Wayne Simmonds selected to play in first NHL All-Star Game

Wayne Simmonds selected to play in first NHL All-Star Game

Updated: 3:35 p.m.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Wayne Simmonds is heading back to Los Angeles, this time as an All-Star.

Simmonds on Tuesday was named as the Flyers’ lone representative to the Metropolitan Division team for the NHL All-Star Game on Sunday, Jan. 29, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

“It’s kind of surreal,” Simmonds said upon learning of his selection following the Flyers’ morning skate at KeyBank Center. “It makes me think when I was a young kid, watching the All-Star Games and watching all the great players who played in it. To even be mentioned in the same breath as All-Stars in the NHL, it’s pretty special and it’s a great accomplishment."

This marks Simmonds’ first selection to the All-Star Game in his nine-year career.

The 28-year-old winger has been exceptional for the Flyers this season with a team-leading 17 goals and 15 assists for 32 points in 42 games heading into Tuesday night’s contest with the Sabres (see game notes).

“He’s a guy that kind of epitomizes what it is to be a Philadelphia Flyer,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “And obviously, he has had a great season to this point.”

The All-Star selection means Simmonds will head back to where his career began in L.A. A second-round pick of the Kings in 2007, Simmonds was dealt to the Flyers along with Brayden Schenn in exchange for Mike Richards in June 2011 after playing three seasons in Southern California.

“It makes it that much more special,” Simmonds said. “I know Jakey (Jake Voracek) got a chance to play in the All-Star Game when it was in Columbus and I know that was pretty special to him. I think it goes the same for me.”

Simmonds has been Mr. Do-It-All for the Flyers as he’s an important piece of the league’s ninth-ranked power play with eight goals. This season, he’s become a key contributor in a new role on the penalty kill and even has a short-handed goal.

“Back [in L.A.] I was more of a defensive guy,” Simmonds said. “After my third year, I come to Philly and I completely switch roles to an offensive guy. Everything is kind of coming full circle now. I’ve got a chance to play on the PK. I’ve gotten better in my defensive zone over the years that I’ve been here. Just trying to put everything together and become a complete player.”

Simmonds has 149 goals and 134 assists for 283 points in his five-plus seasons with the Flyers.

“I think it’s terrific,” said general manager Ron Hextall, who was an assistant GM for the Kings when Simmonds was drafted. “He deserves it and sometimes players like him aren’t recognized and they should be because he’s a very good player. He’s one of those guys that just can grab the puck and muscle his way to the net. He’s got good hands in front of the net, he’s got speed, he’s good on the forecheck. He does a lot of good things.”

The NHL All-Star Game matches up the best from all four divisions and uses the league’s wildly popular 3-on-3 OT format. A skills competition will be held on Sat. Jan. 28 and Simmonds will participate, but the event he will participate in will be announced later.

“I don’t think I am the greatest at 3-on-3 but I think I can adjust a little bit,” said Simmonds, who has played often in overtime for the Flyers this season. “I’ll probably fly under the radar. It’s my first time going to the All-Star Game. I’m not trying to put on too big of a show or show anybody up. I’m just grateful.”

Mason in net
Steve Mason will be the Flyers’ goaltender for the second game in a row.

Michal Neuvirth returned for Saturday’s victory over the Lightning after missing 24 games with a knee injury, but Hakstol said he does not plan to rotate the goalies going forward.

“These guys are going to remain a tandem, they are going to work together, but no, I don’t have plan right now to go back and forth into a rotation,” Hakstol said. “[Mason] will go tonight and we play another three games in five days after that, so I’m sure somewhere along the way, we’ll use both of them.”

Power move
The Flyers are hoping to get their power play going again. Once ranked No. 1 in the NHL, the unit has scored in just 3 of its last 32 chances.

Tonight’s matchup should help the Flyers. Buffalo’s penalty kill ranks last in the league at 74.3 percent.

