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Flyers' Simmonds aims to keep shooting

BUFFALO - Walking out of the Honda Center last Friday night in Anaheim, coach Peter Laviolette pulled aside Wayne Simmonds before they made it to the team bus.

Wayne Simmonds has been outscored by three Flyers defensemen so far this season. (Matt Slocum/AP Photo)
Wayne Simmonds has been outscored by three Flyers defensemen so far this season. (Matt Slocum/AP Photo)Read more

BUFFALO - Walking out of the Honda Center last Friday night in Anaheim, coach Peter Laviolette pulled aside Wayne Simmonds before they made it to the team bus.

That night, back on the West Coast for the first time since last June's trade from Los Angeles to the Flyers, Simmonds had just completed his seventh straight game without a point.

The message from Laviolette was simple: Don't sweat it.

"I really liked his game," Laviolette explained. "He was working hard, he was skating hard, he was physical and he had some chances to score. I told him, 'Don't get frustrated,' because when you play like that, the results will come.

"Don't get frustrated because you feel like you aren't playing well and you're not contributing."

Less than 24 hours later in Phoenix, Simmonds followed up with his first goal in nearly 3 weeks.

Danny Briere's snap shot from the high slot bounced off the heavily taped knob of Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith's stick, off Simmonds' chest, and he was able to whack it out of midair and into the net.

Nearly a quarter of a season's worth of pent-up frustration went into that baseball-style swat.

"It obviously felt good, I hadn't scored in a while," Simmonds said. "The chances had been there but I hadn't been able to put them in.

"A lot of times, it's been a half- inch here or a half-inch there that has been the difference. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to take advantage of my opportunities."

This past weekend marked a mini coming-out party for Simmonds, who probably could be regarded as the Flyers' biggest early-season disappointment. With five goals and four assists through 25 games, Simmonds has been outscored by three defensemen (Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen and Matt Carle), a rookie (Matt Read), and a career fourth line center (Max Talbot).

The bad news is that Simmonds, 23, is on pace to match last year's point total with the Kings. He went through the month of November collecting just three points in 12 games. It would be the second straight season he has not shown an improvement in points.

The good news is that his stat likely will change in a hurry, especially if Simmonds continues to play as he did last weekend, when he strung together his two best games since early October.

Laviolette acknowledged that Simmonds is at his best when he is physical. On the quick, two-game trip to Anaheim and Phoenix, Simmonds plugged together his second-highest ice-time total of the season in one game and his highest shot total of the season in the other.

Overall, Simmonds posted six shots, two hits, three takeaways and one blocked shot in the two games.

The reason for hope is Simmonds continues to be paired with top players, proof that Laviolette's belief in him has not wavered despite his lack of production. He has spent much of the season on the second line with Briere and Read, who have combined for 37 points.

Many of Simmonds' chances will come on the power play, where he ranks sixth on the team in average power-play time per game, with 3 minutes, 31 seconds. That means Simmonds, acting as the agitator in front of the opposition's goaltender, spends more time on the power play than James van Riemsdyk and Scott Hartnell.

"I've got to start converting on my opportunities," Simmonds said. "The coaches have told me to shoot more, so I'm focusing on that. I've had the chances. I know the success will come."

The 'Jagr play'?

In the first two games of December, the Flyers' power play (5-for-12, 41 percent) nearly matched its entire goal total from November's 12 games (7-for-56, 12.5 percent). While some believe the power play slumped because it didn't have Pronger quarterbacking the umbrella setup for seven games last month, Jaromir Jagr's absence might have had a bigger impact.

Jagr scored two of the Flyers' power-play goals last Friday in Anaheim and helped set up a third in his first game back after missing parts of six with a groin injury.

"He thinks the game at a different level offensively," Laviolette said. "Putting him on your power play only makes it better."

With the weekend success, the Flyers catapulted from 15th all the way to sixth in the NHL's power-play rankings. But, as Jagr reminded, that could be short-lived.

"It's a hot and cold game," Jagr said. "With a bad weekend, you could be back where you were."

Slap shots

James van Riemsdyk (muscular tear in midsection) appears likely to return to the lineup tonight after missing the last four games . . . Andrej Meszaros returned to practice yesterday . . . Sabres forward Nathan Gerbe is expected back tonight after being stitched below his nose, through his nostrils and back above his upper lip, when he was inadvertently sliced by teammate Paul Gaustad's skate last Friday . . . The Flyers have collected at least one point in each of their last eight games in Buffalo . . . Jaromir Jagr has 97 points in 74 career games against the Sabres.