Wayne Simmonds

10 observations from Flyers' season-opening 4-game road trip

10 observations from Flyers' season-opening 4-game road trip

As the Flyers unwind from an eight-day road trip that stretched over three time zones, let’s unpack what transpired over their first four games.

1. Flyers deserved better
The end result of the four-game road trip is a .500 record, with the Flyers earning four of a possible eight points. They built a two-goal lead Tuesday night with 13:12 remaining in the game. At that point, the Flyers should have at least earned a point and possibly two. To the Predators' credit, they seized back some of that momentum just 50 seconds later when Filip Forsberg scored, sniping a shot over Brian Elliott’s glove hand. The sting of this loss would have been slightly eased if the Flyers could have found a way to force overtime in Nashville. When you evaluate the entire road trip, the Flyers never had that “dud” of a game, where they played without energy and flat-footed.  

2. Challenging the penalty
At the time it happened, my initial feeling toward Dave Hakstol’s decision to challenge the offsides play was this had the makings of a Music City meltdown. Personally, I would have just conceded the game-tying goal with the knowledge that had I lost the challenge I would have been penalized (yet again) and looking at another monumental 5-on-3 penalty kill of a tied game. Last season, only one-third of every challenge plays involving an offsides call were overturned, so the odds already were working against Hakstol. The momentum swing alone is a key factor that has be under consideration when those decisions are made. To the Flyers' credit, they killed the 5-on-3, to only give up the game-winning goal moments after Dale Weise stepped out of the box. With this new rule now in play, coaches need conclusive, indisputable evidence the attacking team went offsides, and that’s almost impossible considering the turnaround time before they have to notify the referees of their desire to challenge.    

3. Patrick's 1st goal
It was nice to see rookie Nolan Patrick score his first NHL goal in just his fourth game. However, Patrick was in no mood to talk about it afterward and understandably so. For a 19-year-old still working his way through the infancy stages of his career, Patrick had a relatively solid road trip, picking up two points and playing better over the final two games. Containing Jeff Carter and his line in L.A. was a tough assignment, and he’ll ultimately benefit playing on a third line with Travis Konecny and Dale Weise. Patrick said he’s traditionally been a slow starter when it comes to scoring goals.

4. More firepower
Four games into the season and already nine different Flyers have scored goals and 14 players have registered at least a point. When you examine the roster, the Flyers have depth at the forward position, where seven and potentially eight players can realistically score at least 20 goals this season. Even the fourth line of Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier and Michael Raffl generates pressure, quality scoring chances and each player has the skill set to do damage offensively. Overall, the Flyers have the firepower to finish top 10 in goals scored this season.

5. The Money Train
Wayne Simmonds was absolutely steamed following the Flyers' 6-5 loss Tuesday to the Predators. No player appeared to be more riled up than Simmonds was, which is precisely why Flyers fans love the emotion and raw passion he brings on the ice and in times of frustration as well. Simmonds is unquestionably one of the leaders and lifelines of this Flyers squad, and it’s hard to imagine this franchise without him. For years, Simmonds had set 30 goals as a benchmark, but with a red-hot start to this season, it’s not unrealistic to think he’s capable of reaching 40 goals for the first time in his career. If that happens, Simmonds will certainly cash in with a lucrative contract extension next summer.  

6. Ivan the Great
There’s no other way to describe it, but defenseman Ivan Provorov is simply a machine. His stick work in the corners and along the boards is a work of art. He has an underrated shot for a player that doesn’t uncork wicked Shayne Gostisbehere-like slap shots. In the second period of Tuesday’s game, Provorov took the puck from behind his net and created a rush on his own. On the four-game trip, the Flyers' shutdown defender was on the ice for just one even-strength goal against — Hartnell’s shot from the wing that Elliott should have stopped. If I’m taking a one-goal lead into the final period, I want Provorov on the ice every other shift. There’s a calmness he brings to the situation, and it’s refreshing to see the Flyers finally have the all-around defenseman that’s been missing since the days of Eric Desjardins.

7. When will we see Morin?
After watching the Flyers play on numerous occasions in the preseason, one NHL scout undoubtedly feels the Flyers have three NHL-ready rookie defensemen, saying, “It’s a good problem to have.” Right now, the problem is the Flyers can’t squeeze Samuel Morin into the lineup and on Wednesday, he was assigned to the Phantoms (see story).

