Flyers Notes: Mason, Simmonds hot at right time

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Flyers Notes: Mason, Simmonds hot at right time

Steve Mason looked a little drained.

He had good reason. For more than half the game, he was the lone difference between the Flyers clinging to a one-goal lead and losing by several.

Just that simple.

“Games have ways of sorting themselves out,” Mason said after the Flyers' narrow 4-2 victory over the Dallas Stars (see game recap).

Mason was the ultimate defensive difference, while Wayne Simmonds provided clutch offense with two goals.

“It was a tough one because we were clinging onto that one-goal lead for such a long time,” Mason said. “The guys found a way to come out and get some big goals that third period [after leading 2-1]. This is a team win.”

The Dallas Stars are big and fast, and they came at Mason all night. Jamie Benn had two goals -- his second made it 3-2 before Michael Raffl put it away for good.

“Sometimes bounces go your way and sometimes they don’t,” Mason said. “When they’re not going your way, things tend to be magnified a little bit.

“Right now the guys are working hard. You can really see it in our last three games, including this one, just on the back check. We’re not giving teams too much time. Our games against Pittsburgh and Chicago were really solid team efforts and tonight was the same.”

That’s nine starts in the last 10 games for Mason. His record is 7-2-1. He admits the night off against Chicago helped.

“Anytime you can utilize the rest you get coming down this home stretch is going to be big,” Mason said. “We’re in a good spot right now. We have to keep playing well. Every game is going to be a must-win down the road.”

Simmonds now has 23 goals, five shy of career high set with the Flyers in 2011-12.

“I think I’m playing more consistently,” Simmonds said. “My first year here I did get the 28 goals, but I think there were some lapses in the season where I’d probably go 15, 16 games. I think there was one time I went like 17 games without a goal, and I just try to make sure I play a more complete game and more consistently.”

So what’s changed?

“I don’t know,” Simmonds replied. “I think it’s just getting used to the league more and more. It’s my sixth year in the league now, and as you get older the game starts to slow down a little bit. Things, I don’t want to say it gets easier, but I guess it does get a little bit easier.”

Flyers coach Craig Berube has seen the difference in Simmonds.

“He’s grown this year as a power forward,” Berube said. “I think his game has improved on the rush. He’s become a very good rush player.

“You could see tonight, he takes the puck and shoots it off the rush and scores. To me, that’s where his game has really improved this year.”

Point streak
Claude Giroux had an assist, extending his scoring streak to five games (1-7-8). The Flyers have a record of 30-12-3 when Giroux earns at least one point. He has had at least one point in the Flyers’ last 14 wins.

Defensive scoring
Mark Streit’s first-period goal was the 30th by a Flyers defenseman this season. The last time that occurred was in 2009-10, when their blue liners had 32 goals. The Flyers got 38 goals from defensemen in the 2005-06 and 2003-04 seasons.

Blocked shots
The Flyers blocked 24 Dallas shots. That ties with two other games for second-most this season.

Goals
In the 10 games since the Olympic break, the Flyers have scored 16 goals in the first period. That’s an average of 1.6 first-period goals. Prior to the Olympic break, the Flyers had scored 38 first-period goals in 59 games for an average of 0.65.

Flyers-Blackhawks 5 things: Matinee showdown with NHL leader

Flyers-Blackhawks 5 things: Matinee showdown with NHL leader

Flyers (12-10-3) vs. Blackhawks (16-6-3)
1 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com

Behind captain Claude Giroux's two goals and overtime heroics Thursday, the Flyers enter Saturday's matinee with the Chicago Blackhawks on their longest win streak of the season.

That and more as we get ready for the afternoon showdown at the Wells Fargo Center.

1. Three's company
With their 3-2 OT win over the Senators, the Flyers have now won three (3!) games in a row for the second time this season, a sign the ship might be turning in the right direction.

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol applauded his team's 61-minute effort afterward. Comparing it to Tuesday's win over Boston in which Steve Mason single-handedly stole two points from the Bruins, Hakstol said the Ottawa game was a "real, good, consistent effort" throughout the lineup, which the Flyers will have to mimic again Saturday in order to beat Chicago.

On Friday, Hakstol rewarded the Flyers with an optional practice. Brandon Manning, who has missed the last two games because of a possible concussion, returned to practice Friday and was cleared to play. If Manning returns Saturday, Andrew MacDonald seems like the likely candidate to come out.

Manning's return would be welcomed for the Flyers. The 26-year-old has been one of the team's most consistent players. He's been aggressive, both offensively and defensively, and his play is not deserving of a healthy scratch. But with no morning skate and limited player availability Friday, Manning's status for the Blackhawks' game remains unknown.

2. Power hour
For the Flyers to extend their winning streak to a season-high four games Saturday, they will have to do so not only with a sound, defensive game but also on special teams.

If there is one area Chicago has struggled this season, it has been the penalty kill. At 70.1 percent, the Blackhawks have the league's worst PK unit, and have a middle-of-the-road power play despite all of their offensive firepower.

