PHILADELPHIA – As far as fairytale endings go, there’s still a lot of time left to determine if the Flyers will get theirs this season.
As for fairytale beginnings… well… count Simon Gagne as a believer.
After all Gagne couldn’t have scripted his past two days any better.
Get out of a bad personal situation in Los Angeles by being traded to a team for which he played for 11 years. Then, after flying in on a red-eye flight, he was welcomed home with open arms by the fans, scored a goal in his first game, earned the third star of the contest and helped his new/old team to a 4-1 victory over the Washington Capitals.
"I got a call from [Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren] yesterday and talked to [coach Peter] Laviolette about what my role is going to be on the power play," Gagne said. "I’ll know exactly what my role is going to be, and as a player, you’ll need that.
"It was the tough thing in L.A., I wasn’t sure what my role was and I didn’t really understand why I wasn’t playing. Now it’s behind and now it’s time to focus on the future. I like the chance that I’m having from the Flyers and the coaching staff."
And it wasn’t just Gagne riding emotion and playing a strong game. It was his linemates Max Talbot (who scored his first goal of the season) and Sean Couturier. It was his other teammates, who jumped all over Washington in the first period.
Claude Giroux, who was lamenting getting behind by two goals in each of the previous four games, didn’t waste time giving the Flyers the lead scoring 23 seconds into the game on a nice pass from Scott Hartnell.
Giroux finished with two points, ran his scoring streak to six games, and after a sluggish start to his season, has now climbed to within a point of cracking the top 10 scoring leaders in the NHL (7-15-22).
“It’s great to have that lead right off the bat and keep it,” Giroux said. “We played well in the first and second period and we were able to get two more goals in the second.”
But don’t let Giroux get ahead of the story.
See, Wayne Simmonds scored a power play goal 4:04 into the first period, sliding a backhander past Washington goalie Braden Holtby to make it 2-0 Flyers in a flash.
Hartnell assisted on this goal as well, as he had a strong game, including five hits, and is starting to look more and more comfortable on his left foot.
“I feel a little more comfortable with the puck,” Hartnell said. “I had some chances going down the wing but I didn’t get my shot off the way I wanted to. I think it comes with more games played. If you want to look at it like an exhibition season on a regular season, it takes three, four or five games to feel comfortable and for not skating for four weeks, I feel a little better.”
Gagne’s goal came early in the second period – also on the power play – depositing an easy shot off a pretty pass from Brayden Schenn.
It was Gagne’s first goal in more than 15 months (a stretch that was magnified by injuries, the lockout and being a healthy scratch) and it sent the Wells Fargo Center into euphoria.
“Scoring that tap in goal, it’s a good scenario for sure,” Gagne said. “I got some good hockey left, I may not have played a lot in L.A., but every time I was in the lineup, I felt good. I felt good tonight, so the more I think I’m going to play, the more I’ll get better. I’m excited to be back.”
Gagne finished the game with 16 minutes of ice time, the goal, four shots and two hits.
Not too shabby.
Talbot then snapped a season-long scoring drought with a blazing slapper from the high slot that chased Holtby and rounded off the scoring for the Flyers.
Ilya Bryzgalov, 23 saves, was 2:09 away from a shutout when Joel Ward scored for the Caps, erasing the donut, but while Bryzgalov didn’t face a lot of shots, he did have to try to stop Alex Ovechkin on a couple of high percentage chances and came up big each time.
The Flyers will again look to reach the .500 plateau Saturday when they host the Ottawa Senators in the final game of this five-game homestand.
And if they’re going to win, the Flyers are going to have to play, well, like they did Wednesday.
“I thought guys from the first shift played hard and played smart,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “They were tight defensively. We got a chance in the offensive zone. There was shot movement and lots of opportunities.”
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