Wayne Simmonds was an absolute force in last night's 4-1 win over the red hot Nashville Predators at the Wells Fargo center. The 'Wayne Train' was full steam ahead in the contest, using his considerable frame to get position to register a career-high 10 shots on goal. He opened the scoring late in the first, then provided a much-needed insurance goal with the man advantage late in the third to seal the deal.
"His confidence seems to be growing," noted head coach Peter Laviolette in his post-game press conference. "Right now he's a very difficult person to get the puck from. He hangs on to that puck and he's able to make plays. I think he's got a lot of confidence. He's playing extremely well for us right now."
The first-year Flyer made a totally unselfish play late in the game, showing his team focus is well ahead of personal feats. With Philadelphia holding a 3-1 lead and Nashville starter Anders Lindback pulled for an extra attacker, Simmonds took possession of the puck on his own side of the center red line. Instead of shooting for the empty cage and the chance of completing a hat trick and risking an icing call and the faceoff coming back into his club's end, he instead calmly banked the puck off the boards out of the defensive zone.
"I think the change of scenery helped me out a little bit," said Simmonds about his trade to the Flyers in the offseason. "I've just been trying to work hard and pick up little things. I watch 'Hartsy' (Scott Hartnell) a lot and a lot of guys I played with in the past and I just try to learn." With the red-headed left winger making the All-Star Game and having a career season, it's a great year to be emulating Hartnell.
Simmonds now has 15 goals in 50 games, already one more than the total he ended last season with the Los Angeles Kings. He is just one goal short of his career-best amount and is fourth in Flyers' goal scorers this year, just one behind rookie Matt Read.
Speaking of Read, he scored his 16th of the year against the Preds, tops among rookie goal scorers. It's not just the amount of goals Read scores, they always seem to come at crucial times in a game. Last night's marker was no different.
With Philly nursing a 1-0 lead and having just killed off a Nashville power play, the Predators were still pressuring for the tying score. Read deflected a pass intended for point man Kevin Klein past the defender, then beat Klein to the puck in the neutral zone. Read streaked into the Preds zone along the left wing side and snapped a shot from the hash marks, beating Lindback through the five hole.
"I tried to surprise him (Lindback) and shoot it five hole," he said. "I wasn't really looking at the net. I kind of knew where it was and I knew where he was. I was just looking like I was going to pass it and I don't think he was ready for it."
The goal gave the Flyers an important 2-0 cushion, and ended up being the game-winning goal -- his fourth of the year.
As an aside, Philly rookies have now scored goals in 13 of the last 15 games, including tallies in 10 of the last 11.
Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov gave one of his most complete full-game performances against the Preds. He played his angles well and made himself big in the net, giving Nashville shooters little with which to aim their shots.
"He looks really sharp to me," said Laviolette. "He seems focused and there. He's working hard in practice. His practices have been solid. I think that often times, your practice reflects your games and your games reflect your practice. It's what you do on a day-to-day basis, you take that into the game. That's typically what you'll get from it. So he's been sharp in practice and it's followed right through to the game."
With all the hoopla of the early season 'lost in the woods' fiasco and mid-season Winter Classic and HBO cameras finally gone, Bryzgalov has a great chance to focus solely on bettering his game. He played very well in Tuesday's first game back from the All-Star break, a 2-1 loss in a shootout, and stopped 26 of 27 Predators shots last night.
"I was sharp," the netminder said after the game. "I was playing very comfortable."
Even with an 11-1-1 stretch from the end of October into mid-December and a pretty good 19-10-5 overall record thus far, the best may yet to come from the Russian goalie. With his comfort level increasing and playing some of his best hockey of the campaign, Flyers fans could be in store for a look an extended look at the goalie GM Paul Holmgren was so intent on bringing to the City of Brotherly Love over the summer.
Unselfish Approach Also Taken By Jagr, Shows True 'Team' Focus
Simmonds wasn't the only one who passed up the chance at hitting the empty net last night. Jaromir Jagr -- mired in a nine-game goal scoring slump -- also had the opportunity to get back into the goal-scoring column with Lindback on the bench and the Predators skating with the extra attacker. But he instead dished off to Claude Giroux, who hadn't scored since the NHL Winter Classic on January 2 -- a 12-game drought.
Giroux potted his 19th of the season, and Jagr gained even more respect from the Philadelphia hockey community. There's no doubt the veteran, who turns 40 in less than two weeks, knows the importance of having a confident Giroux leading the way as he had been earlier in the campaign. The act of unselfishness by Jagr in buiilding the young team-leading scorer could go a long way the rest of the season.
It's a trait that one loves to envision for a team, and one this year's version of the Flyers definitely posseses. A true focus on 'team' over individual accomplishments, and it's one that could lead to a lengthy run in the postseason.