The Flyers, on the other hand, have the league's third-best power play at 23.6 percent, and their penalty-kill units have improved lately, getting up to 80 percent. The Flyers have two PP goals in their last 19 opportunities.

Still, Chicago's power play is dangerous despite its recent struggles. The Blackhawks have just one power-play goal since Nov. 19, and went 0 for 4 on Thursday against the Devils.

3. Corey's crease
The Blackhawks also enter Saturday hot, winning three of their last four games; however, they have gone to overtime in their last three games. Chicago has had issues with slow starts in games recently, and the Devils' game Thursday was another example of that.

New Jersey took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, but easily could have had a larger lead had it not been for Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, who's been excellent this season. Crawford faced 13 shots in the opening period Thursday and kept the 'Hawks in the game, as he has all season long. The Blackhawks sit atop the NHL with 35 points, and Crawford is a major reason for that.

Crawford has a 2.27 goals-against average and .927 save percentage this season. He's pitched two shutouts and has faced 33 or more shots in his last four games. Scoring on Crawford has not been easy for opponents this season, but the Flyers do average 3.1 goals, third in the NHL.

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Let's stick with Giroux. The 28-year-old snapped a nine-game goal drought Tuesday with power-play goal, and then added two more Thursday — one at 5-on-5 and one in the 3-on-3 overtime. Giroux's play at even strength has been scrutinized, but his point production remains potent. Giroux has a four-game point streak — three goals, two assists — and has 22 points in 25 games this season. He also got engaged Thursday in Ottawa.

Blackhawks: So many players to watch, but let's highlight the ageless Marian Hossa. The 37-year-old continues to be an effective player even as he grows older. Now in his 18th NHL season, Hossa leads Chicago with 12 goals, including the game-winner in overtime against New Jersey Thursday. Hossa tallied his 500th career goal against the Flyers back on Oct. 18, and has 15 goals in 48 career games against the orange and black. He still has it.

5. This and that
• Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is out for Saturday's game because of an upper-body injury, per CSN Chicago's Tracey Myers. Toews hasn't played since Nov. 23.

• Mason, Saturday's projected starter, is 7-12-3 with a 3.42 GAA and .890 save percentage in 23 career games against the Blackhawks. After a disaster start to the season, Mason has a 2.22 GAA and .912 save percentage over his last nine games.

• Chicago has five players with seven or more goals, and five players with double-digit assists.

Flyers' trip to Ottawa brings back 'fond memories' for Travis Konecny

Flyers' trip to Ottawa brings back 'fond memories' for Travis Konecny

OTTAWA, Ontario — Exactly one year ago, Dec. 1, 2015, Travis Konecny was a member of the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s.

He had just learned that he had been invited to the Team Canada selection camp for the World Junior Hockey Championship and he was at the Canadian Tire Centre spending time with future Flyers teammates during the morning skate as they prepared for a game that night against the Ottawa Senators.

Fast forward one year to today, Dec. 1, 2016, and Konecny is back at the CTC, this time to face the Senators alongside his current Flyers teammates as a key part of the team’s offense.

Quite a step forward in just one calendar year for a kid not named Crosby or McDavid.

“It’s crazy how fast it happened and I’m definitely humbled I was given the opportunity. They believed enough in me to make the jump this year and it definitely hits me every day that I get the opportunity to play in the NHL,” said Konecny, who has scored four times and added nine assists through the first 25 games of his NHL career. He has also added a team-leading 33 penalty minutes and that goes a long way in explaining the type of game he plays.

“I don’t know what happened. I’ve never been like that before," Konecny said before the Flyers' 3-2 overtime win Thursday (see game story). "When you’re playing in the NHL, some guys will run over you all game if they can so I think part of these penalties I’m taking is me just having to step up and I’m just setting an example of sticking up for my teammates."

It wasn’t until his second game in the league that he took his first penalty, but he was on the score sheet before that having collected two assists in his debut Oct. 14 in a 4-2 win over the Kings in Los Angeles.

His first goal came Oct. 25 in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres. The key for his success in making the jump from junior to the NHL is simple.

“Just keeping things simple," he said. "Learning in the NHL is about reading off mistakes. You can’t always make a play, you have to be smart and make sure you’re doing what’s right for the team and I think just keeping my game simple is what got me here." 

There is one main difference between the two levels, Konecny added.

“The speed, and I don’t necessarily mean just skating," he said. "Thinking wise and how fast plays happen. Guys like [Senators defenseman Erik] Karlsson, he’s thinking so fast and he knows his play two or three steps before the next guy does, so you just have to try and outthink guys and to me that’s been the biggest jump.”

Konecny is not foreign to the Senators’ home ice surface. He spent part of his time in junior playing there while the 67’s home arena was being renovated.

He had to leave several passes for friends and family for the game Tuesday night, his first as a pro in the city that was dazzled by his play in junior for 2½ seasons.

“It was a lot of fun and it brought back a lot of memories," Konecny said after going scoreless in 14:13 of ice time. "We didn’t play in front of as many fans as we did tonight but definitely a lot of games played here and a lot of fond memories.

“Even flying in [Wednesday] was something special and driving around the city looking at the roots where I was for three years.”