Points aside, Wayne Simmonds is Flyers' emotional catalyst


Points aside, Wayne Simmonds is Flyers' emotional catalyst

On Saturday afternoon, Wayne Simmonds added to his career-high goal-scoring total with his 31st and 32nd tallies of the season.

As things turned out, the Flyers would need every single one his goals this year as his two markers against the Penguins helped power the Flyers to victory and into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It should come as no surprise that Simmonds lit the spark during the most important game of the season because he set the tone for the Flyers and was the face of the team’s take-no-guff attitude it etched out during a 15-6-2 end-of-season surge since Feb. 25.

“I thought we came together a lot better this year and we’re a lot calmer on the bench,” Simmonds said after Saturday’s win over Pittsburgh. “We stuck to our systems and it didn’t matter if we were having a good game or bad game, we stuck with it. We just kept trying to improve and improve on our systems. It’s worked.”

It’s especially worked for Simmonds this season as the Flyers’ power forward finished with a career-high tying 60 points in 81 games, with the only game he missed being the meaningless season-finale win against the Islanders in Brooklyn on Sunday. Known for his work around the net on the power play, Simmonds actually finished with a career-high 19 even-strength goals this season.

But he’s more than on-the-ice stats for this group of Flyers.

He’s an emotional catalyst that this team feeds off of. Just ask the NBC TV crew, which might have to get itself a new bench camera after Simmonds clubbed it from its perch with his stick while celebrating Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s empty-net insurance tally late in Saturday’s third period. 

Let’s just say it’s no secret the 27-year-old forward has worn an “A” on his chest the last two seasons.

“We want everyone to be working as hard as they can and that’s what our team did,” Simmonds said.  

“We’re not going to play 82 perfect games a year, but if we stay consistent, more often or not, we’re going to win. I think we started getting that around December and we stuck with it.”

By now, you probably know the story of this Flyers season.

They stumbled out of the gate with just six wins in their first 20 games. The early struggles were real for Simmonds, too, as he deposited just three goals in those first 20 contest after scoring 28 times in 2014-15.

After being in a perpetual state of inconsistency for the next month or so, something clicked for the Flyers when they returned home from an ugly 0-3 West Coast swing after the holiday break. Since coming home and topping Montreal on Jan. 2, the Flyers ended the season on a 25-12-7 tear.

Simmonds himself went on a rampage with 23 goals and 16 assists for 39 points in that span. So roughly 72 percent of his goals and 65 percent of his points came during that stretch. That includes seven goals in his last seven games of the regular season. 

Talk about coming through when it means the most.

“He does the same things time and time again,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said of Simmonds. “I think that is what leads to success as a player. 

“He didn’t start off the year the way he wanted to. He had some tough luck the first month of the season. But he’s been a very consistent high-level player for us throughout the majority of the season.”

Now Simmonds and the Flyers have the tall task of keeping the momentum going against the loaded, President’s Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in a first-round playoff series that gets underway on Thursday at the Verizon Center in D.C.

The teams split four meetings this season with each taking one at home and one in the opponent’s building. Simmonds recorded just three assists in those meetings.

But the regular season is history now and the playoffs are a clean slate. And at least one of Simmonds’ teammates feels “Simmer" will be a huge key to the series.

“Simmonds is a streaky goal scorer, so he’s very good around the net,” linemate Jake Voracek said. “He’s going to be huge in the playoffs for us. He can put a couple goals in.”

In 28 career games against Washington, Simmonds has five goals and eight assists. 

When asked on Saturday about the series with the Caps, Simmonds had just the kind of answer you would expect from an emotional leader.

“We’re going to play our asses off.”

Flyers cap off crucial weekend with win over Washington

Flyers cap off crucial weekend with win over Washington


A three-goal second period highlighted by Oskar Lindblom's first career NHL goal propelled the Flyers past the Capitals, 6-3, Sunday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Lindblom's first career goal came one night after picking up his first NHL point, an assist in Carolina.

The Flyers have regained their scoring touch with 13 goals over their last three games after managing just 11 in the five previous games.

Claude Giroux picked up an assist, tying him with Eric Lindros for fifth place on the franchise’s all-time scoring list.

Petr Mrazek stopped 25 shots, winning his fifth game since joining the Flyers. If the Flyers reach the postseason, then the conditional pick to Detroit would become a third-round selection.

In a potential first-round playoff preview, the Flyers won their season series against the Capitals, improving to 3-1-0.

