Flyers

NHL All-Star Game: Wayne Simmonds wins MVP, opens eyes in return to L.A.

NHL All-Star Game: Wayne Simmonds wins MVP, opens eyes in return to L.A.

LOS ANGELES — Wayne Simmonds is returning home with plenty of souvenirs from his first NHL All-Star Game.

There are autographed jerseys, plaques and memorabilia. There is a Most Valuable Player trophy and the new truck that comes with it. There is a share of the $1 million bonus given to the winning team.

And there is a one dollar bill that was taped to his nameplate in the victorious Metropolitan Division locker room, but neither Simmonds nor his All-Star teammates knew how it got there.

“I don't even know who did that to be honest with you,” Simmonds said. “I’m still trying to figure it out. It says ‘enjoy the money’ on it. I have no clue who it was. But I'll take it. That will be my lucky dollar bill now. I'll throw that in my pocket.”

Simmonds created plenty of his own luck before acquiring that dollar bill, scoring three goals during two games Sunday, including the winner with 4:58 remaining as the Metropolitan Division defeated the Pacific Division, 4-3, in the final of the 3-on-3 mini-tournament (see Twitter reactions to Simmonds' day).

Speeding past his former Los Angeles Kings teammate and best friend Drew Doughty on a 2-on-0 break, Simmonds took a pass from New Jersey forward Taylor Hall and easily buried it past Arizona Coyotes goalie Mike Smith to cap a memorable return to the Staples Center.    

While the four Chicago Blackhawks representatives and members of the Kings’ California rivals were booed mercilessly during pregame introductions — Sharks goalie Martin Jones, another friend and former L.A. teammate of Simmonds, got the best of it with a 50-50 mix of cheers and abuse — Simmonds was greeted with universal admiration despite having played for the Flyers for nearly six seasons now.

The gesture was very much appreciated.

“When you leave a place, you don't expect to come back and get all the cheers as I did today, but I must have did something right when I was here,” Simmonds said. “I know I had a lot of die-hard fans here, and I really appreciate those people.”

Simmonds showed the tremendous improvement in his game since leaving L.A. immediately in the Metropolitan Division’s opening 10-6 win over the Atlantic Division. scoring the opening goal. Dispossessing Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson in the offensive zone, Simmonds skated the other way and fought through Karlsson’s resistance to beat Montreal’s Carey Price. 

His other two goals featured similar bursts of speed, shooting and handles, a bit of a departure from Simmonds’ trademark heavy style of play. It wasn’t lost on his linemate for the afternoon.

“Traditionally he is a power-play guy, plays in front of the net, but as you saw today he has got a lot more skill than that and can really open it up in the open ice,” Hall said. “Guys in the league, we know that, but maybe fans don’t. To see a guy like that, his first All-Star Game and win MVP, that’s what the weekend is all about.”    

Capping a weekend heavy on both the nostalgia and history of the NHL in its 100th season, and highlighting a promising wave of new talent, Simmonds’ performance also shined a light on the growing diversity of the game.

Simmonds was one of four black players on the All-Star roster (joined by Columbus' Seth Jones, Buffalo's Kyle Okposo and Nashville's P.K. Subban), while goaltending great Grant Fuhr was among the 100 greatest players announced Friday, and participated in a pregame receiving line, where Simmonds received a big pat on the back from Flyers legend Bobby Clarke. 

“We're trying to spread the game,” Simmonds said. “We're not necessarily trying to change the look of it, but just get different people in it and you get different avenues. Hockey is for everybody, so it's a great sport. I'm just trying to be a good ambassador and stuff like that, so it's great.” 

Sid and Ovi Together 
Injuries limited Sidney Crosby to just one All-Star Game appearance before Sunday, but he made up for lost time in a dream pairing with Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. 

It took a while for them to get on the same page. Crosby didn’t score until 6:26 had elapsed in the second period of the opening game, while Ovechkin netted his lone goal of the afternoon with one second left against the Atlantic Division. They each posted minus-2 ratings in the final and did not contribute a point. 

Still, the moment was not lost on hockey fans, whether they were watching on television, in the arena or sharing the same bench with two of the six active players included on the list of 100 greatest NHL players announced Friday night.

“They are the best players in the game right now and it’s awesome to see them playing together,” Jones said. “You see the battles they always have whether it is regular season or playoffs, just because they see each other so much in the Metro Division, but it’s awesome when you get competitive guys together and play on the same team."

The Next One
While Crosby and Ovechkin shared the spotlight, Connor McDavid showed why he has quickly emerged as the future face of the NHL. 

The Edmonton Oilers’ young superstar had a goal and two assists in the Pacific Division’s 10-3 rout of the Central Division, delivering two breathtaking breakaways and an assist in one especially memorable 45-second span. McDavid scored another goal in the final against the Metropolitan Division, simply looking faster than everyone else even on the open ice of 3-on-3 with and against the best in hockey. 

2020 NHL playoffs: 3 keys to Flyers beating Canadiens and a series prediction

2020 NHL playoffs: 3 keys to Flyers beating Canadiens and a series prediction

You’d have to go back to 2012 after the Flyers defeated their longtime rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins in a quarterfinal series, to find the most recent time that this much optimism engulfed the local hockey club. After dispatching the other three top teams in the East during round-robin play, Alain Vigneault’s squad will take on a Montreal Canadiens team that had the fewest regular-season points of any of the 24 teams allowed the opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup. 

