Wayne’s World? Excellent!
One solid hockey game can make a hell of a difference.
Despite a faint voice of reason, Flyers Nation (yeah, I know, that’s lame) was in a panic after a sluggish start to the shortened season.
But, still without Danny Briere, and now Brayden Schenn and Scott Hartnell, the Flyers dominated the vaunted Rangers. The same Rangers the Flyers haven’t beat since the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor.
I’m really hoping this will at least cool down what’s quickly become an intense and angry Philadelphia sports scene (can’t we just direct these emotions at Ruben Amaro?). Hey, for what it’s worth, the Flyers have now fired as many shots as their opponents this year.
Unfortunately the news was not all good – well, maybe good for Sheena Parveen. Paul Holmgren announced that Scott Hartnell will miss four-to-eight weeks with a broken bone in his left foot.
You really don’t need me to explain why this is bad. Hartnell scored 37 goals last year – including 16 on the power play – and posted more than 20 for the sixth time in seven years. He was a stalwart on the top line with Claude Giroux.
This is a pretty tough pill to swallow for a team that lost Jaromir Jagr and James van Riemsdyk in the offseason. Essentially, the Flyers’ strength over the past few seasons – their deep group of talented forwards – is significantly weakened for the time being.
It will also probably lead to Holmgren burning a year of Scott Laughton’s contract.
I do, however, see one bright side. Wayne Simmonds.
Aside from Giroux and his typical magic, Simmonds has stood out in the early going. After scoring a career-high 28 goals last year, it looks like Simmonds has taken steps forward.
Let’s keep this simple – shots lead to goals. Like always.
Last year, Simmonds fired 197 shots (2.4 per game). So far this season, Simmonds has sent 15 on net in four games (3.75 per game). Now, sample size has to be considered and Simmonds is getting about two minutes of extra ice time per game, but, if that number holds, it’s a massive improvement.
Going with that trend, Simmonds’ corsi numbers are improved (basically a plus-minus in shots, including blocked shots and shots wide). In addition, he’s starting in the offensive zone a similar amount, but he is actually advancing the play, unlike last season (he is starting in the offensive zone 55 percent of the time, finishing there 56 percent of the time. Last year, he started 58 percent of his shifts there and finished in the offensive zone on 47 percent of them).
This has basically been a long-winded way of saying that Simmonds is off to a very nice start.
Aside from the fact he’s stepping into his prime (remember he’s just 24), getting an opportunity to play with Giroux and Matt Read could be enormous for Simmonds.
Since coming to Philadelphia, Simmonds has played a power-type role similar to Hartnell, making him an ideal replacement on the top line.
This goes deeper. A significant aspect of creating scoring chances is maintaining possession of the puck when entering the offensive zone. Simmonds struggled with this. Giroux and Read were two of the better Flyers at retaining possession heading into the zone last season.
In theory, if Simmonds is not burdened with the responsibility of entering the zone with the puck, he can be a more productive player, doing things he does well.
Initial results for this line were great. Simmonds picked up a season-high six shots against the Rangers and kicked off the 2013 campaign with his first goal. In a game when the Flyers basically had three lines and needed its top units to carry the load, they did.
The Flyers are going to miss Hartnell. There’s no question. But Simmonds could shine on the top line as Giroux’s wingman.