Projected lineup
F: Michael Raffl-Claude Giroux-Matt Read

Dale Weise-Brayden Schenn-Wayne Simmonds

Travis Konecny-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek

Chris VandeVelde-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Roman Lyubimov

D: Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald

Michael Del Zotto-Radko Gudas

Brandon Manning-Shayne Gostisbehere

G: Steve Mason

Michal Neuvirth

Injured: Defenseman Mark Streit (shoulder)

Scratches: Forwards Nick Cousins (healthy) and Boyd Gordon (healthy), and defenseman Nick Schultz (healthy)

- CSNPhilly.com's Greg Paone contributed to this story.

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

They can’t win away from the Wells Fargo Center. They’ve seen a nine-point cushion in the wild-card standings vanish and when they resume play on Saturday, they’ll be out of the playoff picture.

The Flyers are who we thought they were. A fringe playoff team lacking in too many areas to be considered a serious contender, despite the overachievement of last season.

When the Flyers entered their bye week, they sat one point ahead of Carolina for the final wild-card spot and two points ahead of Florida and Ottawa. They are 3-8-3 in 14 games since their 10-game winning streak was snapped, and were blown out in back-to-back games in Boston and Washington by a combined score of 11-3.

Yet, they’re still on the brink of the postseason — for now. Perhaps it’s time for a trade from the front office to send a shockwave through the locker room? Not so fast.

“If we can make our team better, we will,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last week at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey. “But we’re staying on course.

“I don’t care if we win every game the rest of the year or lose every game, we’re staying on course. We set out on a course two and a half years ago — we’re not deviating from what we planned. I’m not going to make a trade to send a message.”

It’s easy to get carried away in win streaks and unexpected playoff appearances, especially in Philadelphia, where the four major sports teams are rebuilding. It’s even easier to scream for a team to go for it when it shows a glimpse into its full potential.

That is what makes sports fun. It’s what makes for good sports debate programs and entertaining talking heads. But it’s not how organizations should run their operations.

It’s certainly not how Hextall runs his regime with the Flyers. Hextall has a clear vision, and time and time again has shown no signs of expediting his plan for immediate help. He has made it a purpose to build through the draft. We have to remember that, and realize that the Flyers’ front office is playing the long game here, not the short game.

“Right now, we’re gonna stick with what we’ve got here and move forward,” Hextall said Sunday in Washington. “But on a day-to-day basis, I always look at how we can make our club better, and if there’s something that we think makes our club better, we’ll do it.

“The worst thing you can do is overreact when things aren’t going right and that’s not gonna happen. But if we can find a way to make ourselves better, we will.”

Let’s take a step back and make some sense of the Flyers’ current state. They are seventh in the Eastern Conference with 50 points as of Tuesday morning. They are 8-12-3 on the road, with nine straight defeats away from South Philadelphia. They are a top-10 scoring team, with 127 goals, but have allowed a league-high 144 goals against.

Steve Mason’s confidence is completely shook. Michal Neuvirth hasn’t been much better, if at all. Claude Giroux hasn’t scored a goal in 11 games and has just one marker in his last 17 games. (To be fair, he does have seven assists in his last eight games.)

Shayne Gostisbehere has been a healthy scratch twice this season, with his latest coming last Saturday in Boston. He’s struggled with his gap defense, among other areas, and is enduring growing pains in his second NHL season — as expected.

While the Flyers’ defense has scored 102 points, second most in the NHL, it struggles with gaps, turnovers and has too many breakdowns. Ivan Provorov, 20, has been the lone bright spot among the group of eight defensemen.

Head coach Dave Hakstol has juggled his lines and defensive pairs in attempts to find something that works. Some of the moves have worked, others have not. Questioning some of Hakstol’s lineup decisions is fair, but there’s no question his systems work.

There is only so much Hakstol can do with what he has to work with. Part of the blame can be placed on Hextall because this team, as currently constructed, is not there yet. It is, however, unfair to put every decision Hakstol makes under a microscope.

“Hak has tried a lot of things,” Hextall said. “In the end, it’s a group and we win together, we lose together. We have to react as a group better when something doesn’t go our way. That’s bottom line. … Line changes, different D combinations, flipping Mase, Neuvy. Everything that’s there, Hak has tried. In the end it comes down to our whole group just being better and not reacting the way we do when something negative happens.”

