Their goalie made a couple of timely momentum saves.
Their still fairly-new top line had another big game with four points.
And they got secondary scoring once again from a familiar face.
All three things played a role in the Flyers' 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Monday that sent the team into the Christmas break over .500 and secured a hold on a playoff spot as the third-place club in the Metropolitan Division (see Instant Replay).
You can talk at length about how Claude Giroux’s unit now has 28 points in the six games its been together, but you have to first mention that goalie Steve Mason had two critical saves at different times that gave the offense a chance to score.
First, Mason stoned Jason Pominville shorthanded with the Flyers holding a precarious 2-1 lead in the second period. A few minutes later, Giroux made it 3-1.
Then in the third period, the Wild made a hectic push for several minutes with Mikko Koivu charging down the slot to get his stick on a pass and one-time at Mason’s doorstep.
That save prevented what should have been a certain goal. And it gave the Flyers more momentum. Moments later, Simmonds (two goals and an assist) scored an empty netter (see highlights).
“It was definitely a big save,” Mason said of the Koivu shot that drew thundering applause. “If we don’t make that, it becomes a one-goal hockey game and there is probably seven and a half, eight minutes left at that point.
“That could have become an entirely different hockey game, and those are the saves that we need to come up with in order to have success.”
What can you say about the top line that hasn’t already been said? Giroux has a career-high seven-game point streak (12 points), while Voracek has a career high eight-game streak (11 points).
The line came together Dec. 12 against Washington when Michael Raffl replaced Scott Hartnell at left wing.
“We’re finding the back of the net,” Giroux said. “It’s a lot more fun than the start of the year.
“We’ve got chemistry going. We’re controlling the play better. And [Raffl] is playing great for us. He’s moving everywhere and he has a great stick.”
Raffl had a couple of quality chances against the Wild, himself. His speed makes everyone go.
Coach Craig Berube says that’s the key.
“They all bring a different element,” Berube said. “The speed factor with Jake, the hands of Giroux and Raffl just strong on the puck. But they all skate and that is the key. They move their feet well in the offensive zone.”
Raffl is tough as nails on the wall, too, Berube said.
“It's nice to play with those guys,” Raffl said. “It's a challenge every day but I really enjoy it. I'm trying to stay on that line as long as possible.”
The Flyers kept pressing the offense against Minnesota.
“Our best defense is our offense and we keep pressuring them,” Giroux said. “We’ve got four lines going and everyone is playing great.”
Voracek seems just as relaxed as Giroux right now.
“We’re working hard all the time,” he said. “Back in the day when things didn’t go well, we stayed patient, we work real hard, and I think we’re old enough players to know we’ve got to work hard and we should be fine eventually. That’s exactly what happened and I think we’re making a difference in the game, which everybody is expecting from us.”
What has made it a bit easier on them is the contributions from others. Simmonds had two goals against the Wild. His new unit has Hartnell and Brayden Schenn in the middle.
“I think it’s worked great,” Simmonds said of his unit. “Like I said, we all do the same thing, we play north-south, we get bodies in, we grind on the other team's D, and we get the pucks to the point and we crash the net. I think that’s a good recipe and so far it’s been working.”
Right into Christmas.
LOS ANGELES -- Goalie Jonathan Quick has returned to the Los Angeles Kings after injuring his groin in the first period of the season opener.
Quick led the Kings during warmups before Saturday's game against the Anaheim Ducks.
The two-time Stanley Cup winner missed 59 games with the injury, which occurred Oct. 12 against San Jose. He has been skating with the Kings for several weeks, but he didn't make any rehabilitation starts in the minors.
The Kings only announced his return by activating him from injured reserve 40 minutes before the opening faceoff.
Quick won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2012 when the eighth-seeded Kings steamrolled the competition on their way to the franchise's first Stanley Cup title.
When healthy, Quick has been the Kings' starting goalie since December 2008.
Ducks: Vermette's 10-game suspension upheld
NEW YORK -- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has upheld the 10-game suspension assessed to Anaheim Ducks center Antoine Vermette.
Vermette slapped his stick against the back of linesman Shandor Alphonso's legs after losing a faceoff to Minnesota's Mikko Koivu during the third period of the Ducks' 1-0 win on Feb. 14. Vermette had a hearing with Bettman on Thursday after appealing the initial suspension.
Bettman announced Saturday that the 10-game ban would remain; Vermette has served four games already.
Vermette will lose $97,222 in salary.
The normally mild-mannered Vermette appeared to act out of frustration when Alphonso dropped the puck before the forward had put his stick in place on the ice. Officials immediately assessed a game misconduct to Vermette.
PITTSBURGH -- For Flyers coach Dave Hakstol and defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, tonight’s Stadium Series game between the Flyers and Penguins brings back memories.
Hakstol coached North Dakota in an outdoor hockey in college, while Gostisbehere participated in one as a freshman at Union College.
For Hakstol, however, this whole idea of outdoor hockey began when he was growing up in central Alberta in the small town of Drayton Valley.
“I think everybody’s got great memories of growing up outdoors,” Hakstol said. “We had a back creek that we could shovel off. I’m sure everybody could sit back and tell you stories of playing on the outdoor rinks.
“For me, most recently, I’ve got two kids growing up playing on outdoor rinks, backyard rinks. It’s pretty cool. It takes you right back to the heart of the game.”
Hakstol’s outdoor coaching experience came during a game between Nebraska-Omaha and his North Dakota squad in 2013 at the “Mutual of Omaha Battles on Ice.”
“I don’t know how to describe it,” Hakstol said of the event. “It’s just a different feel. It’s an ideal scenario.”
He said while tonight's game is special, it’s still about the points, first and foremost.
“You are cognizant of everything that surrounds the event and the game,” Hakstol said. “Yet for us, it’s two points. We’re fighting for every point here. That is going to paramount.”
Gostisbehere played at Fenway Park in 2012 for Union in a game against Harvard. That night, Union won, 2-0, to become the first ECAC club to ever win outdoors.
“I played at Fenway Park against Harvard and it was fun,” Gostisbehere said. “That was my freshman year and the only one I ever played in.
“Good crowd. It wasn’t packed obviously, but it was a night game. The ice was really good. It was really cold, too. It was pretty cool.”
As warm as it was Friday here -- a historic 78 degrees -- temperatures will begin in the 40s tonight at Heinz Field and then drop. It rained this morning but has since ceased.
“The biggest thing for me was to take a second, look around,” Gostisbehere said, admitting he failed to do that in college and won’t make that mistake again.
“Just cherish it a little bit. You are so focused on the game, it’s tough. That was biggest thing for me. It was such a blur. Just being in college and having the opportunity to play at Fenway Park was pretty awesome.”
This will the Flyers first-ever outdoor affair in Pittsburgh.
“It’s pretty exciting and I’m glad to be part of it,” Gostisbehere said.