Flyers

Wayne Simmonds, power play lift Flyers to season-opening win

Wayne Simmonds, power play lift Flyers to season-opening win

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Not only do the Flyers finally know the way to San Jose, but they now also know the best mode of transportation to get here and to get the job done.

By train.

The "Wayne Train" delivered the cargo as he became the first Flyer in franchise history to score a hat trick on opening night. Two of those were vintage Simmonds parking the caboose in front of the goaltender and redirecting shots from the point. He capped his second career hat trick with an empty-netter that secured a 5-3 opening night victory Wednesday over the Sharks, just the Flyers’ second win in San Jose since the turn of the century (see observations).

It was Simmonds’ hand-eye coordination, coupled with an ability to screen a goaltender, that placed him in a very elite category.

“That’s pretty good,” Simmonds said. “I thought we started really well. I think we’ve got a lot more speed. I think if you watched the game, we just kept skating, skating and skating. I think it was because of our legs that we came away with the two points. The good thing about the young guys is they have a ton of energy and a ton of legs, so that’s good.”

“He’s the best in the business at that (working down low),” Shayne Gostisbehere said. “They always tell me if I get the puck through on net, don’t get it blocked. You’re going to get a point because it’s either going to go in or Simmer is going to tip it. It’s a good presence to have. It’s a weapon that we obviously have, and he showed it tonight.”

The Flyers utilized Simmonds and their power-play units to full potential. Not only did the Flyers’ power play complete a hat trick of its own, but collectively, the team’s two units also needed just 1:09 to accomplish the feat. 

First, Jordan Weal got the Flyers on the board on the PP before Simmonds followed suit with his pair.  

“Jokingly, we said we were saving them for the season,” Gostisbehere, who tied a career-high with three assists, said. “It was huge for us.”

The Flyers didn’t start working on their power play until a week into the preseason. They were never too distracted with their September struggles, especially in the game at Boston in which they finished 0 for 9.  

“The last three games of the preseason, things were clicking pretty well,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Tonight, the puck went into the net. We had a real good shooting mentality. We scored a couple early by having great net-front presence. One or two passes and putting it to the net, and it was effective for us tonight.”

Brian Elliott earned the season-opening assignment in net and despite surrendering a 2-0 lead in the first period and a 3-2 lead earlier in the third period, he shut the door over the final 16:48 to earn his first win in orange and black.

“The first game of the season, you’re always figuring things out,” Elliott said. “But that was a good one for us to spoil a home opener.”

Rookie report
Making his NHL debut, Nolan Patrick played 13:30 and had three shots on goal. Patrick also won 56 percent of his faceoffs.

While he wasn’t noticeable on the offensive end, he played a responsible defensive game. 

“I thought he played really well,” Simmonds said. “I asked him if he was nervous before the game and he said no. I think it was [Jakub Voracek] who said, ‘Ah, you better be nervous.’”

Robert Hagg, paired with Gostisbehere, was on the ice for 16:13 with two shots on goal. He saw time in all situations, including nearly two minutes on the penalty kill. 

“You’d think he’d be nervous, but he was so calm,” Gostisbehere said. “He’s a cool, calm and collected guy. He just sees the game so well. He’s a good calming presence back there. I think he played really well out there tonight.”

Taylor Leier, playing right winger on the Flyers’ fourth line, saw significant ice time with 12:30 of action (4:35 shorthanded). Leier was not on the ice when the Sharks scored their two power-play goals.  

For the stat junkies
• Hakstol is now 2-0-1 in season openers.

• Claude Giroux’s first-period goal marked the fourth time he’s scored a goal in a season opener. With his first assist this season, Giroux will pass Mark Recchi for fourth place on the Flyers’ all-time list.

• With his three goals, Simmonds surpassed the 400-point mark for his career (401).

• Wednesday’s game was the third time in franchise history the Flyers started their season in California. Last season, the Flyers began in Los Angeles with a 4-2 win over the Kings. Their first season opener in the Golden State came in their inaugural season of 1966-67 when they lost to the California Seals, 5-1, at Oracle Arena, home to the NBA world champion Golden State Warriors.

It's back to school for Flyers prospect Noah Cates

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Philadelphia Flyers

It's back to school for Flyers prospect Noah Cates

Noah Cates became a hit in high school.

His first year after graduation, though, he didn't exactly mind being away from the classroom. From Stillwater, Minnesota, Cates traveled south to Omaha, Nebraska, for a full season of USHL hockey with the Lancers.

A nice, little perk to the decision?

"No school that year for me, so that was fun just to play hockey," Cates said with a smile three weeks ago at Flyers development camp. "Develop, work on everything."

