Flyers 5, Sabres 2: Life without Wayne Simmonds starts with big win in wild-card push

Flyers 5, Sabres 2: Life without Wayne Simmonds starts with big win in wild-card push


The Flyers passed another team as they continued their climb up the Eastern Conference standings.

Wearing their Stadium Series sweaters one more time Tuesday, the Flyers buried the Sabres, 5-2, to leap over them for 10th place in the East, while Ryan Hartman made quite the first impression.

Here are my observations from the Wells Fargo Center:

 Sometimes it’s just a matter of inches that determine the outcome. Jack Eichel’s cross-ice pass appeared to have hopped over the stick of Brandon Montour, who had a wide-open net to shoot at. The Flyers quickly capitalized, coming back the other way as Travis Sanheim filled the slot as the trailer. What could have been a tied game turned into a 4-2 Flyers lead.

• There had to be some concern of a letdown coming off that huge overtime thriller at Lincoln Financial Field combined with the departure of Wayne Simmonds, but that wasn’t the case at all. Aside from a couple careless penalties, the Flyers dominated the opening 20 minutes, outshooting the Sabres 19-6 to start the game.

• It also helps that they received an emotional spark from the newcomer Hartman. On his first shift of the game, Hartman gave Flyers fans a nice introduction of what he’s all about, as he leveled rookie defenseman Rasmus Dahlin with a legal open-ice check (see story). Former general manager Ron Hextall said during his exit press conference that he thought this team needed more sandpaper, and it’s clear that Hartman has that element in his game.

• It was interesting to see how interim head coach Scott Gordon was going to divide up the minutes, electing to play 11 forwards and seven defensemen, like he did during Philippe Myers' NHL debut in Detroit. In that game, Myers played just 9:53, but you can see how much trust he built with his coach and how much trust he has earned. After two periods, Myers had logged nearly nine minutes and two-and-a-half minutes more than Andrew MacDonald.  

• There were a lot of rumors swirling around defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere at the trade deadline and I still think his name could be in play during the offseason. What I’ve noticed from "Ghost" recently is how he’s stepped up his physical play. At one point in the Stadium Series game, he was actually leading the Flyers in hits and he had another big one against the Sabres.

However, his positional play is what frustrates coaches. Gostisbehere stepped up and made a very poor decision that led to Casey Mittelstadt’s 3-2 goal.

• Oskar Lindblom has truly turned into a complete forward with his commitment to doing all the little things, constantly pressuring the puck. Rarely does he cheat himself on any shift. Not only did he score with a nice touch around the net, but he should have drawn a cross-checking penalty in the process. He had a couple of whacks from close range in the third period. Lindblom is coming on strong down the backstretch wth 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in his last 17 games.

• The Flyers were looking to match a franchise record by going three straight games without giving their opponent a power-play opportunity. However, that dissipated quickly with Scott Laughton’s tripping penalty that gave Buffalo a power play. Eichel capitalized with his 22nd goal of the season.

• The Flyers topped 40 shots for the ninth time this season. While they’re just 8-19-2 in games in which they outshoot an opponent, they’re now 6-2-1 when putting up 40 or more shots.

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Chuck Fletcher, Matt Niskanen see a Flyers team ready to pop

Chuck Fletcher, Matt Niskanen see a Flyers team ready to pop

At first, Matt Niskanen was "a little surprised" and caught "a little off guard."

He had just been traded by the Capitals, a team with which he won the 2018 Stanley Cup and experienced fond memories, and was now headed to a division rival.

But after Niskanen spoke with Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher, his emotions slowly started to shift. Fletcher wanted Niskanen to believe in the Flyers' situation and how the accomplished defenseman could be integral to it taking off.

"He said he likes their team, he felt that they're ready to pop," Niskanen said Friday in a conference call after being dealt to the Flyers (see story). "He kind of feels the same way that I do about the group there — young talent, they're close, just need to add some more pieces along the way. 

"It sounds like he's trying to put together a real good team and we'll see where that takes us. But I'm excited to be there. Trying to be a real solid piece for what they have there already. They have a lot of talent, these guys can play and put up some goals, and maybe get our goals against down — so maybe that's where I come in, to help out with that. I'm excited for that challenge."