From one perspective, it’s as beneficial a matchup as the Flyers could have hoped for in the first round of the playoffs. But, the Canadiens are riding high after dispatching the Penguins in four games during the qualifying round. So how do the Flyers ensure the Canadiens’ Cinderella runs ends before it truly ever begins?

Here are 3 keys for the orange and black:

That was then, this is now

The Flyers should feel confident after sweeping the Bruins, Capitals and Lightning in the round robin. But it’s important to acknowledge that there is a different level of intensity in series play as opposed to seeding games. The Canadiens have already experienced what it feels like to have a singular focus on one opponent thanks to their qualifying-round victory against the Pens.

Furthermore, you can put the Canadiens’ regular-season struggles to the side. They’re still not a great team. But in fairness, their underlying stats suggest they are better than their regular-season record indicates. More importantly, they have a Stanley Cup-winning coach Claude Julien and arguably the most reliable goaltender the game has to offer in Carey Price. That’s two significant ingredients for winning a seven-game series.

A Game 1 loss doesn't mean the Flyers have to panic. But it would change the complexion of the matchup. The Flyers cannot afford to ease into this series. They need to be ready to go at the drop of the puck Wednesday night.

Simple, smart, aggressive

The Canadiens are not built to control play. They did so at times against the Penguins, but that speaks more to Pittsburgh’s flaws than anything Montreal did over the course of four games.

Julien is more than happy to have his team play the role of counterpuncher. Expect the Canadiens to flood the neutral zone and wait for a mistake to turn into an odd-man advantage. With that in mind, the Flyers would be well-served to adopt a specific mindset in each zone.

In the defensive zone, the Flyers need to play a simple game. The Canadiens are not going to win this series by cycling Ivan Provorov and the other Flyers blueliners to exhaustion. Brendan Gallagher and company are looking to create turnovers and turn them into quick-strike goals. Artturi Lehkonen’s game-winning goal in Montreal’s 2-0 Game 4 win against the Penguins is a prime example of that. The Habs capitalized on a Brandon Tanev turnover in Pittsburgh’s defensive zone and the puck was in the back of the net in the blink of an eye. The Flyers need to manage the puck in their own zone and appreciate that the simple play, a chip off the glass or getting net-side in coverage, can be the difference between winning and losing.

The Canadiens’ forwards are not a physically-imposing group. But they have plenty of speed. Expect the Habs to clog the center of the ice and use their wheels to disrupt entries into the offensive zone. The Flyers will need a smart, disciplined approach in the neutral zone. Well-weighted chip-ins that get the Canadiens' defensemen into retreat mode with their back to the ice will be good plays in this series. 

When the Flyers gain the blue line, that’s when it’s time to play with aggression. Hunt the puck and force Shea Weber and company into making quick decisions with the puck. The Flyers’ size should also allow them to win board battles. Creating turnovers means high-danger chances and that is the only way to consistently beat Price. 

While most coaches abhor the thought of an offensive-zone penalty, the orange and black can afford to err on the side of being overzealous in their pursuit of scoring chances in the Canadiens’ end.

Special teams

That is because the Montreal power play, to put it kindly, has not been good. After a mediocre regular season, the Canadiens went 0 for 12 in four games against the Penguins with the extra man. Numerous times, the Canadiens failed to even register a shot against the Pens’ penalty killers. 

The Flyers were no better on the power play in the round robin, going 0 for 11 over three games. That said, the Flyers have been excellent on the penalty kill in the bubble, allowing just one goal in 10 opportunities.

If the Flyers can get their big names going on the power play, it’s hard to see how the Canadiens hang in the series. But if special teams is a wash and the series comes down to 5-on-5 play, the Canadiens have the goaltending to make it a coin-flip situation.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Price is the best player in this series. I would be surprised if it makes a difference.

Flyers in six.

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Claude Giroux's message to his son on social media is just too pure

Claude Giroux's message to his son on social media is just too pure

Having the NHL back has filled a void for many since its return, and it’s only been a little over a week since play resumed. 

If you’re watching from home, having hockey on almost around the clock has made for an incredible leap back into the sport, but for those who have traveled into their respective bubbles, it had to have been a major adjustment. While teams are together and can bond like never before, being away from family, especially during the craziest run of the season, must have taken some getting used to. 

Back in the early stages of training camp, the reality was already setting in for the Flyers' captain. Leading up to the return, Claude Giroux noted how he spent a significant amount of time with his son and how tough this transition could really be in the long run. 

“I was home for three months and got to know him as a person, got a good connection and had a lot of fun together,” Giroux said back in late July. “We were together every day. Right now it’s tough, you want to be there to see him grow. I might miss his first birthday, so it’s really not easy.” 

If the Flyers make a run into late August, that thought will become a reality, as his son Gavin's birthday falls on Aug. 26. 

So, video chats and sweet messages on social media have become the new norm for communicating. 

(Image credit: Ryanne Giroux)

The latest being this sweet interaction between Giroux and his wife Ryanne on Twitter. 

The one pro of them actually being a part though? 

“He’s going to have a chance to watch me play on TV,” Giroux said with a smile. 

Sports Uncovered is on all podcast platforms: click here to subscribe now!

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Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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