Gagne's return a success in Flyers' win over Capitals

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Gagne's return a success in Flyers' win over Capitals

BOX SCORE

One of the justifications for using Simon Gagne on a line with Sean Couturier and Max Talbot is that his skillful puck sense might get both of them going.
 
Among the three of them, their goal total going into Wednesday’s game against the Washington Capitals was two.
 
Now it’s doubled after the Flyers' 4-1 victory at Wells Fargo Center that pulled them back into the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference with 21 points -- two ahead of Tampa Bay.
 
Couturier’s line was arguably the best the Flyers had with Gagne and Talbot picking up their first markers of the season in what was a complete, 60-minute effort from Peter Laviolette’s club.
 
“He’s fun to watch,” said Flyers captain Claude Giroux of Gagne. “He’s a smart player and knows how to score goals.”
 
Gagne, who played 16 minutes, made a difference.
 
“A lot of times you come back into a building you left or were traded to and sometimes the night takes over, but I thought Simon had a real good game defensively and offensively for us,” Laviolette said.
 
“From the first shift, [guys] played hard, played smart and defensively. We got chances in the offensive zone and there was good movement and lots of opportunities.”
 
Ilya Bryzgalov didn’t face a lot of shots but finished with 23 saves, losing his shutout in final 2:09 of the game.
 
“There wasn’t a lot of work -- maybe 10 quality chances,” Laviolette said. “He was sharp early when we needed him.”
 
The Flyers caught the Caps in the tail end of a back-to-back situation -- something teams had been doing to them with regularity this shortened season.
 
Gagne celebrated his return with a power-play goal to erase the bad memories of going 11 games without a goal in Los Angeles.
 
“Sometimes, [Philly] is a tough place to come to and a lot of pressure,” Gagne said. “I know what it takes and maybe I can help the young guys with that.
 
“And maybe I can help offensively. It was a tough situation in L.A. I was in and out of the line up in L.A. so it was hard for me to get my game going when you do that.
 
“I just have to play my basic game every game and help the team get back in the playoff mode.”
 
Gagne was warmly greeted by the crowd even before scoring, while the Flyers chased Caps starting goalie Braden Holtby with four goals.
 
The only “downer” here was another critical injury and even worse, on the banged-up defense.
 
Erik Gustafsson blocked a shot from Washington’s Eric Fehr seven minutes into the second period and did not return. He was hit in the left shin.
 
You really can see how much of an impact a healthy Scott Hartnell can have. Last year’s leading goal scorer, with a career-high 37, Hartnell had two assists on the Flyers' first two goals just 4:04 into the game.
 
That’s three points in three games for Hartnell since returning to the lineup from a fractured bone in his left foot.
 
“I feel a little more comfortable with the puck,” Hartnell said. “I had some chances going down the wing but I didn’t get my shot off the way I wanted to. I think it comes with more games played.
 
“If you want to look at it like an exhibition season on a regular season, it takes three, four or five games to feel comfortable and for not skating for four weeks, I feel a little better.”
 
His first assist was pure #HartnellDown. From his knees outside the paint, he managed to backhand the puck across the slot for Claude Giroux’s seventh goal on the game’s opening shift.
 
Hartnell then drew the primary assist on Wayne Simmonds’ power-play goal at 4:04. Simmonds backhanded the puck under pressure in the slot while falling backward for his eighth goal to make it 2-0.
 
The Caps' only danger these days is on the power play. Not coincidentally, Bryzgalov had two fines saves during a late Washington power play, using his blocker on Nick Backstrom and also stopping Alex Ovechkin, who came into the game six points shy of 700 for his career.
 
“They had a power play [there] and had some opportunities with some tricky plays through the slot, a couple redirects,” Laviolette said. “He was sharp.”
 
Gagne’s first marker at 3:54 of the second period with one second left on a power play made it 3-0. He rebounded a shot from Brayden Schenn.
 
Incredibly, that was Gagne’s first goal since Nov. 17, 2011!
 
Now it took Talbot 22 games to get his first goal of the season, blasting a slap shot from the high slot so hard off the camera inside the net that the puck ricocheted out in a blinding instant.
 
“Feels good to get the win, but personally it feels good to find the back of the net,” Talbot said.
 
“I have been practicing with some new sticks this week. That’s a good excuse, huh? But is worked out good. ... Same company (CCM) but different kind.”

That made it 4-0 with five minutes left in the period and brought on backup goalie Philipp Grubauer.

Bryzgalov had some fine stops on Ovechkin in the third period before losing his shutout to Joel Ward.
 
Obviously, the Flyers need to carry this over to Saturday’s matinee against Ottawa. Historically, the Flyers always have a strong third month of the season.
 
That’s always December but in a lockout-shortened season, it’s March.
 
And it also begins with the start of the game.
 
“The first couple shifts were huge ... to get a goal in there and after that power play, two goals in the first,” Talbot said.
 
“But I thought we played a solid 60-minute effort, which is nice to build on.”

2016 Flyers free-agent fit: Blues C David Backes

2016 Flyers free-agent fit: Blues C David Backes

Each day until July 1, the day free agency begins, CSNPhilly.com producers Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone will profile some of the NHL's top impending free agents and project their likelihood of signing with the Flyers.

David Backes, center

Age: 32
Height: 6-3
Weight: 221
Last team: St. Louis Blues
2015-16 cap hit: $4.5 million

Scouting report
Backes is a veteran of 10 NHL seasons.

He’s coming off a productive 2015-16 campaign in which he registered 21 goals and 24 assists for 45 points. However, the points were his lowest in a full season since 2007-08.

