in OT

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Panthers upset West-best Golden Knights in OT

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Aaron Ekblad scored 40 seconds into overtime to lift the Panthers to a 4-3 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday night, spoiling former coach Gerard Gallant's return to Florida.

Ekblad grabbed a rebound in the high slot and fired it past Malcolm Subban to give Florida its second win in six games this month.

Aleksander Barkov scored his league-leading fifth short-handed goal of the season and had two assists, and Evgenii Dadonov and Jamie McGinn also scored for the Panthers. James Reimer stopped 33 shots.

William Karlsson had a goal and an assist, and David Perron and James Neal also scored for Vegas. Subban finished with 22 saves (see full recap).

Pacioretty, Canadiens snap 3-game skid
WASHINGTON -- Max Pacioretty had two goals and an assist to help the Montreal Canadiens break a three-game losing streak with a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Friday night.

Paul Byron also scored for the Canadiens. Antii Niemi, playing in place of Carey Price, who had been in goal for eight consecutive games, stopped 24 shots.

John Carlson and Lars Eller scored for the Capitals, and Philipp Grubauer finished with 22 saves.

Pacioretty, who has six goals in the last six games, scored Montreal's first goal at 7:08 in the second period and added an empty-netter with 1:18 remaining in the game (see full recap).

Ducks get upper hand on rival Kings again
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ryan Kesler deflected home Francois Beauchemin's shot for the tiebreaking goal with 7:39 to play and the Anaheim Ducks won their second Freeway Faceoff in seven days, beating the struggling Los Angeles Kings 2-1 Friday night.

Adam Henrique scored early in the third period and John Gibson made 23 saves for the Ducks, who have won six of nine overall.

Rookie Alex Iafallo evened it for Los Angeles moments after Henrique's goal, but Kesler's long deflection sent the puck bouncing past Jonathan Quick. Anaheim then hung on in a frantic final minute to even the archrivals' season series at two games apiece.

Quick stopped 29 shots in the Kings' sixth consecutive loss, extending their longest skid of the season (see full recap).

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

It’s about to get real for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Real serious and potentially really hard. The Flyers have played the fewest divisional games of any team in the NHL.

That might be beneficial if the team located about 40 minutes off the shores of the Atlantic Ocean actually played in the Atlantic Division. The Flyers have hammered Atlantic teams this season: an 8-4-0 record including a win in Tampa and their most recent three-game series sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Whereas the Atlantic houses a collection of domesticated poodles and Pomeranians, the Metropolitan Division is more a breeding ground for vicious Dobermans and pit bulls.

And the Flyers are about to enter the teeth of that beast.

Dave Hakstol’s club plays 19 of their remaining 37 games against the rock-solid Metropolitan, the only 8-team division in hockey without a legitimate doormat or two. 

“It’s good or bad depending on whether you’re winning or not,” general manager Ron Hextall said.“It’s great taking points from other teams and adding to your total. It does put a higher importance on those games for sure. Every game is important, but certain games are just a little more important. Your lows can’t be too low. That’s the bottom line.

“They’re divisional games. They’re huge games for us, especially with how tight it is with that wild card spot,” center Sean Couturier said. “We’ve got to step up and be ready for the challenge.”

Unfortunately for the Flyers, their sore spot over their past two-plus seasons has been their play against the Metropolitan elites — the teams they’re typically chasing in the standings.

4-4-1 vs. Capitals
3-5-2 vs. Rangers
3-6-1 vs. Penguins
2-3-4 vs. Blue Jackets

Collectively, that’s a 12-18-8 record in the Dave Hakstol era with just a 4-9-6 mark on the road. Interestingly, defenseman Brandon Manning believes roster formation has been part of the reason behind the success of the Flyers' opponents.  

“Credit to them, I think they’ve done a good job of getting better every year,” Manning said. “You look at what Pittsburgh does with their turnover and still finding a way to win. Columbus is so much better and you look at Jersey, which hasn’t been the greatest team the past couple of years, but this year they have a really good hockey team. I think credit to those teams for finding a way to get better.” 

And if there’s a direct path to the postseason, then winning these crucial divisional games has to be the way to get there. Since the formation of the NHL’s current four-division alignment in 2013-14, the Metropolitan has sent 17 teams to the playoffs and only once has a team reached the postseason without a winning record within the division — the Pittsburgh Penguins finished 9-17-4 in the Metro in 2014-15. 

The Capitals, Rangers and Blue Jackets also have the luxury of rostering a Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender in crucial divisional games, whereas, Hakstol will rely more on a platoon based on Elliott’s first-half workload and Neuvirth attempting to regain his early season form.  

“I haven’t studied the schedule that much in depth, but considering Moose started a stretch of 25 out of 30 games, that’s a real heavy workload,” Hakstol said. “I would expect the workload to be more spread out than that. We’ll find the best rhythm to be able and have both of them help our team.

“You need two goalies. I don’t care who you are,” Hextall said. “Look around the league. I said it before, there’s no Marty Brodeurs.”

Maybe not, but Saturday it all starts with Brodeur’s former team and with a back-to-back against the Devils and the Capitals this weekend. The Flyers' position within the division can change very drastically one direction or the other.