TAMING THE WILD
SIMMONDS HAS A BIG NIGHT AS FLYERS ENTER BREAK IN PLAYOFF SPOT
PHILADELPHIA – When Craig Berube decided to tweak his lineup six games ago as far as line combinations, there were some eyebrows raised when he decided to put Brayden Schenn, Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds together.
Conventional wisdom would have suggested it was a unit that was doomed for frustration. Three players, all who play a similar style, none of which have blazing speed, plugging along as a line full of power forwards.
It’s kind of like trying to text with your toes.
But conventional wisdom has taken a back seat for now with this unit, as the trio have found a way to make a difference in hockey games.
|Wayne Simmonds acknowledges the crowd after being named first star against the Wild with a three-point effort.|
Especially Simmonds. There’s been no slowing the Wayne Train, as he is called by many fans on social media, in the past few games.
Simmonds scored twice and added an assist, registering his first three-point game since a four point night in Carolina last April 20, leading the Flyers to a convincing 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild in their final game on home ice in calendar year 2013.
Simmonds now has five goals and two assists for seven points in the past four games for the Flyers, coming on the heels of a 10-game drought in which he was only able to muster three assists.
“I think it’s worked great,” Simmonds said of his new line. “We all do the same thing, we play north-south, we get bodies in, we grind on the other teams defense, and we get the pucks to the point and we crash the net. I think that’s a good recipe and so far it’s been working.”
Has it ever.
For a team that has struggled to find much offense all season – the Flyers entered play Monday ranked 24th in the NHL in goals – they have been able to post three or more goals in seven of the last 10 games and more specifically have done it five games in a row now, totaling 21 goals in that span.
“I thought they were real good because all three of them worked hard together,” Berube said. “In order for that line to be successful they all need to work and play a power game. I thought they did that tonight.”
Most noticeable was Scott Hartnell, who only registered one point – an assist on the game’s first goal by defenseman Luke Schenn that marked the 500th point of his career, but each of his 19 shifts seemed to have a determined Hartnell outworking Wild players around every turn.
“We’ve obviously changed some things up,” Hartnell said. “I think it took a little while to learn how to play the right way and I know no one doesn’t want to let anyone down in here; turning the puck over, making soft plays and you’re accountable to your teammates, the guy next to you in the dressing room; you play hard, you play smarter.”
And the Flyers have been a much smarter team, especially at Wells Fargo center where they’ve won nine straight games for the first time since October-November 2005.
Against the Wild it was about as precise a performance as there could be. The Flyers clamped down defensively, making goalie Steve Mason have a relatively easy night in goal. He made 26 saves, but only a few of them were tough.
They still took too many penalties – giving the Wild five power play chances, but they only allowed one shot on goal in those five power plays – and it was the lone Minnesota goal during a 5-on-3 opportunity.
The team is playing well,” said Claude Giroux, who had a goal and an assist, stretching his career-best point streak to seven games. “We’ve got the four lines going and everyone’s playing great. I think when you have a team effort like tonight, it’s a really good feeling. So we can take it in for a couple days for Christmas and be ready to go on the road.”
And the Flyers head into the holiday break, and the looming six-game road trip, holding onto sole possession of a playoff position as they sit third in the Metropolitan Division with 38 points (17-16-4).
“We got to take this show on the road,” Hartnell said. “You can’t be homers and expect to make the playoffs and take the next step, so we got to take what we do here at home and put it on the road.”
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