• The Flyers struck first after winning a key offensive-zone faceoff. Giroux pushed the puck behind him to Shayne Gostisbehere, who ripped a perfectly placed slapper about two feet off the ice, forcing Philipp Grubauer to change the angle of his glove.

• Alex Ovechkin can sneak up on you at a moment’s notice and he doesn’t always need to uncork that 100-mph slap shot as evidenced by his 43rd goal of the season. Ovechkin snuck behind the Flyers' defense and redirected a puck past Mrazek. It was just his second goal in his last eight games against the Flyers, and he was unnoticeable until that moment.

• The Flyers quickly responded just 3 minutes, 11 seconds after Ovechkin's goal. In his 14th game, Lindblom ripped a shot high blocker side from the right circle. Credit Lindblom for applying a good forecheck that led to Michal Kempny’s errant pass that led to a 2-1 Flyers lead.

“The kid is getting some confidence right now and you can really tell,” Gostisbehere said. “He’s really going and Jake’s (Voracek) been really building him up there.”

• Interesting to see rookie Robert Hagg paired with Radko Gudas in his first game back from injury. I expected Hagg to be back with Andrew MacDonald, who he’s been with for much of the season. For the most part, Hagg looked good with Gudas, although he pinched and no forward picked him up on the back side leading to another Capitals odd-man rush. 

• Sean Couturier can’t buy a goal right now. He’s been stuck on 29 goals for over a month and he had a pair of prime chances in the same sequence Sunday. His first attempt came on a backhand pass from MacDonald that he tried to slide under Grubauer’s five hole. However, over the past three games he’s been contributing offensively with an assist in all three games. I feel it’s only a matter of time before Couturier gets No. 30.   

• The Flyers' three-goal second period was one of the best all around 20 minutes in a while. Constant pressure offensively with a flurry of prime scoring chances. They were also able to eliminate some of the defensive breakdowns from the first period as Mrazek didn’t have to produce any top-notch saves.

• Coming off a disappointing game in Carolina, Gostisbehere was bumped off the puck at the Caps' blue line and as he stumbled to the ice, it led to a 3-on-2 and a nice sprawling save from Mrazek to keep the game scoreless. If you’ve watched him closely, Ghost’s performance has dipped a little over the past several games.

Late rally gives Flyers something to show for strong effort

Late rally gives Flyers something to show for strong effort


RALEIGH, N.C. – Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol commended his team for a complete 60-minute effort that was needed to overtake and defeat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-2 at PNC Arena on Saturday night (see observations).

“It’s an important two points, but I guess, as important I thought it was a really hard-working, start-to-finish win for us,” he said.

Placing Alex Lyon in net to lead from the back end, the young netminder made 23 stops, many critical, that allowed the Flyers to generate momentum to strike all at once in the third period.

Trailing 1-0, containing the Hurricanes’ speed and ability to maintain puck possession was a priority – somewhat of ‘survive and advance’ mindset to have in March.

The Flyers won 27 of 48 draws, a stat that eventually evened out, but was a critical one that the Flyers led in for two periods, before taking advantage of Carolina turnovers in the third.

 “It was a grind,” Hakstol said. “I liked the way we played in the first two periods. We talked about a couple of little things we can maybe improve going into the third, but the biggest thing was making sure we went out and got a big penalty kill to start with and just go back at it.”

For 40 minutes, Hurricanes netminder Cam Ward stymied shooters like Jakub Voracek and crease cleaners like Wayne Simmonds, among others, but the force of the shield he presented eventually diminished late in the game. The Flyers scored all four of their goals in the final 11-plus minutes.

While giving the puck away 10 times, 15 takeaways allowed the Flyers to regain possessions and capitalize on their chances when it counted most. 

“I don’t know if there was a catalyst,” Hakstol said when asked to identify the turning point in the game for his team.

“A lot of times it’s the simple, hard things that you do. That’s what it takes to score at this time of year.”

The win pulled the Flyers back into a tie for third place in the Metropolitan Division, a floating buoy line extending to the wild-card spot they will tread beside for the remainder of the season, unless they can compile more wins like this one.

“We needed a win for a lot of different reasons,” Hakstol said. “We needed the two points in every respect, but we needed a win for our group in here to have something to show for their hard work. When you lose games and can’t put wins together, the negatives really start to magnify, even though there’s a ton of positives. On a couple of different levels, this was an important two points.”