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.”

Flyers-Predators 5 things: Going for longest win streak since 2014

Flyers-Predators 5 things: Going for longest win streak since 2014

Flyers (13-10-3) at Predators (11-8-4)
6 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com

The Flyers have won a season-high four games in a row. They'll try to make it five Sunday night when they visit the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena for the second game of a back-to-back set.

Let's take a look at five things you need to know.

1. Streaking like 2014?
Not only do the Flyers have a chance to extend their season-best winning streak, but they're also looking to win their most consecutive games since March 15-22, 2014, when they also won five straight.

The Flyers have put up strong showings in the back ends of back-to-backs, going 4-1-1 thus far.

“You just have to have the work ethic night in and night out," Steve Mason said Saturday after the Flyers' 3-1 win over the Blackhawks. "And, I think we were struggling to find that. There are games when we were swarming and giving teams no other option, and other nights we were chasing the puck.

"We have another tough test going to Nashville to play. So, we’re going to have to follow up with another great effort.” 

2. A Provorov encore?
Ivan Provorov's confidence has to be at his highest of the season.

In Saturday's win, the 19-year-old blueliner scored two goals in a 31-second span to double his goal total through the first 25 games.

Provorov said he thinks defense first, but the offensive production is a good sign.

“Score one goal in a game, it’s a good feeling. Score two in one shift, it’s unbelievable,” Provorov said.

“Every time you score, it’s like a confidence booster."

3. Predators finding stride
After losing eight of their first 11 games, Peter Laviolette's Predators have gotten on track, going 8-3-1 since.

Nashville ranks in the top half of the league in goals per game (3.00 — tied for fifth), goals against per game (2.61 — 15th), power-play percentage (22.6 — sixth) and penalty-kill percentage (84.5 — 10th).

Last time out, the Predators blew a 4-1 lead in the third period for a 5-4 overtime loss to the Devils on Saturday, so they should be extra focused.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: On Saturday, Brayden Schenn scored just his second goal in his past 18 games. Schenn can be streaky so maybe he feeds off that goal. He's also a career plus-4 against the Predators, with two goals and three assists in eight games.

Predators: Let's go P.K. Subban, who isn't exactly a favorite among Flyers fans. He's off to a nice start in his first season in Nashville with six goals and 10 assists, and eight points (three goals, five assists) in his last eight games.

5. This and that
• Flyers goalie Steve Mason is 7-7-5 with a 2.42 goals-against average and .916 save percentage in 20 career games against the Predators.

• Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne is 3-2-2 with a 2.91 goals-against average and .906 save percentage in seven career games against the Flyers.

• Claude Giroux is four assists away from passing Rick MacLeish (369) and Eric Lindros (369) for fifth on the Flyers’ all-time list.

Ivan Provorov buries Chicago nightmare by showing Blackhawks his true self

Ivan Provorov buries Chicago nightmare by showing Blackhawks his true self

Ivan Provorov moved on but didn’t forget.

The 19-year-old still remembers losing his footing on the United Center ice in front of 21,263 fans, alone in his own end and costing the Flyers a goal in a blowout defeat to the Blackhawks on Oct. 18.

In just his third NHL game, Provorov had his rookie moment. He also had a minus-5 rating when the 7-4 loss was all said and done.

Well, on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center, he saw the Blackhawks again and made it a point to show them his best. Provorov ripped off two goals in 31 seconds of the second period to erase a 1-0 deficit and spearhead a 3-1 win for the Flyers (see story).

Better output than last time?

Provorov laughed, paused and then laughed again.

“A little bit,” he said. “I think so.

“I was trying to use it as a positive thing. Try to prove that that’s not me, that it’s just one bad game.”

Consider that job done.

“I didn’t play my best at that game,” Provorov said. “But I put it behind me, learned from it and this was a better result tonight.”

In 31 ticks of the clock, the Russian defenseman topped his goal total through the first 25 games (see 10 observations). Provorov uncorked a slap shot and slung a wrister for the tallies early in the middle stanza.

“I think you have to keep everything in perspective from a night like that,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said of Provorov’s first game against Chicago. “He is a guy that continues to work at his game and continues to build.”

Provorov didn’t net the hat trick, but in the same period, saved a goal on the defensive end when he quickly pounced on a puck dribbling toward the goal line off and behind goalie Steve Mason.

“I came from the left corner and I saw the puck was rolling on Mase’s shoulder,” Provorov said. “It went down, rolled to the goal line. I just got there as quick as I could and swiped it out.

“I think it was close. As soon as I saw the puck, I tried to get there as fast as I can.”

After experiencing some growing pains to start the season, Provorov has played better. Once he makes a mistake, he rarely makes it again.

“He’s just beyond his years in terms of maturity and the way he studies the game,” Hakstol said a little over two weeks ago. “He’s a young guy that I can probably ask him about a play that happened two weeks ago in a game and he would immediately have recall on that play. A very intelligent player, he’s handled the ups and the downs pretty well."

Mason isn't surprised by Provorov's development.

"When you come into the league at a young age, it’s not easy and you’ve got to get your feet under you," Mason said. "We’re starting to see that [with Provorov]."

And two goals in half a minute don’t hurt.

“Score one goal in a game, it’s a good feeling. Score two in one shift, it’s unbelievable,” Provorov said. “Two great plays by our forwards. The whole team, it was a great effort, we played a great hockey game, so it was easy to play.

“Every time you score, it’s like a confidence booster. For me, it’s defense first but when you get goals and assists, it’s always nice.”

The Flyers had the players’ dads on hand for Saturday’s game. Provorov’s father, Vladimir, couldn’t make it from Russia, but you can bet he tuned in.

“He watches every game back home,” Provorov said. “Today was a little easier because it’s only 9 p.m. back home when the game started, so yeah, I think my whole family watched it.”

He watches the other games at 3, 4 a.m.?

“Yeah,” Provorov said with a smile, “then he takes my brother to practice at 6.”