Gagne on return: 'It feels almost like I never left'

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Gagne on return: 'It feels almost like I never left'

Simon Gagne said it almost felt like coming home.

“It feels almost like I never left,” the newest Flyer said after his first game back in Philadelphia. “Just walking in the building before the game, knowing everyone and everybody’s still here. … It definitely helped me tonight to get through the tough travel yesterday, definitely helped me to get through the game and feeling good.”

The Flyers re-acquired Gagne in a surprise move Tuesday (see story), flying him through the night on a red-eye from Los Angeles in time to play in Wednesday’s 4-1 win over the Washington Capitals.

But Gagne didn’t just fight through fatigue to put in his 16 minutes. His scoring chances started on his very first shift with Sean Couturier and Max Talbot, and he went on to score the Flyers’ third goal of the night, a tap-in beauty on the power play.

He couldn’t have written the script better if he’d tried.

“Not really, I guess,” he said, smiling. “Especially after what happened yesterday, flying late last night from L.A. I tried to sleep a little bit, but at the same time, now I’m excited to be back. It was hard to fall asleep. I tried to get a nice night of sleep, but at the end, coming here and getting a big win, and scoring that tap-in goal, it’s a good scenario for sure.”

Gagne, of course, has a big leg up over most other players who are traded midseason. He is familiar with the area, he knows nine Flyers from his previous stint with the team and he’s already played for coach Peter Laviolette. He even technically still owns a home in Voorhees, N.J., -- he only just found someone to buy it last month.

Fans, too, were ecstatic about his return. Gagne was a crowd favorite during his 10 seasons in Philadelphia, and he was greeted with cheers when he skated on the ice for warm-ups. When a video welcome was played on the Jumbotron in the first period, he received a loud standing ovation.

“I think there’s always a little bit of an adjustment when a player comes to the team,” Laviolette said. “But I think it’s easier when they’ve been there and they’ve played for the coach and know a lot of the players and a lot of the system. I think that does make it a little bit easier.”

Gagne’s new teammates were simply hoping for an emotional boost in his return Wednesday. They got so much more. His goal at 3:54 of the second period was his first since Nov. 17, 2011, and first for the Flyers since March 28, 2010. In his 11 games with the Kings this season, he had five assists but had yet to score.

“Sometimes you just need one to get things rolling,” Gagne said. “And it was good to get that first one in my first game back in Philly.”

The 32-year-old left wing was a casualty of depth with Los Angeles, a healthy scratch for the Kings’ last four games. His injury and concussion struggles over the last couple years were no secret, but Gagne said he’s felt healthy this season and was excited to hit the ice with memories of last season’s struggles (he missed the Kings’ last 47 regular-season games) behind him. He would use only his Stanley Cup victory experience to build on.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to figure out where he fit in on this season’s L.A. roster.

With the Flyers, though, his experience makes his role here obvious.

“Right away, I got a call from Homer (general manager Paul Holmgren) yesterday, and talking to Lavy (Laviolette) on the phone yesterday, they told me what my role’s going to be,” Gagne said. “… As a player, you need that. It was maybe the tough thing in L.A., I wasn’t sure what my role was and didn’t really understand why I was not playing.”

Gagne, who will turn 33 on Friday, has always kept the thought in the back of his mind that he could return to the Flyers one day. He had hoped it might happen, but couldn’t imagine it would have happened less than three years after he left.

He might not be the player he was during his first stint with the Flyers, but he is a wiser player. And that knowledge should only help him -- and his new team -- during this strange, lockout-shortened season.

“[The Kings] thought it was going to be the best place for me to come back and make things a lot easier to try to get my game back,” Gagne said. “I know exactly what I have to do, I’ve got the experience. I know what it takes to play in Philly.”

And Wednesday night, he said, he’ll definitely sleep well.

Best of NHL: Wild beat Blackhawks to grab 1st place in Western Conference

Best of NHL: Wild beat Blackhawks to grab 1st place in Western Conference

CHICAGO -- Jason Pominville scored in the third period, Devan Dubnyk made 33 saves and the Minnesota Wild beat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 on Sunday night to grab sole possession of the top spot in the Western Conference.

Nino Niederreiter and Chris Stewart also scored as Minnesota earned its fourth straight win and improved to 17-1-1 since Dec. 4. The Wild also beat the Blackhawks for the eighth straight time.

Minnesota (28-9-5) jumped in front for good when Marco Scandella shot the puck behind the net and it caromed right to Pominville standing all alone on the right side of the crease. He knocked it into the open net for his sixth of the season at 5:08.

Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter was sent off for tripping with 22.4 seconds left, but Chicago was unable to get a good look with a 6-on-4 advantage.

Patrick Kane scored twice for the Blackhawks and Corey Crawford made 29 stops (see full recap).

Hall nets OT winner as Devils top Canucks
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Taylor Hall scored 1:28 into overtime to lift the New Jersey Devils to a 2=1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday.

Skating on a 2-on-1 with Damon Severson, Hall chose to hold the puck and beat Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom through the legs.