Despite not hitting the books, Cates, a 2017 fifth-round draft pick of the Flyers, learned a lot, gaining a knowledge base he'll use moving forward.

Because it's back to school.

In mid-to-late August, the 19-year-old is headed to the University of Minnesota Duluth to continue his education and hockey career with the 2018 national champions, where he'll be joined by his older brother Jackson Cates.

"Very excited," the younger Cates said.

A year away from home to prepare for the college hockey life did Cates well. He grew on and off the ice, which built confidence — especially important ahead of development camp, a world junior summer showcase and his freshman season.

"Just how to be a pro, show up every day," Cates said. "It's a long season but you have to be consistent — that was a big part for me. Consistently, doing the right thing, day in and day out.

"It's all about confidence. If you're confident you can play with those guys and that your body can hold up, you can do it. That's just a big part of it and what I developed this year."

Cates, a left winger with a true offensive skill set, came on strong after a feeling-out start to the season in which he totaled 14 points (six goals, eight assists) over his first 22 games. From then on, he broke out for 41 points (15 goals, 26 assists) in his final 38 contests, finishing second on the Lancers with 55 points (21 goals, 34 assists) in 60 games, while posting a plus-21 rating. 

"Second-half league for me, just got more comfortable with the team, the coaches, the league," Cates said. "The team did well, so I kind of fit in, did my part."

The offense has always been a part of Cates' game. Beyond the statistics, what truly stood out from the 2017-18 season was the added strength to his 6-foot-1 frame. Cates weighed 165 pounds at 2017 development camp. He said he started the year with Omaha at 170. Impressively, by season's end, he was a solid 180 to 185.

"That was a big part, how I progressed throughout the season," Cates said. "That was my main goal going there to step into college hockey and get ready to play against those older guys, so it was a really good season in that case."

Cates will now take his next test — back in class and on the ice.

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Nolan Patrick selected as No. 1 breakout player for 2018-19 by NHL Network

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USA Today Images

Nolan Patrick selected as No. 1 breakout player for 2018-19 by NHL Network

Nolan Patrick's rookie season can be split into two halves, but his performance down the stretch has caught the attention of one national pundit.

NHL Network analyst Mike Johnson, who played 12 years in the league, selected Patrick as his No. 1 breakout player for the 2018-19 season during Friday night's "NHL Tonight."

Johnson scored 375 points in 661 NHL games from 1996-2008 and last played in the league during the 2007-08 campaign with the St. Louis Blues.

Behind Johnson's reasoning for picking Patrick as his No. 1 breakout player was the Flyers' center's two-way instincts, ability to finish, size and a full summer of training ahead of him.

"We know his injury history, his lack of proper training, his lack of ability to hit the gym properly," Johnson said, "and he's still strong on the wall. That's only going to get better as he matures physically."

For what it's worth, Connor McDavid was NHL Network's No. 1 breakout candidate for the 2017-18 season — that was a bit of a softball.

As for Patrick, the center joined "NHL Tonight" on Friday to discuss the honor and also provide an update on how his summer is going.

"Coming off that surgery last year," Patrick said, "I had a slow start. It took a while to get my body back to where I wanted it to be. I missed two summers of training. It's been the first summer for me in a while that I've been back in the gym."

Patrick, the No. 2 overall pick in 2017, finished with 13 goals and 30 points in 73 regular-season games. He missed nine games in October and November because of a concussion and spent most of the first half of the season getting his mobility back after undergoing offseason abdominal surgery. In fact, he's lost his past two summers of training because of surgery.

Prior to his final junior season and his draft year, Patrick underwent sports hernia surgery. Then 10 days before the Flyers drafted him, he went under the knife again.

Now he's fully healthy and has a full summer of training.

"First time I can get after it," Patrick said during the team's exit interviews in April (see story). "It's going to be a big summer for me. I'm not satisfied with how the year was or how my year was, so I'm looking to take big steps here."

Once Patrick began feeling healthier, he started getting a bigger role with the Flyers. He was elevated to the team's second-line center and stuck. He also found a role on the power play.

The 19-year-old posted 17 points in the final 25 games, which translates to a respectable 0.68 points per game clip and 55 points over an 82-game schedule. Not too bad for a rookie who couldn't actually train during his previous two offseasons.

"My coaches pushed me throughout the year. Then they gave me more opportunity," Patrick told the NHL Network. "Jake Voracek was huge for me. He thinks the game so well. The puck protection that guy has, you just got to get open for him.

"I think my body also just felt better as the year went on. I kind of took a while to get my skating legs there, so I think in the second half, I had a little more pep in my step."

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