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Wayne Simmonds misses out on Mark Messier Leadership Award to Deryk Engelland

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Wayne Simmonds misses out on Mark Messier Leadership Award to Deryk Engelland

Wayne Simmonds narrowly missed out on becoming the first Flyer to win the Mark Messier Leadership Award. Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland took home the honors Wednesday night in Las Vegas. 

The award, chosen by Messier himself, is presented to the player who exemplifies great leadership qualities to his team, on and off the ice during the regular season and who plays a leading role in his community growing the game of hockey.

Simmonds was named a finalist through his extensive work in the community. The Flyers' forward has hosted a military unit in his private suite during every Flyers home game while also serving on the board of directors for the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation.

Simmonds' philantropy also extends to his hometown of Scarborough, Ontario, where he has hosted Wayne's Road Hockey Warriors each summer over the past six years.

Engelland is the first player never to wear the ‘C’ to win the Mark Messier Leadership Award, which was first presented in 2007. Previous winners include Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Shea Weber.  

Engelland’s award marked a big night for the expansion Golden Knights franchise. Gerard Gallant took home the Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year, William Karlsson claimed the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy recognizing the player who exhibits the highest standard of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct, and George McPhee was named the GM of the Year.

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Claude Giroux's unselfishness shouldn't go unnoticed

Claude Giroux's unselfishness shouldn't go unnoticed

Assistant coach Kris Knoblauch went to Claude Giroux and proposed a power-play adjustment.

It required Giroux vacating his usual left circle, where the captain has blasted away for a long time, as lethal as anyone in the game from that spot on the man advantage.

Shifting the right-handed Giroux to the opposite circle, an area not as favorable for his shot, had the premise of augmenting the lefty-shot James van Riemsdyk, who could do greater damage around the net taking right-wall feeds from the captain.

Giroux was receptive.

"Knobber had a conversation with G and got his thoughts on it," Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon said Tuesday following practice. "It certainly plays to the strengths of JVR, who obviously had a ton of points on the power play in his time in Toronto and maybe that is something we can take advantage of. 

"Obviously if the power play is going at 20 percent plus and we're scoring a power-play goal a game, you're not having the conversation. But credit to Claude for being open-minded to consider it and give it a go."

The first game Giroux and company gave it a go, van Riemsdyk scored a power-play goal and finished with a hat trick as the Flyers rallied resoundingly from a 2-0 deficit to pick up a 7-4 win Monday over the Wild.

A game later, the Flyers found themselves in another 2-0 hole. And another comeback was ignited, this time by a marvelous dish from Giroux, once again making his teammates better. Notching his 500th career assist, the 31-year-old stopped on a dime to recover a loose puck and zip a pass in the opposite direction, finding a streaking Oskar Lindblom.

Suddenly, a play no other Flyer can make had everyone revived. Confidence was restored and fruited into a 4-3 win over the Bruins, giving the Flyers consecutive victories for just the second time since mid-November.

"I've been lucky to play with really good players and I'm lucky to be able to give the puck to all these players," Giroux said. "It's a great accomplishment but we just have to keep going here."

Much of those wins are a product of Giroux's unselfishness, an underrated part to his building (and debated) legacy.

If Giroux shies away from Knoblauch's suggestion, acts like his power-play prowess is infallible, van Riemsdyk might not go off for a much-needed lift.

If Giroux doesn't make a play out of nothing for Lindblom, a comeback might not happen against a Bruins team that will be making noise in the playoffs.

If Giroux doesn't switch positions at 30 years old last season, Sean Couturier might not have his anticipated breakout the organization had been hoping for since the 2011 draft.

"His intensity, he's ready to go every other shift," Gordon said of Giroux. "He wants to play a lot, he does play a lot, he's not an easy guy to keep off the ice in practice when it's probably best for him not to go on the ice. He's very passionate about being a Flyer.

"I haven't felt that he's taken a shift off the entire time that I've been here. Anything that even resembled it might have been more fatigue than anything else, not because of a mental decision to say, 'You know what, I don't feel like playing hard this year.'"

That would be selfishness. You won't find it from Giroux, even in a season like this.

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With back-to-back wins, are Flyers finally starting to mature?

With back-to-back wins, are Flyers finally starting to mature?

When Jori Lehtera was sent off the ice for a five-minute boarding major and a 10-minute game misconduct Wednesday night, the most loyal followers of the orange and black had every reason to believe the Flyers were entering their self-destruction phase once again.

After all, we had seen this storyline play out on numerous occasions already this season.

Forced to kill off a five-minute power play to the NHL second-ranked power play should have doomed this team, but against the Bruins, something was different.

“We’re starting to show some character and maturity, even playing with a lead we’re a little bit more comfortable now,” Sean Couturier said after scoring a natural hat trick in the Flyers' 4-3 win over the Bruins (see observations). “We’re doing some little things right.”

A lot of those little things have been resolved finally through their penalty kill, in which the Flyers successfully killed off nine straight minutes of power-play time, including nearly six minutes in a hard-fought third period. For those who believed assistant coach Ian Laperriere should take the fall for the PK’s horrific start this season, interim head coach Scott Gordon begs to differ.

“Lappy has done a great job as far as the pre-scouting. You guys don’t see that,” Gordon said. “He’s been on target every single time. As far as the aggressiveness, that’s the one thing I’ve been really pleased with. When you lose a lot of games, you realize what’s not going right. Sometimes you have to learn through the struggles and the adversity.”

That aggressiveness is why the Flyers have now strung together back-to-back wins for just the second time in the past two months, and the biggest part of that success is a rookie goaltender that many within the organization believed needed the necessary AHL seasoning before he could be thrown into the frying pan of an NHL game.

Eleven games into his career, the 20-year-old Carter Hart is playing like he has the emotional fortitude of someone in their mid-to-late 40s. It just seems like there’s no way Hart could have the capacity to handle the adversity of falling behind 2-0 in back-to-back games to only stay composed and have his team rally back to beat the Wild and the Bruins.    

“You can tell he’s a mature kid,” Couturier said. “He prepares himself pretty well. He does a lot of little things away from the rink that help his game on the ice. He’s pretty calm back there. He’s above his age.”   

“I think it’s just how you approach the game. It’s everything,” Hart said. “It’s coming to the rink for practice, for games, whatever it is. Just coming in ready to work. I think if you work hard no matter how old you are, guys will respect you.”

With that, Hart gets to the heart of the matter. He embraces putting in the hard work of practice, much like Couturier has done from the time he started his NHL career at the age of 18. You can’t create a championship culture by cutting a few corners. So if the organization is planning ahead to next season, Hart and Couturier should be those cornerstone players. 

Outside of that, the Flyers have a lot more maturing to go through if they want to join the league’s elite.

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