Simmonds may not have the really long-distance game to compete with some of the NHL's best shooters, but Craig Berube said it's Simmonds' growth off the rush that has made him into a more complete player this season.
The Flyers - and the rest of the NHL - already knew Simmonds could score from tight areas. But Simmonds displayed a facet of his game rarely seen, beating Tim Thomas with a game-winning wrist shot from 40-feet away to deliver the Flyers to a gutty, 4-2 win over the Dallas Stars last night at Wells Fargo Center. It was his second game-winning goal scored in the Flyers' 10 games since the Olympic break.
"I haven't scored a goal like that since junior hockey," Simmonds joked.
With all eyes on teammate Claude Giroux, who has quickly climbed into the Hart Trophy finalist race, Simmonds reminded everyone last night why he may be the Flyers' key to success in the postseason. He is the muscle behind the Flyers' talented depth scoring attack, which also saw goals from defenseman Mark Streit and fourth-liner Michael Raffl last night.
Prior to Giroux's explosion with 52 points in the last 38 games, you could have made the argument that Simmonds was Flyers' MVP this season. He hasn't taken his foot off the gas pedal with 38 points in his last 35 games.
He picked up another two goals last night against the Stars, including a first period tap-in that brought him to a tie for second in the NHL in power-play goals with 13. Only Alex Ovechkin, who leads the pack with 20 power-play goals, is ahead of him.
"He's a power forward," Berube said. "He goes hard on the forecheck and gets to the net. He's a good all-around player. I think his game has improved on the rush. I think he's becoming a very good rush player. You can see tonight, he takes the puck on the rush and scores."
As the prototypical "power forward," Simmonds made his mark by chipping the puck in and grinding it out in the corner to get it for his teammates before heading to the net.
Now, focusing more on puck possession, Simmonds seems to be more inclined to gain entry into the offensive zone before either shooting or dishing to linemates. He isn't a player who will wow with advanced statistics, but his game is still a work-in-progress.
Braydon Coburn noted how tough Simmonds is to play against in practice, since he hangs onto the puck so well. That is finally translating into games.
Consider: Simmonds scored 28 goals two seasons ago with the Flyers. Last night, he netted his 22nd and 23rd of the season. Even with fewer goals, Simmonds said he feels like a more complete player now.
"My first year, I did get to 28 goals, but I feel there were some lapses where I'd go 15 or 16 games. One time I went 17 games without a goal," Simmonds said. "I've tried to make sure I'm playing a more complete game and more consistently. I'm just getting used to the league more and more. As you get older, the game starts to slow down a little bit."
With the help of Steve Mason, the Flyers tied their season-high winning streak at four games and increased their lead on second place in the Metropolitan Division to three points. They found a way to grind out a see-saw battle even on a night when they didn't play their best.
It was bound to happen - after back-to-back wins over Pittsburgh and the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.
"Tonight wasn't as good," Berube said. "We were sloppy at times. But they understand. They know it wasn't good enough."
In a slate stuffed with true Cup contenders - Pittsburgh, Chicago and now St. Louis and Los Angeles - last night was perhaps the Flyers' most dangerous "let-down game" of this stretch. They still prevailed.
"These guys had a rough game against Pittsburgh, we knew they were going to be ready," Streit said. "The second period, we slowed down and had some turnovers, but we got the win and we found a way."
The Flyers are 23-0-2 this season when scoring four or more goals . . . Tim Thomas changed his mask after being struck with a puck in the first period. Last night was Thomas' third start against the Flyers this season. Prior to this loss, he was 14-4-2 with a 2.21 goals against-average and .934 save percentage against the Flyers in his career . . . Streit scored the Flyers' 30th goal by a defenseman this season, the first time they have done that since 2009-10.
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