Kyle Quincey scored the tying goal with 3:03 left in the second period and Cory Schneider stopped 21 shots to help the Devils win their second straight after losing four in a row.

Loui Eriksson scored for the Canucks and Markstrom finished with 20 saves for the Canucks, losers of four straight after winning six in a row coming out of the holiday break (see full recap).

Flyers Weekly Observations: Everything coming apart at the seams

Flyers Weekly Observations: Everything coming apart at the seams

That week was… not pretty.

Not by a long shot.

The Flyers’ busy week saw them play five games in an eight-day stretch and come out on the winning side of things just once. Overall, the Flyers went 1-3-1 last week with a 2-1 overtime loss in Columbus, a disheartening 4-1 defeat in Buffalo, a wild 5-4 shootout win over visiting Vancouver, an ugly 6-3 loss in Boston and an even uglier 5-0 loss in Washington.

There’s a lot to digest in this week’s Flyers Weekly Observations, and, needless to say, not much of it is good.

Where to even begin?

• Let’s start with Shayne Gostisbehere’s benching on Saturday afternoon in Boston, the second healthy scratch of the season for last season’s runner up to the Calder Trophy. Let’s face it, the 23-year-old defenseman has not played great this season. He’s struggled mightily defensively and he’s had a miserable time hitting the net in the offensive zone, among other warts in his game. He’s obviously not alone. After all, this 3-8-3 skid is rooted in shoddy defensive play in all zones. But he has not played well. We all know offense is Gostisbehere’s strength, but he’s got just four goals and 15 assists in 46 games. And he’s sporting a minus-17 after Sunday's loss. Dave Hakstol is obviously not happy with his young defenseman’s game and figured the best course of action would be to let Gostisbehere sit down, observe and clear his head. And I get that thought process. Sometimes that’s a good thing. But I’m of the belief it’s best to let a young player play through his struggles. Gostisbehere’s going to have to get used to doing that because this will not be the only time in his career he will struggle. It happens to every player, even the best ones. And it’s even tougher to defend Ghost’s benching with as poorly as Michael Del Zotto and Brandon Manning played in the previous game against Vancouver.

• Speaking of which, those stick penalties Del Zotto and Manning took over and over again in the first period against the Canucks were just careless and put the Flyers into a hole that could have been a lot deeper if not for the play of the penalty kill and Steve Mason. That’s the stuff that can just kill a team, and that’s the stuff that’s also very avoidable.

• One play really stuck out to me during Saturday’s loss to the Bruins in Beantown. The Flyers were down 5-3 early in the third period and attacking in the Bruins' zone when Jake Voracek hit Sean Couturier with a slick cross-ice pass. Couturier had net to shoot at and a chance to cut it to a one-goal game, but instead skated to the side of the net and backhanded the puck into the crowded slot and turned it over. When you’re down two in the third period, you need to shoot there. Even if Tuukka Rask stops it, you never know if there’s going to be a rebound. It was an example of how Couturier needs to be more aggressive offensively on a consistent basis. Especially after he was aggressive against Vancouver with a goal and a post hit after a beautiful offensive rush.

• What was that effort in Buffalo on Tuesday night? Credit the improving Sabres for playing well and earning the win, but the Flyers were just lifeless out there on the ice.

• Let’s chat some about those goalie interference calls that didn’t go the Flyers’ way in Columbus last weekend. Michael Raffl was squeezed into Sergei Bobrovsky and barely made contact with the Jackets’ goalie on the first one. Raffl is entitled to that space just as much as anyone else on the ice. It’s a hockey play, plain and simple. No idea how that one was overturned. Contact was made with Mason’s skate on the second one, but I believe that call was eventually correct as the goal stood. The problem is this: They were two similar plays with limited contact made with the goaltender. The league can’t have one count there and one not. The league is creating itself a very unnecessary grey area with those calls.

• On the NBC national telecast of Sunday’s debacle in Washington, analyst Brian Boucher said something to the effect of the Flyers were in the process of quitting the game after the Caps’ fourth goal, which was scored early in the third period. And it was hard to disagree him with what we all saw. Things can become fragile over these kinds of skids and it just seems recently when one thing goes wrong with for the Flyers, everything comes apart at the seams.

• Brayden Schenn’s stat line so far this season is uneven, literally. He’s got 14 goals on the season, but a league-leading 11 have come on the power play. So that’s 79 percent of Schenn’s goal-scoring coming on the man advantage. That’s obviously great for when the Flyers are on the power play, but with how they’re averaging 1.79 goals per game over this recent 3-8-3 stretch, that could really use it at even strength. That goes for everybody.

• I’m not sure how I feel about the bye week. On one hand, it comes at the right time as the Flyers can rest, recharge and get their heads straight after this awful stretch. On the other hand, it’s no secret this team could REALLY use the practice time right now just to get back to the basics and for the players just to get their footing back underneath themselves. They’ll next be able to practice Friday afternoon.

Coming up this week: Saturday vs. New Jersey (7 p.m./TCN), Sunday at New York Islanders (6 p.m./CSN)