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Happy Reunion

by Kevin Kurz / Philadelphia Flyers
Briere producing with Gagne back in the lineup

(Voorhees, NJ) – Other than maybe Head Coach John Stevens, no one is happier to have Simon Gagne back in the lineup more than his linemate.

Danny Briere has had no trouble putting points on the board this season, but seems to be playing better at both ends of the ice since Gagne returned from a concussion on January 10 in New York. Although he has been either first or second on the team in scoring all year, Briere’s plus-minus rating is one aspect of this game that he would like to improve. Right now, he has 19 goals and 26 assists for 45 points but is a -11.
Simon Gagne and Danny Briere celebrate Gagne's goal at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers on January 10. (Getty Images)

“When you don’t score five-on-five, your minuses are going to go up. Our line wasn’t scoring five-on-five,” said Briere. “With Simon, I think teams will be a lot more careful playing against us, and I think we’re going to score more goals. Also, the fact that we’ll probably have the puck a little bit more.”

“They are two guys who I thought were starting to develop some chemistry before Gagne got hurt,” added Stevens. “Danny is a great playmaker, but when you put another weapon on that line like Gagne, who is just a pure scorer, and you couple that with his defensive awareness away from the puck, you’re going to help anybody.”

Stevens added that he thinks Briere’s plus-minus may be a little misleading.

“If you go back and look at some of those numbers, there are some things that I think Danny could do better defensively, but he’s been a little bit of a victim there,” he said. “He’s on the ice when our goalie is pulled, and also the fact that he’s had a lot of chances that he hasn’t capitalized on.

“I think you’re going to see a lot more production five-on-five.”

Since his return, Gagne has at least a point in each of the four games (2g, 2a). Briere has added three goals and two assists of his own as the Flyers are 3-0-1 over that span.

“We’re feeling more and more comfortable every game since he’s been back,” said Briere. “I think for [Simon], he’s just going to get better and better. You get a player like that in your lineup; it’s huge for the confidence of your team. For me personally, to have a chance to play with someone like him, it just gives you the chance to create more.”

Praise for Timonen

The Flyers’ power play, currently ranked first overall in the league this season with a 24.1 percent success rate, has been one of the biggest reasons the team has gone 8-1-1 in its last 10 games. Philadelphia has scored at least one power play goal in 16 of the last 18 games, and is 26 for 99 over that span (26.3 percent).

While the reasons are many why the team has been able to produce so much on the man advantage, the so-called quarterback of the power play deserves a lot of the credit according to his teammates and coach.

It’s also one of the reasons Kimmo Timonen is headed to the All-Star Game later this month.

“Kimmo has made a huge difference,” said Gagne. “He’s very patient, and knows when it’s time to take a shot and time to make a pass. With the other element to have Mike [Knuble] in front, who is a big guy and makes a lot of space and gets some rebounds, and having skilled guys like Danny and [Mike Richards], it’s just a great mix of players for the power play.”

Stevens studied tape of Timonen after he was acquired by the club this summer, and has seen the Finland native get better and better as the year has gone by.
A cartoon currently running in ESPN Magazine. (illustration by Peter Arkle)

“He never gets rattled. He doesn’t ever seem frustrated, and seems like he’s always got composure and confidence. I think that’s contagious for the rest of the guys on both units. He’s been an invaluable guy on the power play,” said the coach.

Timonen’s veteran presence has also helped Richards, whom Stevens placed on one of the points during man-advantage situations early this season. It was Richards’ first experience in that position and he hasn’t disappointed.

“Kimmo doesn’t put [Richards] in situations where he’s under pressure. He gives him the puck when he should. [Timonen] is up high in the offensive zone most of the time in the middle, so everything kind of revolves around him.”

Players amused by ESPN Magazine cartoon

As the players came one-by-one off of the ice on Friday morning following practice, a copy of the most recent ESPN Magazine was passed from locker to locker. On one page was a cartoon showing the five Flyers that have been suspended this season in a police lineup.

Randy Jones, who was suspended for two games in early November, was amazed at how much the portrait looked like him.

He was then asked if the cartoon bothers him.

“Not at all. That’s something you have to look at and laugh about,” said Jones. “It’s a good picture of me.”

Riley Cote, who also had to sit for two games, added: “The portrait is dead on. The clothing is a little suspect, but I think they did a pretty good sketch of our faces. But, I don’t wear sweater vests.”
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