Wayne Simmonds felt the weight of responsibility on his shoulders.
Simmonds, known for his fearlessness in front of opponents’ goaltenders, wasn’t executing. He was in position, sure, but he wasn’t able to grind out the goals his team so dearly needed.
The Flyers were 0-3 in their first three games, and Simmonds felt like he deserved some of the blame. He needed to work harder, he said after the team’s ugly loss in New Jersey earlier this week.
And so, on Thursday in front of the home crowd, he did.
Simmonds scored the first goal of the Flyers’ 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers, simply by standing his ground and being in position (it went in off his skate). He assisted on the second, which was knocked home by Jakub Voracek. Both players were elevated to the top line alongside Claude Giroux.
“I got a lucky bounce there on the first one,” Simmonds said. “But I think it was all because we were going to the net hard tonight. We got pucks up top, and we really wanted to pound them at the net – and we did.”
Simmonds, 26, is one member of a group of young players the Flyers are counting on to have as successful a season – or better – than they did in 2011-12. Last year, he recorded a career-high 28 goals and 49 points. He’s aware of the pressure.
But finally getting that first goal four games into the season, he said, gave him a chance to exhale.
“I think I had quite a few chances, actually,” Simmonds said. “And the one that goes in is the one that hits off my laces. It’s a little bit of a relief. Hopefully they keep coming for us, for me and the team.”
The Flyers struggled against some of the best goalies in the league earlier this week, facing Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres and Marty Brodeur of the Devils. They got the puck through to the net, but weren't able to thoroughly screen the netminders or dig for loose pucks. That's where guys like Simmonds need to "pick up the slack," as he put it when talking postgame Thursday.
“It’s hard to score on [those goalies] if they see the shot or see the puck,” Voracek said. “You have to make a scrum and be around the net, and we did that [Thursday]. Simmer got a lucky bounce. I got a lucky bounce.”
With Scott Hartnell out for at least a month and Danny Briere still working his way back from a wrist injury, Simmonds doesn't just feel the pressure to hit the back of the net to make up for their absences. He hopes to grow into a leader, on and off the ice.
Thursday night was a good first step.
“I’m getting older now, and it’s time I think I can have a little bit of a leadership role on this team,” Simmonds said. “That’s what I’m striving to do.”
The Flyers on Friday recalled defenseman Andreas Lilja from the Adirondack Phantoms.
The move is likely not a good sign for Andrej Meszaros, who took a hit late in the second period of Thursday’s game against the Rangers and did not return. His left arm was in a sling postgame.
Lilja was sent down to the AHL during training camp.