Flyers

With new identity, Flyers need to use Leafs win as home turning point

With new identity, Flyers need to use Leafs win as home turning point

When the Flyers last skated off the ice at the Wells Fargo Center 11 days ago, they did so while being serenaded with boos from above, after losing their 10th straight game. This time, to the Bruins with another lethargic effort. The game prior, on Nov. 28 against the Sharks, the fans, like the angry mob from The Simpsons, were calling for the firing of the head coach with “Fire Hakstol” chants. The only thing missing were the pitchforks. (Public service announcement: Leave the pitchforks at home.)

On Tuesday night, the Flyers returned home from a three-game Western Canada road gauntlet with their fortunes changed and beginning a five-game homestand. They had won their previous three games and entered Tuesday’s showdown with the NHL’s hottest team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, six points behind the New York Rangers for the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot.

For a team in a competitive rebuild that, at times, looked like one waiting for its coach to get fired, the Flyers returned home having stopped the bleeding away from their own building. Now, they had to bandage it there.

The Flyers did just that, with one of their most complete, 60-minute efforts of the season (see story). They dispatched the Maple Leafs, 4-2, to win their fourth straight and end a six-game home losing streak. It was their first home win since Nov. 9.

They took one penalty, albeit a costly one that would have sunk this team 11 days ago.

They outshot Toronto, 39-22, and threw 32 shots on net in the final 40 minutes.

They dominated puck possession and every metric proves it.

“We were playing some good hockey and I think our identity changed a little bit with that road trip,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “We’re excited right now in the room. We played a lot of good hockey games when we lost, but we didn’t get the results and now we're playing some good hockey and we’re getting the results so we gotta keep building on this."

Now they’re getting the results.

The Flyers are on their longest winning streak of the season. They twice faced adversity Tuesday against the Maple Leafs and didn’t buckle.

Giroux scored the game’s first goal at 9:21 of the first period, but Patrick Marleau answered back for the Leafs just 27 seconds later. Eleven days ago, that would be game over.

Instead, the Flyers kept playing and closed out the period strong. Then, after dominating the second period, Jakub Voracek was whistled for a tripping penalty at 16:11, and James van Riemsdyk tallied his 15th goal of the season to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead. It was a potential killer goal, one that would have deflated the Flyers 11 days ago, no questions asked. It came late in a period that they dominated. It felt like typical Flyers.

But the Flyers survived it. They escaped the period, went into the locker room and came back out in the third period right where they left off. Travis Konecny, who played just 7:20 through two periods, tied it at 2-2 at 5:36. The Flyers kept pushing and pushing. They were rewarded too. Sean Couturier tied his career high with his 15th goal at 17:05 for the game-winner and then Scott Laughton iced it with an empty-netter at 19:44. It was the Flyers’ first third-period comeback of the season.

“We’re working hard and we haven’t stopped working hard,” Konecny, who scored his second goal in his last 20 games, said, “even through [that] tough stretch of games and it’s finally paying off.”

This Flyers team is a lot looser right now. Winning does that. During their 10-game free fall into irrelevance, they swore they weren't playing poorly.

And once more, they echoed that Tuesday night, even after a win. Now, they're just taking advantage of the breaks, getting the bounces, insert tired cliché here.

“I don’t think there’s much difference at all,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “If you want to look back, I thought there were one or two nights where we looked tight. I thought on the last night here at home, I thought we looked like a tired and a little bit tight hockey team.

“We've taken advantage of a break or two, but I think most importantly, guys just kept their foot on the gas and found ways to win games here over the past few games."

Credit goes to the Flyers, the coaching staff and general manager Ron Hextall. They didn't panic when things were falling apart. Hakstol remained positive, harped on the positives. He promised they would get through it.

Hextall did the same. The GM, on several occasions, praised the way the Flyers were playing during their losing streak. For as much heat as Hakstol and Hextall caught at the time, they deserve recognition for their managing styles in times of dismay.