But the 2003 second-round draft pick makes his money by being a shutdown forward, one that’s strong on the puck and makes great use of his size and smarts.

Backes has the clutch gene, as well. He potted three gamer-winners last postseason and finished with seven goals and seven assists in 20 playoff contests, helping lead St. Louis to the Western Conference finals.

The captain is the heart and soul of the Blues, a true locker-room guy.

Projection
It’s hard to imagine Backes leaving St. Louis.

He’s beloved by the entire franchise and fan base.

“I think David's got a lot of good years left in him, I'd love to keep him here, but it has to work out for David and his family first and foremost and then it has to work into our math equation,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said on May 31, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “But he's a priority." 

As for the Flyers, Backes doesn’t make much sense on multiple fronts.

He’s more suited for a win-now team in need of experience to get over the hump. The Flyers are not yet looking to add players of his age and terms. Backes may be forced to take a slight pay cut, but is still not in the Flyers’ current price range.

Heck, not many marquee names on the free-agent market are this offseason.

On top of it, the Flyers need fresher legs and greater speed.

All told, Backes isn’t right for the Flyers.

With Hall of Fame election, it all comes 'full circle' for Eric Lindros

With Hall of Fame election, it all comes 'full circle' for Eric Lindros

Eric Lindros’ career did not come with a storybook ending.

Concussions and injuries authored the final chapter of his playing days.

But on Monday afternoon, No. 88 “got his day,” as Ron Hextall put it.

In many ways, this was Lindros’ storybook finish.

“I haven’t stopped smiling,” Lindros said.

Lindros on Monday was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame as part of the 2016 class (see story).

A rare breed of size and skill, Lindros quickly became an NHL star with the Flyers and now finishes as one.

“It kind of feels full circle if you can understand that," Lindros said, via conference call. 

That feeling especially resonates when he laces 'em up at 43 years old.

"I play hockey a couple times a week just to try to fit in the jeans, and to have this honor right here at the end of things when my game is certainly on the downslope," Lindros said with a laugh, "it’s a great feeling, a great honor and I’m super happy.”

Sergei Makarov, Rogie Vachon and Pat Quinn join Lindros as the 2016 group.

“I would like to thank the selection committee, things are just starting to sink in and I’m certainly honored to be a part of this class,” Lindros said. “Congratulations to Rogie, Sergei and Pat Quinn’s family. It’s a real special honor.”

Lindros, an owner of 372 career goals, 493 assists and 865 points, won the 1994-95 Hart Memorial Trophy, joining Bobby Clarke as the only Flyers players to ever take home the MVP award.

Ironically, Lindros and Clarke clashed as player and general manager, respectively.

It led to a breakup on not-so-good terms.

“When it’s all said and done, everyone wanted to win,” Lindros said. “That was the main focus.”

The past is now the past for both. Clarke pushed for Lindros’ Hall of Fame bid and the latter was grateful.

“Certainly there were some times of friction,” Lindros said, “but to have Bob’s voice in support, next to so many, I’ve got to thank them.”

Flyers GM Hextall played with Lindros and saw the uniqueness firsthand.

“It was terrific being on his team,” Hextall said. “The package of skill and size and aggressiveness, he’s got a big shot. I think at the time, he was the hardest guy in the league to defend.”

Team president Paul Holmgren said you don’t see many like Lindros, still to this day.

“Eric had a shortened career due to injuries but the impact he had on the game was phenomenal,” Holmgren said. “We are all still looking for 6-5, 245-pound guys who can skate and play a skilled and physical game like Eric could. 

“This is great news for the Flyers organization and great news for Eric Lindros and his family. I’m very happy for him.”

Hextall admitted he still wonders what would have been if Lindros stayed healthy to close his career.

“He probably was in [the Hall of Fame] a couple years ago, right, if he didn’t have the injuries,” Hextall said. “Injuries happen but I can say this, when Eric played with us, he was clearly one of the most dominant players in the league at the time and probably one of the most dominant ever.”

And it all came full circle.

Lindros got his day.

Flyers make qualifying offers to Brayden Schenn, 4 other restricted free agents

Flyers make qualifying offers to Brayden Schenn, 4 other restricted free agents

The Flyers on Monday made expected qualifying offers to restricted free agents Brayden Schenn, Nick Cousins, Brandon Manning, Jordan Weal and Petr Straka.

Right wingers Brandon Alderson and Derek Mathers, both RFAs, did not receive qualifying offers. Alderson played 18 games for the Phantoms last season, while Mathers appeared in just three.

Qualifying offers must be made to restricted free agents from their respective clubs by the first Monday following the NHL draft. They cannot be accepted before July 1, the start of free agency. If a team does not extend a qualifying offer to a restricted free agent and the player is not eligible for/offered salary arbitration, he becomes unrestricted.

Essentially, qualifying offers, mandatory by this day, officially kick off the negotiation process. Now with a qualifying offer, the restricted free agent must notify their club of an offer from a pursuing team and allow it to match the offer in seven days.

If the prior team does not match an offer, it receives draft compensation from the player’s new club. A qualifying offer expires July 15 at 5 p.m. Eastern Time unless an extended deadline is agreed upon.

It goes without saying that Schenn is the Flyers’ most notable and important restricted free agent.

“I venture to guess that it's not going to be the first thing we get done, but in the end, we'll get it done,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said in late April of re-signing Schenn.

Hextall expressed significant interest in bringing back Cousins and Manning, as well.

Ryan White, an unrestricted free agent, is also a priority for Hextall.

The Flyers locked up Radko Gudas, who was a pending restricted free agent, last Thursday.