Speaking to Morin Tuesday morning, he was definitely down on the situation but is handling it with grace and dignity.

“It’s the first time in my career that I’ve been a healthy scratch and it’s pretty hard,” Morin said. “What else can I do? I think it’s normal that I’m pretty upset. I just need to keep working hard and see what’s going to happen. There’s not much I can do right now. It’s out of my control.”

8. Stronger in the middle
I wasn’t quite sold on the idea of Sean Couturier filling the role as the team’s No. 1 center, and while he doesn’t have the skill set of a Tyler Seguin or a Mark Scheifele, Couturier plays the necessary 200-foot game necessary in today’s NHL. If Hakstol continues to keep that Claude Giroux-Couturier-Jakub Voracek line intact, "Coots" should hit the 40-point mark for the first time in his career with ease. Furthermore, when you see how the Flyers are stacked down the middle with Couturier-Valtteri Filppula-Patrick-Scott Laughton, there’s no weak link the opposition can exploit defensively. Ron Hextall wants to construct a team that cuts down on those quality scoring chances in the danger areas between the circles and those four centers have shown to play a very responsible game. 

9. Down with Hartnell
Predators head coach Peter Laviolette had his list of players that did not jive with his coaching style (see James van Riemsdyk). However, Lavy always had an admiration for Scott Hartnell and spoke highly of the Nashville winger following Tuesday’s 6-5 win over the Flyers. Signing Hartnell on a one-year, $1 million deal was a very low-risk, high-reward investment on Laviolette and general manager David Poile’s part. Hartnell still possesses a high-caliber shot and has a knack for finding the soft zones in and around the net. Who knows how well he would have fit in the confines of Hakstol’s system, but for that term and price, I could see Hartnell working well with Nolan Patrick and Travis Konecny, as well as providing that net-front presence on one of the team’s power-play units.

10. Who starts the home opener?
The Flyers received steady goaltending until Tuesday night’s game in Nashville, which was not Elliott’s best effort. It’s obvious Hakstol has been looking to establish Elliott as his early season starter, but in saying that, Michal Neuvirth was excellent in his only start in Los Angeles. It’s early but Neuvirth resembles the goaltender who came to Philadelphia in 2015-16 and turned in a gem of a season with a 2.27 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage. Hakstol won’t hesitate to play the guy with a hot hand and with Saturday’s home opener against Neuvirth’s former team, the Washington Capitals, it seems like an opportune time to give the backup another shot in net.

Wayne Simmonds named NHL's third star of the week

Wayne Simmonds named NHL's third star of the week

It's just a week into the season, but Wayne Simmonds already needs to make some room in his trophy case.

The Flyers' power forward on Monday was named the NHL's third star of the week after leaving his fingerprints all over the first three games of the year.

In those three games, Simmonds scored four goals, including a hat trick in last Wednesday's season-opening 5-3 win in San Jose and the OT winner in the 3-2 triumph in Anaheim on Saturday evening. He's scored the game-winners in both of the Flyers' victories.

It's obviously very early in the season, but Simmonds' four goals place him in a tie for second in the league.

Washington's Alex Ovechkin as names first star after scoring seven goals in the Capitals' first two games (that's not a typo). Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was named second star after going 2-0-0 with a .098 goals-against average in the Golden Knights' first two games.

The Flyers are back on the ice Tuesday night in Nashville before returning to South Philly for the home opener against Ovechkin and the Caps on Saturday night.

Flyers Weekly Observations: The Wayne Train hasn't skipped a beat

Flyers Weekly Observations: The Wayne Train hasn't skipped a beat

Flyers hockey is finally back in our lives.

Feels pretty darn good to say that, right? It’s been too long.

You guys know what else is back?

Flyers Weekly Observations! Woo-hoo!

I know, it’s so hard to contain your excitement. I understand.

Anyway, the Flyers started things off with a bang with a hard-fought 5-3 win on opening night Wednesday in San Jose vs. the Sharks, endured a tough 2-0 loss Thursday evening vs. the Kings in Los Angeles and finished up the California portion of the trip with a strong 3-2 OT victory over the Ducks in Anaheim Saturday night.

Still sleepy from staying up for all those West Coast games?

That’s OK because there’s plenty to discuss after a busy first week of the season. Let’s hop right into it, shall we?