The Flyers' win Tuesday kicked off a five-game homestand that features three games against Eastern Conference opponents, and perhaps set the tone for the home swing.

The homestand continues Thursday when the Buffalo Sabres visit. If the Flyers play with the same effort they did Tuesday, the winning streak will reach five.

They’re taking fewer penalties, averaging 1.75 penalties during their current four-game winning streak. That’s a good thing for a team that’s penalty kill ranks 29th.

But what might matter most, is they're not chasing the game anymore. They're owning the puck and they're spending more time on the attack, and that’s a recipe for success.

“We’ve had the puck a little bit more,” Hakstol said, "and that’s probably the first place to look. We had a stretch there where stick penalties were getting us.

“Those kinds of penalties happen when you’re chasing a game, when you’re defending a little bit too much. It’s not necessarily the discipline side of it. We’ve had the puck a little bit more. We haven’t had to defend as much in our own zone.”

Eric Lindros' drastic rule change would make hockey safer, but is it too extreme?

ap_ericlindros.jpg
AP Images

Eric Lindros' drastic rule change would make hockey safer, but is it too extreme?

The NFL's new helmet rule has caused confusion and frustration in the preseason.

Routine tackles in the past have been flagged, and players, media members and fans have voiced their concerns with what exactly will be a legal tackle come the regular season.

Enough with football. Could something like this come to hockey?

If Flyers legend Eric Lindros had his way, it would, and it would go a bit further too.

Lindros said last week at See The Light, a concussion conference at Western University in London, Ontario, that he would be in favor of eliminating body contact altogether.

Via the National Post:

“Let’s get right to it. You talk about me playing. I love hockey, and I continue playing hockey. But it’s funny — the hockey I was playing all those years was really physical, and I have just as much fun [these days], but we don’t run into one another. We’re still having as much fun, the same enjoyment of it. We know concussions are down in a league without contact.”

Let’s unpack Lindros’ suggested rule change because there is a lot there for the hockey traditionalists to chew on. I’m sure we’ll see some in the comments section below.

Removing body contact from hockey would be a fundamental adjustment to a game that has a culture of being a tough, physical sport where hockey players notoriously play through injuries.

Hockey players have a reputation of being warriors, and they get celebrated for it. Heck, Ivan Provorov played Game 6 vs. Pittsburgh with a Grade 3 AC separation that requires eight weeks to heal. Wayne Simmonds played the entire year with more injuries than he could remember.

The toughness hockey players display on a nightly basis is admirable, but it’s also sometimes stupid. When it comes to concussions and head injuries, it’s especially dumb.

But removing body contact altogether seems extreme. Considering the NHL refuses to admit there is a correlation between hockey and concussions, it’ll be nothing more than a suggestion.

The point, though, shouldn’t be lost. Concussions remain a serious issue and the league isn’t doing enough to address it. The NHL won’t even admit there’s a correlation. That’s a problem.

On Friday, the same day as Lindros’ suggested rule change, the NHLPA contributed a joint donation of $3.125 million toward concussion and brain injury research.

Lindros is one of several former hockey players who have been vocal about concussions and hockey, and understandably so. Concussions are very much part of Lindros’ legacy.

There are other ways to address concussions and the sport. It begins by admitting there is a link between CTE and hockey. The NHL has taken steps in protecting its players, but it can do more.

Headshots are penalized more seriously, but there remains inconsistency in the how NHL’s Department of Player Safety governs. That’s another area that should be addressed: more consistency.

The International Ice Hockey Federation, which oversees the Olympics, European leagues and international tournaments, penalize all hits to the head. That would be an enormous step.

Let’s not get sidetracked by Lindros’ idea of removing body contact from hockey. Instead, let’s stay on the NHL to continue to do better in protecting its employees from serious brain injuries.

After all, NHL players do have families to go home to after work and lives to live after their playing days are over.

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Why Wayne Simmonds could come out stronger than ever for Flyers

Why Wayne Simmonds could come out stronger than ever for Flyers

Wayne Simmonds had just finished describing the season from hell.

