Wayne Simmonds will never forget his first All-Star Game. Simmonds scored three goals in the 3-on-3 competition, including the game-winner in the finals, and was named the game’s most valuable player.
An added bonus is that the game was in Los Angeles, where Simmonds started his career.
The tremendous All-Star performance by Simmonds may have opened some eyes. Simmonds leads the Flyers with 21 goals, but many of those goals are scored around the net, where Simmonds battles for position. There isn’t much physical play in the All-Star Game – and that might be the understatement of the year – yet Simmonds excelled in that environment.
What many may have learned during Sunday’s All-Star Game is that Simmonds has skill to accompany his grit. He showed tremendous patience in waiting out Carey Price on one goal. He displayed speed to create a breakaway on another goal, deftly chipping the puck over Price’s shoulder. The game-winner was an easy shot into a wide-open net, but Simmonds had to use his speed to get into goal-scoring position.
Simmonds’ all-around game has improved this season. Despite what is indicated by a poor plus/minus rating (-15), Simmonds has improved defensively this season. He’s improved enough that head coach Dave Hakstol uses Simmonds to kill penalties. He even has a shorthanded goal.
The other half of special teams is where Simmonds is at his best. He has 10 goals and eight assists on the power play. Most of his goals are on deflections and rebounds in front of the net, but he can also score in open ice.
Simmonds, who scored in three straight games prior to the All-Star break, also isn’t a drag on the salary cap. He’s certainly worth the $4.3 million the Flyers are paying him this season. His salary rises during the next two seasons to $5 million, and then he is scheduled to become a free agent following the 2018-19 season. If Simmonds continues to improve, he will be a relative bargain at those salaries.
If you paid attention in the first sentence, it refers to Sunday as his first All-Star Game. That’s because, if he continues to develop, that won’t be his last All-Star Game.
PLAYOFF PICTURE: The Flyers occupy the second wild card spot during the All-Star break. Their hold on that spot is tenuous because the Maple Leafs are just one point behind the Flyers and have played three fewer games. On the other hand, the Flyers are tied with the Bruins (56 points), but have played two fewer games.
There are 10 Eastern Conference teams, including the Flyers, within seven points of the second wild card berth. That contains the ingredients for a tumultuous battle for playoff berths down the stretch.
TEAM OF THE CENTURY: Three players most frequently identified as Flyers were included in the NHL’s list of the top 100 players in league history: Bob Clarke, Bernie Parent and Eric Lindros. Six other players who wore orange-and-black for a short period of time also made the list. Those players were Peter Forsberg, Jaromir Jagr, Chris Pronger, Paul Coffey, Adam Oates and Darryl Sittler.
Choosing the top 100 players from the NHL’s 100-year history is a difficult task, but I think a case could be made for Bill Barber and Mark Howe to be included on the list.
PRONGER CHECKS BIEBER: It wasn’t the crushing check it was made out to be in eye-catching Internet headlines, but former Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger took pop star Justin Bieber into the glass during the celebrity game during All-Star weekend. Any questions about why people loved Chris Pronger when he played?
PROPER BALANCE: The Flyers entered the All-Star break on a three-game winning streak. The game-winner in their final game before the break, a 2-1 win over the visiting Maple Leafs, came from fourth-line forward Roman Lyubimov with 2:37 remaining in regulation When the Flyers are getting offensive contributions from all four lines, they are a difficult team to handle.
GETTING EVEN: Eleven of Brayden Schenn’s 15 goals this season have come on the power play, and his 5-on-5 play has, at times, left a lot to be desired. One of his other goals game during a 3-on-3 overtime session, so Schenn has only scored three goals in normal even-strength situations. However, his 5-on-5 play appeared to be better during the final few games before the All-Star break.
POOR SCHEDULING: Having a bye week within 10 days of the All-Star break, as the Flyers did, is a ridiculous schedule.
LOOKAHEAD: The Flyers exit the All-Star break with 32 games remaining. They are evenly divided between home and away, with 16 of each left on the schedule. The Flyers return to action Tuesday (7 p.m.) at Carolina, and then begin a five-game home stand Thursday (7 p.m.) against the Canadiens. The Flyers will host the Kings on Saturday (1 p.m.).