Observations from Flyers' big weekend out West

Observations from Flyers' big weekend out West

From “Let’s Go Flyers!” chants to “E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!” ringing throughout T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Sunday’s inaugural contest between the Flyers and the Golden Knights felt like a home game at the Wells Fargo Center. I’d be interested to see how many orange (and black) sweaters were actually in the crowd as the Flyers' official Twitter account posted this tweet from the press box in Las Vegas. If I had to guess, I’d say there were four to five thousand Flyers fans in the crowd.

But on the ice, the Flyers continued their surge with two huge wins and four crucial points in the standings.

Let's take a deeper look at the Flyers' successful two-game swing through Arizona and Vegas this past weekend:

• Perhaps the most encouraging sign from the two-game desert sweep was the performance and resiliency of Michal Neuvirth, who became the first goaltender in NHL history to earn a win after entering the game during the shootout. You can never script when your number will be called, but Neuvirth has singlehandedly helped the Flyers earn five points in his last three appearances, the first of which came in relief of Alex Lyon in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators last Saturday. Since entering that game nine days ago, Neuvirth has stopped 44 of 45 shots and 10 of 11 in the shootout.   

• The Flyers handed the Golden Knights just their fourth regulation loss at home this season and apparently the presence of a Czech netminder is part of the secret ingredient for success. Neuvirth joins fellow countrymen Petr Mrazek (Red Wings) and Jaroslav Halak (Islanders) to win in regulation in Vegas. American Ben Bishop (Stars) is the other.

• Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux continue to haunt Marc-Andre Fleury’s crease no matter where the netminder goes. The Flyers' top line dominated Fleury Sunday in a game reminiscent of the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the Flyers and Penguins. In Game 2 of that series, both Couturier and Giroux recorded their only hat tricks. Giroux scored on the power play, shorthanded and with an empty net and finished with six goals in the six-game series. Couturier, then only 19, posted the only three goals of his rookie playoff campaign in that game. The torment continued Sunday night. Both Giroux and Couturier scored in the 4-1 win and the Flyers' top line finished with a seven-point night.

• Speaking of Giroux, ever since he called out his lackluster play in the game against the Hurricanes this past Tuesday, he’s been on an offensive rampage with three goals and three assists over his last three games. That was enough for the NHL to award him First Star of the week honors. This latest three-game stretch proves yet again why Giroux’s teammates respect him as a captain and a leader. If you listened to his postgame comments following the win in Arizona, you could clearly tell that Giroux was battling an illness. There was a belief that Giroux’s sickness would force him to miss Saturday’s game against the Coyotes, but he was able to gut it out and turn in a very solid performance that included a power-play goal. It’s this type of lead-by-example moment that forms bonds and creates character for successful teams.

• It took Radko Gudas 155 attempted shots and 730 minutes of ice time this season, but finally, the Flyers' defenseman registered his first goal of the season. His empty-net tally secured the Flyers' 4-1 win in Vegas and also prompted an entertaining exchange on the Golden Knights' twitter account. You could see Gudas’ teammates were genuinely happy for him as Shayne Gostisbehere had some fun with Gudas on the bench.

• According to Brian Smith, the Flyers' manager of broadcasting and media services, Sunday’s game against the Golden Knights marked just the eighth time in team history the Flyers' opponent did not commit a single penalty. The last time the Flyers won a game when the opponent did not commit a penalty came nearly 40 years ago — a 4-2 decision over Los Angeles on April 1, 1978.

• For whatever reason, some of the Flyers' more impressive wins this season have taken place on the road in the second game of a back-to-back set against Western Conference opponents. After coming up short to the Kings, 2-0, on their season-opening road trip, the Flyers have ripped off three straight in the above mentioned-scenario with wins against the Blues (2-0 on Nov. 2), Canucks (4-1 on Dec. 7) and now Sunday's triumph over the Golden Knights. The Flyers are now 8-4-1 on the road against the West with two games remaining — a back-to-back set against the Stars and Avalanche on March 27 and 28.

• Of the Flyers' remaining 26 games, their upcoming back-to-back set in Dallas and Denver features the only two games outside of the Eastern time zone. In those two games in Texas and Colorado, they’ll cover 3,315 miles. Conversely, the Flyers will travel just 6,513 miles over their remaining 11 road games. With their season-opening four-game road trip as their longest of the season, the Flyers may have one of the most favorable 82-game schedules they've had to navigate.

• The Flyers improved to 16-2-4 this season when scoring at least four goals. That includes 13 straight wins.

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

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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.”

Lindros clarified his position on Twitter, saying that he believes clean body contact still has a place in professional hockey.

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. If contact remains in the sport at higher levels and pro leagues, then proper body contact should be stressed in youth hockey. Perhaps limitations on contact would make sense. It's not a totally crazy idea for young players.

The point, though, shouldn’t be lost. Concussions remain a serious issue and the NHL isn’t doing enough to address it. The league 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?


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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