By Sam Bush
It’s not every night when Flyers’ coach Craig Berube doesn’t get questions about whether he’ll be fired because his team has underperformed so much this season.
And then there was last night after the Flyers beat the Ottawa Senators 2-1 for their first shootout victory in 11 tries.
“Wayne’s capable of doing things that other guys can’t,” Berube said.
Simmonds (fighting Colin Greening in photo above) did a bit of everything Tuesday against the Senators, playing physical, scoring in regulation, and then scoring the game-deciding goal in the shootout to lead the Flyers (15-18-7) to the end of their five-game losing streak (0-4-1).
“He brings it every night,” Flyers forward Jakub Voracek said of Simmonds. “Even if he doesn’t show up on the scoresheet, he fights, he battles. He does everything for the team. He’s one of our leaders and he’s showing it night in and night out.”
Philly goalie Steve Mason made 41 saves in regulation and overtime, then in the shootout stopped four of five Ottawa shooters.
Mike Hoffman scored for the Senators (16-15-8). Goalie Craig Anderson made 33 saves in regulation and overtime, then denied three of five Flyers in the shootout.
Ottawa’s Mika Zibanejad scored in the first round of the shootout, but Voracek answered with a goal in the bottom half.
No one else scored until the fifth round. Mason stopped Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson with his left pad. At the other end Simmonds switched the puck from his backhand to his forehand until he found space between Anderson’s pads.
“We have just been practicing [shootouts] a lot, so obviously when you practice a lot, you get a ton of time to figure out these things,” Simmonds said. “I think that one works for me.”
The game was scoreless through two periods, but things opened up in the third.
Hoffman’s goal at 6:36 gave Ottawa the lead, but nine seconds after the Senators’ Clarke MacArthur was sent off for hooking, Simmonds scored a power-play goal at 8:59 to tie the game.
Simmonds’ goal seemed to steal any momentum the Senators had gained from Hoffman’s goal and gave the Flyers life.
The Senators had chances to take control of the game. But they went 0-for-4 on the power play, including a chance late in the third period; the Senators are 0-for-25 with the man advantage in their past seven games. Ottawa also outshot Philly 20-14 in the final 25 minutes of the game, including 3-1 in overtime.
“I’ve got to score in the shootout,” Senators forward Kyle Turris said. “I could have scored in overtime on that one-timer that Clarke gave me. Opportunities missed that I’ve got to bury to close out the game.”
Mason deserves some of the credit for the Senators’ missed chances; the 41 saves he made were the second-most he’s had in a game this season.
“I don’t think we would have gotten that win without him,” Simmonds said of Mason. “He’s stood on his head all year long, both him and Ray Emery, and we owed it to him tonight. It feels good.”
It also felt good for the Flyers to end their shootout losing streak; their previous win in the tiebreaker was Dec. 30, 2013. The Flyers’ 28 shootout wins are tied with the Carolina Hurricanes for the fewest in NHL history.
“It’s good,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “It’s just in the back of our head. We were trying not to talk about it, [but] to finally get one is good.”
Giroux was a question mark prior to the game; he sustained a cut to the lower part of the back of his left leg Friday against the Hurricanes and sat out Saturday against the New Jersey Devils. He was a game-time decision Tuesday after taking part only in the final few minutes of the morning skate.
But after taking warm-ups, Giroux felt he could play. He ended up with 22:13 of ice time, one second less than Voracek for most among Flyers forwards. He had a game-high eight shots, blocked one shot, had one hit and won 12 of 26 faceoffs.
“You always want to play,” Giroux said. “You want to go out there and help the team win and do the best you can. I think it was just the warm-ups, see how I felt in the warm-up. I felt pretty confident going in the warm-up. I was pretty excited when I knew I could go out there and play. … First few shifts, I was trying to get in there, make sure I don’t make any mistakes. I was able to make some plays a little bit after.”
The Flyers will need all the help they can get if they want to make a push for a Stanley Cup Playoff spot. They’re eight points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, but Tuesday started a run of 10 of 13 games at home.
“I think coming home after that road trip and now we have a homestand … and just the fashion we won, in the shootout, and we hadn’t won in a shootout this year,” Berube said. “So it’s going to give us some momentum, but we have to continue to get better and have good energy every night, positive energy. Make sure we’re on our toes skating, being an aggressive hockey team.”
Ottawa continues its road trip Thursday at the Colorado Avalanche. Like the Flyers, the Senators are outside the playoff picture, five points behind the Maple Leafs. Though getting one point Tuesday helps, they know two points would have been even better.
“It’s better than nothing,” Hoffman said. “One [point] to start the road trip. It’s … better than zero, so we got Colorado next, and we got to be ready for them.”