Slow-starting Flyers and Rangers Fighting to Dig Out from Early Holes

Slow-starting Flyers and Rangers Fighting to Dig Out from Early Holes

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The Flyers exorcised some demons last Thursday, defeating
the New York Rangers for the first time in nine tries over nearly two full
calendar years. Now they must find a way to repeat their effort, or they risk slipping
into sole possession of last place in the Atlantic Division.

Philadelphia and New York are currently tied at the bottom
with four points, although the Rangers have a game on their rival. One point
for an overtime loss would match either of them with the New York Islanders –the
Isles are in action tonight at the Pittsburgh Penguins however. Regardless of
what happens in that one, best-case scenario is the loser of this second tilt
between the Flyers and Rags remains entrenched in the cellar.

Is it too early to be worried about the standings? Perhaps, especially
with all five clubs separated by just three points – only the Northwest
Division is as tightly contested. That said the Flyers do need to be concerned about
falling into a hole in this shortened season, as they are already behind eight
teams in the Eastern Conference. Every point is magnified this year.

Last week’s 2-1 victory is probably still fresh in everybody’s
minds, as it was the type of game that can turn seasons around, even in these
early stages. If nothing else, the Flyers destroyed a lot of the mystique the
Rangers had built during their dominance over Philly. Instead of skating against
a narrative, tonight the orange sweaters can skate against their opponents.

That’s not all the Flyers busted up in a hard-hitting battle
that featured a few fights. They also held the Rangers’ struggling power
play in check. New York converted on one-of-four advantages, with Ilya
Bryzgalov and his mates fighting off a 5-on-3 and 5-on-4 consecutively in the
final half of the third period.

The Rangers are now ranked 27th in the NHL, scoring on just
9.1% of their power plays. Then again, the Flyers haven’t been much better,
coming in at 24th while lighting the lamp on 12.9% of their chances. Plus, the
opportunities should be there against Philly’s killing unit, which is coming up
with the stop only 69% of the time – good for 27th in the league.

They seemed to have found the on-switch after a huge 7-1
victory over a shorthanded Florida Panthers club over the weekend, scoring and
killing power plays alike. On the second half of a Sunshine State back-to-back
however, the Tampa Bay Lightning sent the Flyers right back to square one in
both areas during a 5-1 mauling.

It should be interesting to see which Flyers squad comes out
tonight. The good news is Bryz is back in net after taking Sunday off, and he
has looked very solid through five starts thus far. Zac Rinaldo also returns to
the lineup
for the Orange & Black, although it appears impressive rookie
Tye McGinn will be headed back to Adirondack to make room. Don’t worry, Tye – you’ll
be back, and you’ll always have this beatdown.

The bell sounds for this heavyweight fight from Madison
Square Garden at 7 p.m., and it’s a big one.

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Wayne Simmonds stars as Flyers top Predators, push win streak to 5 games

Wayne Simmonds stars as Flyers top Predators, push win streak to 5 games

BOX SCORE

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Dave Hakstol likes Wayne Simmonds’ net-front play more than that of any player in the league.

The Flyers' power forward showed on Sunday why his coach thinks that way.

Simmonds’ two power-play goals in front of the crease helped extend the Flyers’ win streak to five, their longest of the season, in a 4-2 win over the Nashville Predators on Sunday night (see Instant Replay).

“If there’s a better guy in the league at net front, whether it’s on power play or 5 on 5, I don’t know who that is,” said Hakstol said after Sunday's victory. “He did a great job there tonight.”

Simmonds’ first goal came when he deflected Jake Voracek’s shot past Juuse Saros, giving the Flyers a 1-0 lead at 18:12 of the first period.

“They had great movement around the top of the box and Jake told me to go back door if he was going to get it for a one-timer,” Simmonds said. “So I stuck my stick out back door and he hit it, and it went in the net.”

Then Simmonds batted a puck through Saros' legs for a 2-1 advantage at 6:47 of the second period for his team-leading 13th goal of the season.

“It was kind of a little bit of a cluster and the puck comes to me, and I’m alone in front of the net so I just put it five-hole and it worked,” Simmonds said.

The right wing’s father was watching in the sellout crowd of 17,113 at Bridgestone Arena during the Flyers' annual father-son trip.

“It was nice, obviously,” Simmonds said. “I just went outside and saw him. He didn’t really say much to me, but I know he’s glowing on the inside.”

Simmonds has now scored 10 career goals in 20 games against Nashville.

“What I really like about Simmer is he’s at net-front, he’s scoring goals, he’s on the power play, but he’s a great, hard-nosed, 200-foot player,” Hakstol said.

Simmonds’ goals gave the Flyers an early spark on Sunday.

“It was huge,” said Flyers left wing Michael Raffl, who scored the winning goal at 16:37 of the second period when made a power move on a rush and tucked the puck past Saros. “That gives us all the momentum.”

The Flyers improved to 7-3-1 in their last 11 games.

“We’re just trying to take care of pucks and maintain the pressure that we have,” Simmonds said. “The next shift up every game is the most important shift and that’s how we’re trying to play it here.”

Predators coach Peter Laviolette, a former Flyers coach, wasn’t surprised by his former team’s power-play success. The Flyers entered the game tied for the third best power play in the league cashed in twice on seven chances on Sunday.

“We knew going in that their power play was really good,” Laviolette said. “Their players have a lot of time together and cohesiveness and they’re pretty set in what they do. They bring pucks to the net and when they do that, things can happen. That was a difference in the game tonight.”

Winning goalie Steve Mason has started 10 of the last 11 games. He made 30 saves Sunday to improve his record to 8-8-3.

“This is the situation I want to be in, so it’s a workload that all summer you prepare for even when I was not getting the work load I wanted,” Mason said. “You prepare for it and now that it’s here I’m making the most of it.”

Sources: Phillies close to signing reliever Joaquin Benoit

Sources: Phillies close to signing reliever Joaquin Benoit

WASHINGTON – It looks as if the Phillies will have some action at the winter meetings.

The team is close to signing veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit, sources tell CSNPhilly.com. The winter meetings officially begin on Monday. The signing is expected to be announced before the meetings end on Thursday.

Benoit, 39, is a veteran of 15 seasons in the majors. He is coming off a strong 2016 season in which he pitched in 51 games for Seattle and Toronto and recorded a 2.81 ERA.

Benoit, a right-hander, has pitched for six teams in his career and has a lifetime ERA of 3.79 in 712 games.

Entering the offseason, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said he wanted to improve the bullpen. He opened the offseason by trading for veteran right-hander Pat Neshek and last week claimed lefty David Rollins off waivers from Texas. Now, Klentak is poised to add Benoit.

Benoit has pitched mostly in a setup role in his career, but he does have closer experience. It is unclear what role he’d pitch in for the Phillies. The Phils have Jeanmar Gomez and Hector Neris returning to the back of their bullpen in 2017. Benoit could complement that pair or the Phillies could chose to trade Gomez or Neris. Neris pitched in 79 games in 2016 and had a 2.58 ERA, so the Phillies would only deal him if they were to get a strong package of talent in return.