One of the reasons Hextall opted to hire Hakstol, who came directly from college with no prior NHL coaching experience, is development. Growth takes time, and there is rhyme or reason behind each Hakstol benching, whether we see it or not.

The Flyers’ play the last few weeks has been dumbfounding because a lot of the same mistakes that plagued the team in the beginning of the season — lax team defensive coverage, bad decisions with the puck, letting opponents enter the zone too easily, among others — are reappearing and that’s a fair criticism on the current coaching staff.

But, when we put things in perspective, there are positives. Provorov has proven he’s the real deal before he turned 20 last Friday. Travis Konecny is here, and while he’s been the victim of a Hakstol benching, he’s shown glimpses of what’s to come. Jakub Voracek (41 points) has bounced back, Wayne Simmonds is an All-Star and added penalty kill to his résumé. Brayden Schenn leads the NHL in power-play goals with 11, though his 5-on-5 scoring could improve. And there’s a lot of upside on the farm system, with the potential of seeing an influx of kids joining the Flyers as early as next season. 

“The window is actually starting to open, the way I see it,” Hextall said last week. “The kids we have on our team. The kids we have coming. There’s things happening here that are good. We’re going to get better here. We’re not going to get worse.”

And Hextall is right — the window is just opening and will only open wider. Patience remains key here, and don’t trust the process with the Flyers. Just enjoy the course.

Best of NHL: Penguins halt Capitals 9-game streak with wild 8-7 OT win

Best of NHL: Penguins halt Capitals 9-game streak with wild 8-7 OT win

PITTSBURGH -- Conor Sheary scored 34 seconds into overtime and the Pittsburgh Penguins ended the Washington Capitals' nine-game winning streak with a wild 8-7 victory Monday night that included nine second-period goals.

Sheary had two goals and an assist for the Penguins, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Evgeni Malkin picked up his 11th career hat trick during a frenetic second period, and Sidney Crosby collected his NHL-leading 27th goal to go with two assists. Bryan Rust and Nick Bonino also scored for Pittsburgh, and Matt Murray got the win despite allowing seven goals on 28 shots.

The Penguins trailed 3-0 before scoring six goals in less than 11 minutes in the second period, more goals than the Capitals had allowed in a game all season. Pittsburgh led 6-5 after 40 minutes.

Lars Eller scored twice for Washington, and T.J. Oshie, Brett Connolly, Nicklas Backstrom, Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky also found the net. Philipp Grubauer made eight saves after coming on in relief of Braden Holtby, who was pulled during Pittsburgh's second-period deluge (see full recap).

Eichel scores twice to give Sabres' 4-1 win over Stars
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jack Eichel scored two goals and the Buffalo Sabres defeated the Dallas Stars 4-1 on Monday.

Tyler Ennis scored 19 seconds into the first period. Ennis returned after missing 30 games with a groin injury that required surgery.

Jake McCabe also had a goal and Robin Lehner made 31 saves after missing the past three games with an illness.

The Sabres snapped a two-game losing streak and beat the Stars for the first time in four matchups.

Radek Faksa scored for the Stars in the opener of a three-game road trip. Kari Lehtonen stopped 25 shots. Dallas has lost two in a row and six of eight (see full recap).

Bishop anchors Lightning to 2-1 win over Kings
LOS ANGELES -- Brian Boyle scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period, and the Tampa Bay Lightning opened a six-game road trip with a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday.

Ben Bishop made an early mistake that led to Kyle Clifford's goal for the Kings, but bounced back to make 31 saves in his second start back from a three-week absence with a lower-body injury.

Tyler Johnson scored in the first period for the Lightning, who won for just the second time in seven games.

Peter Budaj stopped 27 shots for the Kings.

Both teams played without stars due to illness. Kings captain Anze Kopitar missed his first game since Nov. 20, and All-Star defenseman Victor Hedman missed his first game of the season for Tampa Bay (see full recap).