From the start, the Flyers fell well short of expectations in 2018-19, which put Fletcher in the team's GM chair. The 82 points were the Flyers' fewest in a full season since 2006-07 and the club hasn't made the playoffs in consecutive years since 2010-12, when it last won a series.

In this league, things can change quickly, though. 

"We're all close," Fletcher said on April 18.

The Flyers went 0-4-0 against the Capitals in 2018-19 and were outscored 18-9, but Niskanen remembered looking at one of his teammates during the regular-season series and saying, "Man, they should be doing better than they are."

Fletcher sees Niskanen as the type of player to change that narrative.

"This is a guy that has played over 1,000 games in the NHL when you factor in his playoff experience," Fletcher said Saturday on a conference call. "He's a guy that commands respect with how he plays and how he prepares, he shows up every day.

"I'll give Ron Hextall and Chris Pryor (former general manager and assistant general manager) a lot of credit here — we have some top-end young talent on that back end, and I think the goal right now is to try to surround them with the right people and add some talent back there, as well."

Niskanen didn't need a whole lot of convincing by Fletcher. The GM's message only helped build the excitement for the former Capital and Penguin who has played 38 career games against the Flyers.

"Over the last few years they've gotten younger. I like their team," Niskanen said. "They have dangerous people, they've added young players with a lot of promise, hard to play against.

"They have good people, dangerous players, talented forwards, a young group of D that can really play — they're just young, I think. They're on the upswing. It was hard to play against the Flyers. Good organization, they play the game hard, they play to win. A lot of promise there. I'm excited about that."

With the Capitals' first-round exit in the 2019 playoffs following their Cup run the previous season, Niskanen said he has been training for over a month now and feels much better physically. He knows about the Flyers' defense. He referred to the group as "young studs" multiple times (see story).

So, yeah, as tough as the trade is, Niskanen believes in Philly.

"I've been fortunate to be on real good teams," he said. "I've been around and I know what good hockey looks like, I know what a good culture looks like. I'm not going to be a rah-rah guy, but I think with my résumé, my words hold a little bit of weight, especially with young players. 

"They have a good team and I'm not going to come in and ruffle any feathers, but I think my word will hold some weight. I'll come in and try to have real good practice habits and have a good attitude, bring a good work ethic, and hopefully I'll be another piece to what they already have there."

And potentially make the Flyers pop.

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Flyers place Andrew MacDonald on unconditional waivers for purpose of terminating contract

Flyers place Andrew MacDonald on unconditional waivers for purpose of terminating contract

Chuck Fletcher is certainly putting his mark on the Flyers' defense.

A day after trading Radko Gudas for defenseman Matt Niskanen, the Flyers' general manager placed Andrew MacDonald on unconditional waivers Saturday for the purpose of terminating his contract.

MacDonald is expected to go unclaimed and the Flyers will buy out his contract. In 2019-20, the 32-year-old MacDonald was entering the final year of a six-year, $30 million deal. His cap hit was a hefty $5 million. MacDonald was signed to the deal in April 2014 by then-general manager Paul Holmgren.

Per, the move will result in a total buyout of $3,833,333 with a base salary of $1,916,667 over each of the next two years.

The Flyers are taking on significant money with Niskanen (as well as reportedly retaining some of Gudas' cap hit) and are in the process of negotiating with soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Kevin Hayes, so Fletcher said the MacDonald move was about maximizing the team's cap flexibility. Fletcher, who spoke Saturday via a conference call, obviously feels there is more work to do this summer, outside of Niskanen and Hayes.

It was a difficult decision and it was solely cap related. I've had a couple of good conversations with Andrew — one at the end of the season and another one again today. This guy is a consummate professional. We asked a lot of Andrew and by that I mean he was a player that played the left side, played the right side, he'd be a healthy scratch and then we'd put him back in the lineup. We asked him to play with young players and mentor them and bring stability to our back end.

He's just a quality person and a guy that played a very effective two-way game for our team, but we are in a cap world and we made that tough decision today to try reallocate some of those dollars to maximize our chance to stay in the hunt on some players over the next couple of weeks.

MacDonald was banged up this past season and became a healthy scratch, as well. He played just 47 contests and saw 16:24 ice time per game, the lowest of his career.

He was often the butt of criticism among the fan base — in large part because of the contract — but inside the Flyers' locker room, he was a true professional and one of the most respected players by his teammates.

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