Flyers get Simmonds back for showdown with Penguins

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Things started reasonably enough for the Philadelphia Flyers in Wayne Simmonds‘ absence, including on the power play.

Simmonds has been out since Feb. 18, and the Flyers kept rolling, ending that month on a six-game winning streak (four of those wins coming without Simmonds). They also went 2-for-8 on the power play in their first two games without the profoundly proficient power-play producer.

Things have slowed considerably lately. For one thing, the man advantage is struggling, going 1-for-12 during the last five contests. The Flyers have sputtered into March overall, pairing two 4-1 losses with a 7-6 shootout defeat.

These recent struggles are one reason why they should utter a sigh of relief that Simmonds is slated to return against the hated Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday.

[Click here for a full preview of a big game atop the Metro]

The other is that they’re about to face the sort of schedule that might give us some clarity regarding what, exactly, to expect from this remarkably up-and-down Flyers team. This is, after all, a team that:

  • Entered 2018 with a mediocre 16-14-8 record, yet now poses a serious threat to snatch the Metropolitan Division title away from the Penguins and Capitals.
  • Suffered 10 straight losses, only to follow that up with a six-game winning streak, and has generally kept up that hot-and-cold pattern.
  • For instance: they’ve already lost three games in March after only losing that many in all of February.

Yes, this is a weird team. It’s also a squad that’s been able to keep from sulking, and thus one that’s making GM Ron Hextall look smart for staying the course. Considering the Flyers’ former tendencies with making bold, sometimes recklessly splashy moves, that’s easier said than done.

But, again, the next couple weeks stand as a test and an opportunity for this group. Take a look a their upcoming schedule:

Wed, Mar 7 vs Pittsburgh
Thu, Mar 8 @ Boston
Sat, Mar 10 vs Winnipeg
Mon, Mar 12 vs Vegas
Thu, Mar 15 vs Columbus
Sat, Mar 17 @ Carolina
Sun, Mar 18 vs Washington

On one hand, the Flyers “control their destiny” with games against the Penguins (two remaining vs. Pittsburgh overall in 2017-18) and one versus the Caps. As you can see, the above stretch also holds the perk of including five of seven games in Philly.

That said, they can’t really take their feet off the pedal. All seven of those teams have something to strive for, whether that comes down to fighting for a playoff spot, positioning, or readying for the postseason (in the Golden Knights’ case). March then ends road-heavy with four of five games away from home, then the regular season closes with three of four contests in Philadelphia. So, yes, the door could still be open for this team to continue to experience peaks and valleys before the playoffs begin.

Simmonds stands a crucial and well-timed addition back into the lineup.

“Not just scoring, but he’s a big part of our team,” Dave Hakstol said of Simmonds, via NBC Sports Philadelphia. “He looked good. I believe he’s ready to go. I think it’s about having all four lines that make sense.”

He’s a player who brings more than just those power-play skills to the table, yet even that immediate boost makes a Flyers team tougher to handle. A unit of Simmonds, Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, and Shayne Gostisbehere brings a little bit of everything to the table, and could very well give the Flyers that extra “boost” against formidable opponents.

In addition to PHT’s preview, this video might pump you up for tonight’s fascinating bout on NBCSN.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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