He was the Flyers' 2017-18 version of the walking wounded, fighting so many injuries that he lost track running them off in late April.

At the time, no one would have blamed Simmonds for lacking some aplomb. Sitting at his end-of-the-season press conference, Simmonds was destined for surgery to address a tear in his pelvic area while coming off a stability-shaken year that produced his fewest goals (24) and points (46) over a full campaign since 2010-11.

Then again, it takes a lot to knock down a player like Simmonds.

This wasn't going to do it.

When asked if he believed he would be fully healthy for 2018-19, Simmonds responded with a resounding confidence.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "One hundred percent, no doubt."

Simmonds, a driven athlete, might have the most fuel he's ever had in a Flyers uniform. There are motivational factors flying at him from every angle and would you expect anything different than Simmonds embracing them all with open arms?

"When you're as dedicated as Wayne is and you put in the effort, the time, the preparation on a daily basis and get better every year, that's what we all should strive to do," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said in March 2017. "I think Simmer is an example for everybody to get better every year."

What exactly is the motivation this year?

Everything.

For starters, Simmonds is about to step foot into a contract year, unless his representation and Hextall agree on an extension beforehand. That very well could happen, but the Flyers may want to see Simmonds prove his health and production. Not only would that serve as reassurance on the soon-to-be 30-year-old, it also could help with trade value, if the Flyers decide to contemplate that route.

"If it has to go into next year, we're comfortable with that," Hextall said July 1.

Such a scenario wouldn't be a terrible idea for Simmonds. A loud and fast start to 2018-19 would provide him leverage in what he'll ultimately receive from the Flyers or elsewhere.

So, many eyes will be watching Simmonds' production. From where it comes will be one of the more intriguing storylines throughout.

With the Flyers, Simmonds has built himself into an elite power-play producer. Since the 2011-12 season, his first in orange and black, Simmonds owns 86 man-advantage goals, second in the NHL to only Alex Ovechkin with 131.

Which made it hard to believe when Simmonds lost grip of his first-unit net-front role down the stretch last season. The power forward went down from Feb. 20 to March 4 with a torn ligament in his thumb, opening the door for 19-year-old rookie Nolan Patrick, who impressed with his savvy and skill around the blue paint.

Patrick netted three power-play goals during Simmonds' seven-game absence and never lost his spot the rest of the way. He led the Flyers with five markers on the man advantage over the final 23 regular-season games and dished out this beauty of an assist.

Simmonds, a team-first guy who was never healthy, took it in stride.

"I've played in this league a long time and I think you come to realize as a player if you're not at your top, you're probably not going to be getting probably what you usually should," he said after the season. "I know that's what maybe went down at the end, there's not really much I can say about that. If I was 100 percent, then I think there might be some annoyance, but I wasn't 100 percent and I understand the situation that we're in, the position that we're in, we were fighting for the playoffs. 

"While I got hurt there, Patty got put on the first power-play unit and scored two goals the first [two games], so what am I going to argue with? The kid's a heck of a hockey player and he earned it, he definitely earned it, and there's not much I can say. Just going to go out there once I got back and do what I can to help the team."

None of this is to suggest Simmonds won't regain his post on the power play. When healthy, there aren't many better at it, but the competition is clear with the rise of Patrick and the addition of James van Riemsdyk, a net-front guy himself.

Even before JVR jumped back into the picture, Simmonds saw his ice time dip. He played 15:13 during the Flyers' last six regular-season games and just 14:36 in six postseason contests. Simmonds simply wasn't himself. As a result, he was relegated to a third-line slot and may see the same in 2018-19 now that the Flyers are deeper.

"He can play every way," Hextall said about Simmonds when the Flyers inked van Riemsdyk on Day 1 of free agency. "He's net front on the power play, he's a physical player, forechecker, straight-line, go-to-the-net-with-your-stick-on-the-ice guy. Simmer can play up top or certainly down your lineup."

No matter where he plays, Simmonds will be motivated, maybe even a little ticked off.

That's a scary thought.

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