• Through all the change the Flyers have gone through both externally with player movement and internally with line changes, prospects filtering themselves into more prominent roles and veterans still in orange and black losing a step in the eyes of some, one constant has remained a driving force — Wayne Simmonds. He picked up right where he left off with his hat trick Wednesday at the Shark Tank. He was right there in his office in front of the net, deflecting two pucks from the point past Sharks goalie Martin Jones. His second tally on the evening was as stealthy as it gets as he tipped a chest-high shot right by Jones. But here’s the thing you have to like about his empty-netter to seal the victory — sure, it was an empty-netter, but Simmonds is trusted enough to be out there on the 4-on-4 as the Flyers desperately nursed a one-goal lead. He also played 3:30 of shorthanded time in that game. Yes, he’s a goal-scorer, but he’s the Flyers’ Mr. Do-It-All. He’s their steady rock. And that OT winner in Anaheim was just an another example of the complete player he is who possesses a heck of a wrister.  

• Let’s get into the kids now. Specifically, the ones who patrol the blue line. I questioned the decision to bring Travis Sanheim and Sam Morin to California only for both to be healthy scratches in the opener vs. San Jose. Sanheim eventually got in Thursday in L.A. (more on that in a bit) and stayed in for the OT triumph in Anaheim. But Morin has yet to suit up this season and play. What’s the point of having him there if he’s not going to play? These are important times in the development of a 22-year-old defenseman who already has to live with the pressures that come with being a high first-round pick. If he’s not playing with the big club, he should be getting reps in Lehigh Valley. The guy needs to be playing somewhere, not sitting somewhere.

• So, now, back to Sanheim, who made his debut at STAPLES Center on Thursday evening. The nerves were obviously there for the 21-year-old, especially early on as he tried to get his legs underneath him. And that’s to be expected. Try and put yourself in his shoes, or, in this case, his skates. You would feel the same way. The nerves should be there. But the game was a tougher one for Sanheim, as he tried to get adjusted to regular-season NHL speed and precision all night and wound up taking a bad four-minute high-sticking call in the third. He was critical of himself and his play afterward, saying he needed to be better. And you have to like that out of a kid, especially after his first game. He wasn’t happy just being there. He rebounded with a solid outing Saturday night in Anaheim. He can keep building and keep getting more and more comfortable in the NHL. He’s got the right attitude.

• Speaking of the kids, how about keeping Nolan Patrick and Travis Konecny on the same line for a long, long time?

• One area that had my particular interest coming into this week was the goaltending. Both how each goaltender played and how head coach Dave Hakstol would rotate them because you just knew he would split the starts one way or another. I will say that I’m still not sold on the Brian Elliott-Michal Neuvirth tandem, but each was very solid in net this week in their respective starts. Elliott hung in there in a tough environment in San Jose and earned the victory with 32 stops. Perhaps his best one came in the first period when Kevin LeBanc found himself all alone with a loose puck in front of the net and Elliott stuck out the arm to make an impressive stop. Neuvirth was very good the next night in Los Angeles as he took a hard-luck loss with 25 saves. That incredible sprawling stop he made on Anze Kopitar, though? My groin hurts more and more every time I watch it. Elliott retook the reins Saturday in Anaheim and excelled with 21 saves in the OT triumph. So, while Neuvirth played well in Hollywood, Elliott is still the one with two victories. Knowing how Hakstol tends to ride the hot hand in net, don’t be surprised to see Elliott see the fair share of starts coming up. Speaking of goaltending, how good was Jonathan Quick on Thursday? When healthy, he’s got a legit claim to being the best goalie in the NHL.

• Have to like what we’ve seen from the Flyers’ newfangled top line of Claude Giroux on left wing, Sean Couturier at center and Jake Voracek on the right wing. The triumvirate opened the scoring on the season with Giroux’s first-period tally in San Jose and has combined for two goals, seven assists, nine points and 21 shots on goal on the young season. Keep that kind of offensive pressure up and the goal numbers will come. And remember, those three could still benefit from more time to jell together.

• Mr. NHL Schedule Maker did the Flyers no favors to start the season. The California hell trip is hard enough, but then two of those games were the opponent’s home opener. The cherry on top: a trip to Nashville for the Predators’ opener and Western Conference championship banner ceremony.  But, hey, coming out of Cali with four points ain’t bad by any stretch of the imagination.

Coming up this week: Tuesday at Nashville (8 p.m./NBC Sports Philadelphia), Saturday’s home opener vs. Washington (7 p.m./NBC Sports Philadelphia)