Flyers will get some much-needed help Wednesday

Flyers will get some much-needed help Wednesday

VOORHEES, N.J. — The "Wayne Train" had become as dependable as the Acela Express.

You don't question the reliability, you just expect each one to show up on time, as scheduled.

Sitting out seven meaningful games was significant for Wayne Simmonds because quite frankly, it had never happened. At least, not during his Flyers career. Simmonds also missed the final seven games of the 2014-15 season, but at that point, the Flyers were essentially eliminated from the postseason.

Simmonds, who suffered an upper-body injury in a 7-4 win over the Rangers on Feb. 18, will rejoin the Flyers Wednesday night when they host the Penguins for the final time this season.

"It sucks watching," Simmonds said. "I think the boys played well. It's nice to come back in and lend a helping hand. We're making a push right now and hopefully try to win our division, and hopefully, I can be an extra piece to help the boys out. I feel good. Skating, shooting, passing, everything like that."

In Simmonds' absence, the Flyers played respectably (4-2-1), but balanced scoring and contributions, offensively and defensively, from the bottom six of the lineup has become a concern more recently.

"Not just scoring, but he's a big part of our team," Dave Hakstol said of Simmonds. "He looked good. I believe he's ready to go. I think it's about having all four lines that make sense."

Tuesday, Simmonds was paired with center Valtteri Filppula and left wing Jordan Weal, a line that found chemistry and caught fire last season when Weal scored all eight of his goals over a 16-game stretch. 

"It's probably going to take a few games to get back playing together again," Filppula said. "Sometimes there's not one real reason why things work out. Obviously, when you have a couple of good games, you start building confidence with that line as well and you know things are going to go well. Hopefully, we can get to that point."

Hakstol tried to push those buttons early in the season when he paired them together on their season-opening West Coast road trip, only to break them up after a 4-3 overtime loss to Arizona.

"That group has played together quite a bit. They had a lot of success at the end of the year last year together," Hakstol said. "They played eight games together earlier this year and because of a lot of different reasons, we had to go away from it. That group is real familiar with each other. It's a line that can play 200 feet, play real hard and always be a threat offensively."

Simmonds will also return to his familiar role on the No. 1 power-play unit. Simmonds is five goals shy of another 25-goal campaign, something he's done in every 82-game season since joining the Flyers.

"I've just got to come back and play my role right?" he said. "I like to score goals. I try to score goals as much as I can. Hopefully, it helps the team out."

Blues put an end to Blue Jackets' 10-game winning streak

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Blues put an end to Blue Jackets' 10-game winning streak

COLUMBUS, Ohio —The St. Louis Blues got things going early and put an end to the Columbus Blue Jackets' 10-game winning streak with a big victory over their own.

Jake Allen made 33 saves, Alexander Steen scored on St. Louis' first shot of the game, and the Blues beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 on Saturday night.

"It was a huge win for us, especially when Colorado wins this afternoon," Allen said. "Points are crucial right now. Let's just take it one step at a time. And we will figure out the standings at the end."

St. Louis has 89 points - one behind Colorado, which beat Vegas 2-1 in a shootout, and Minnesota, which played Saturday night.

"Approaching every game like the season is on the line," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "The challenge for us now is to make sure that doesn't change. I am very pleased and very proud of the group. There is an awful lot of character inside our locker room, and I love that it's on full display right now." (See full recap.)

Capitals tighten grip on 1st in Metro
MONTREAL —  Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson each scored twice and Nicklas Backstrom had four assists as the Washington Capitals defeated the Montreal Canadiens 6-4 on Saturday night.

Jay Beagle and T.J. Oshie also scored for Washington (44-24-7), which strengthened its grip on first place in the Metropolitan Division. Backstrom posted his 20th career game with at least four points and second this season.

Charles Hudon scored twice for Montreal (27-37-12), which was coming off a 3-0 win at Buffalo on Friday night. Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher each had a goal for the Canadiens, who are 2-8-2 in their last 12 games (see full recap).

Kinkaid saves 35 shots as Devils pick up key win over Lightning 
NEWARK, N.J. — While Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier have been getting much of the credit for New Jersey's surprising playoff push, goaltender Keith Kinkaid has been the one carrying the Devils back to the postseason the past two weeks.

Kinkaid made 35 saves and the Devils took another major step toward making the playoffs for the first time since 2012 with a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.

Hischier and Kyle Palmieri scored for New Jersey, which has elevated its playoff chances with wins in five of seven games - including outstanding efforts in beating the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and the Eastern Conference-leading Lightning on consecutive nights.

"Keith has been a difference maker," Devils coach John Hynes said of Kinkaid, who had 75 saves the past two nights. "He has really come in and played well. He has made key saves at key times. He obviously won quite a few games and been a real important factor for us in remaining competitive in the playoff race. We would like to see him continue that at that level, as well." (See full recap.)

Why have Penguins dominated Flyers recently?

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Why have Penguins dominated Flyers recently?

VOORHEES, N.J. — The keys to the Keystone State Rivalry are now in the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have been in the driver’s seat recently in their feud with the Flyers.

The Penguins are on the verge of a season sweep for the first time since taking all eight meetings during the Flyers' disastrous 2006-07 season.

It’s a complete turnaround from the Flyers' eight-game winning streak from November 2013 to April 2015. PPG Paints Arena, formerly known as Consol Energy Center, could also be commonly referred to as Wells Fargo Center West.

However, in the Dave Hakstol era, which has also coincided with the Mike Sullivan era in Pittsburgh, the ice has been tilted toward Lake Erie. The Flyers are just 3-7-1 against the Penguins over the past three years.

Over time, that vitriolic and acrimonious attitude seems to be missing from a once-bitter feud and the Flyers seemed to thrive off that animosity.

“There’s not as many fights as we used to and not as many hits,” captain Claude Giroux said. “If you don’t take care of the puck and you don’t play smart out there, it’s going to cost your team.”

Since the third period of their first game in November, there have been costly mistakes and very little pushback from the Flyers. They’ve been outscored 14-4 in their last seven periods and a brief overtime against the Penguins.

“It’s a matter of us going out and being ourselves for a full 60 minutes,” Hakstol said. “We haven’t done that against Pittsburgh and you’ve got to credit them for that. They can push teams off balance.”

And clearly, the Penguins have presented a matchup problem for the Flyers, regardless of which team has owned last change. Sidney Crosby has thrived this season with a plus-6 rating against the Flyers.

With Sean Couturier serving as Evgeni Malkin’s shadow dating back to his rookie season in 2011-12, Giroux had been tasked with matching up with Crosby’s line. Now with Couturier and Giroux paired together, the task of containing Crosby has shifted elsewhere, whether it’s been Valtteri Filppula, Scott Laughton or Nolan Patrick.

The Flyers' 19-year-old rookie center has quickly discovered what works and what doesn’t against arguably the NHL’s best all-around player.

“You have to be a little more defensive-minded when (Crosby) is out there, and even Malkin too,” Patrick said. “Crosby’s not really a guy you can go after and knock the puck off. You just got to try and contain them and have a good stick on him.”

“I don’t think we’ve given them our best effort so far this year,” defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “We were a little timid last time. We were trying to feel out the game and see what kind of game it was going to be, rather than dictate the play.”

The Flyers haven’t exhibited their best effort against any team recently, and no need to prove a point against the Penguins this late in the season.

The Flyers simply need points and the Penguins just happen to be the next team on the schedule.