PHILADELPHIA -- One of the hallmarks of the Philadelphia Flyers' current four-game win streak has been an increased aggression on the forecheck. Coach Craig Berube wants his team playing with more tenacity in the offensive zone and his forwards getting deeper to pressure opposing defensemen.
It's a system that requires speed and smart, strong play. In other words, it fits everything Wayne Simmonds does well.
The Philadelphia forward scored two goals, including the game-winner, to lead the Flyers to a 4-2 win against the Dallas Stars on Thursday at Wells Fargo Center.
Mark Streit and Michael Raffl also scored for the Flyers, and Steve Mason stopped 33 shots as Philadelphia moved three points ahead of the New York Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets for second place in the Metropolitan Division.
Jamie Benn scored twice for the Stars and Tim Thomas allowed four goals on 29 shots. Dallas has lost four straight (0-3-1) and fell four points behind the Phoenix Coyotes for the second Western Conference wild-card spot for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Coyotes beat the Florida Panthers 2-1.
The Flyers scored twice in the first period and then held on as Dallas outshot them 23-17 over the final 40 minutes, including 6-4 in the third period.
"It's tough," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "I thought the team played hard. We missed some point-blank opportunities, and there is probably a couple our goaltender would like back. If we play like that night after night, we will win."
The Flyers, on the other hand, know they need a better effort than the one they put forth Thursday.
"They know it wasn't good enough tonight, but we won," Berube said. "Really wasn't good enough."
One player who did give his best effort was Simmonds. He had his second two-goal game in the past three and has five goals and five assists in 10 games since the Olympic break.
"I think he tries to play the same way all the time," Berube said. "When players go out and know their role and know what they're supposed to do, and that's what he does. He forechecks, he skates hard, does all that dirty work in front of the net. I think he's found his role. He plays it very well."
Simmonds' 23 goals put him on pace for 27, one off the career-best 28 he scored in 2011-12. However, Simmonds believes he's having a better season in 2013-14 because he's more consistent.
"My first year here I did get the 28 goals, but I think there were lapses in the season where I went 15, 16 games -- one time I went 17 games -- without a goal," he said. "I just try to play a more complete game more consistently.
"I think it’s just getting used to the League more and more. It's my sixth year in the League now. As you get older the game starts to slow down a little bit, things don't get easier ... but I guess it does get a little easier."
Simmonds’ first goal was an example of doing the dirty work. With Philadelphia skating on a power play and leading 1-0 on Streit's ninth goal, Jakub Voracek fired a shot from the right circle that Scott Hartnell tipped in the slot. The puck hit the post and rolled along the goal line behind Thomas and bounced off the post nearest to Simmonds, who was able to tap it in.
His second goal, at 12:21 of the third, was a bit of an anomaly -- a hard wrist shot skating horizontally through the zone from the top of the right circle that beat Thomas low to the far side, past his blocker.
"I just tried to fire it quick," Simmonds said. "I was crossing the middle and I tried to go against the grain. ... That's the first time I scored a goal from there in the last six years. I haven't scored a goal like that since junior. Nice to shoot the puck from the top of the circles and put it in."
That goal pushed the Flyers' lead to 3-1, but the Stars struck back quickly as Benn scored his second of the game 30 seconds later.
Matt Read turned the puck over in the Philadelphia zone, and Benn pounced on it in the middle of the Flyers end. He moved it to Tyler Seguin along the right side, and Seguin fired a shot that Read blocked. The puck bounced off the end boards behind Mason, who lost sight of it as it bounced back in front. Benn came in and poked it past the goaltender at 12:51.
Of the Stars' 21 goals in their past seven games, Benn and Seguin have scored 12 of them. Seguin was credited with assists on both of Benn's goals to extend his point streak to seven games.
The Stars continued to push, but the Flyers iced the game on Raffl's goal with 3:12 remaining.
Despite outshooting the Flyers and outplaying them for long stretches in the game, the Stars were left feeling empty as more time continued to tick away in their attempt to end a five-season playoff drought.
"It's definitely frustrating," Stars defenseman Brenden Dillon said. "Every game is getting closer and closer to playoff time and every game is getting more and more important. Every point that we either give away or we get, it's that time of year where every key point is needed."
After the Flyers took their 2-0 lead in the first, they had a chance to extend the lead when Benn was called for a penalty with 1:50 left in period, but they failed to take advantage. They went 1-for-2 on the power play, and in seven home games since the Olympic break, the Flyers are 4-for-28 at home on the power play and 4-for-9 with the extra man in three road games.
Dallas came out stronger in the second period and finally got on the board on Benn's first goal of the game, at 12:48 of the second.
The Stars were able to take advantage of some tired Flyers penalty killers after Philadelphia had to kill off back-to-back penalties on Zac Rinaldo and Raffl, including 31 seconds of 5-on-3 time.
Mason helped defuse the Dallas two-man advantage, holding strong on the left post to deny Alex Chiasson twice before sliding across to the other post to deny Benn.
Moments later, with the Flyers still killing off Raffl's penalty, Benn was able to find the back of the net. Alex Goligoski carried the puck into the Philadelphia end and dropped it to Seguin. Seguin made a nice move to step between Claude Giroux and Braydon Coburn in the left circle, and he pushed the puck forward between two Flyers to Benn, who made a nice move and shoved the puck under Mason at 12:48 for his 28th goal.
Benn's goal snapped the Flyers' streak of penalties killed at 19 spanning six games, and was the Stars' first power-play goal in four games, snapping an 0-for-7 drought dating to the first period of the Stars' game March 11 against the St. Louis Blues.
The loss leaves the Stars on the outside of the playoff hunt looking in, but there were enough positives for them to feel good moving forward.
"I think we can take a lot of good things out of this game," Benn said. "We would probably prefer a better start, obviously. To tie it or better out of the first would have been nice, but I thought we fought pretty hard in the second and third."
The Flyers have two more games left in their homestand, including a visit Saturday by the NHL-leading St. Louis Blues. Despite the win, the players know a better effort will be needed to keep moving forward.
"Any win is a confidence builder for us," Coburn said. "The more we get, the more our confidence is building. We got another really big test on the weekend with one of the best teams in the NHL coming in here so we've got a big test ahead of us."
Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
|Mark Streit (9) ASST: Claude Giroux (48)|
1 - 0 PHI
|PPG - Wayne Simmonds (22) ASST: Scott Hartnell (26), Jakub Voracek (32)|
2 - 0 PHI
|PPG - Jamie Benn (28) ASST: Tyler Seguin (40), Alex Goligoski (28)|
2 - 1 PHI
|Wayne Simmonds (23) ASST: Vincent Lecavalier (14), Brayden Schenn (21)|
3 - 1 PHI
|Jamie Benn (29) ASST: Tyler Seguin (41), Alex Chiasson (18)|
3 - 2 PHI
|Michael Raffl (9) ASST: Sean Couturier (25), Kimmo Timonen (24)|
4 - 2 PHI
|Power Play %||19.0%||23.4%|
|% on Road||23.3%||18.6%|
|% at Home||15.5%||28.0%|
|Ryan Garbutt Elbowing against Wayne Simmonds|
|Jordie Benn Hooking against Michael Raffl|
|Zac Rinaldo Hooking against Ryan Garbutt|
|Michael Raffl Tripping against Colton Sceviour|
|Wayne Simmonds Holding against Aaron Rome|