The Philadelphia Flyers have been a consistently inconsistent hockey team this year. Through the first sixteen games of the season, they did not have a winning streak or losing streak of more than two games. Consistently inconsistent. Then they went on a ten game losing streak where the losses were consistent but the way they lost those games were not. Now, they are in the midst of their longest winning streak of the season. It has been a roller coaster ride for the Flyers and their fans never knowing which team will show up. There is, however, one consistency in the Flyers season that will make a big impact as the season progresses. That consistency revolves around their alternate captain Wayne Simmonds.
Winning with Wayne
It is not the play of Wayne Simmonds that has been the consistent cog in every moving and changing part that has been the Flyers team. For consistent play, we would be talking about Jakub Voracek or Sean Couturier. No, the consistency Wayne Simmonds provides is very simple. When Simmonds gets a point, the Flyers win. When he does not score or assist in the game, the Flyers lose. It is as simple as that.
Now that may sound like a correlation that could be given to anybody. One would argue that when Giroux scores, the Flyers have a higher chance of winning. The same could be said for Voracek or Couturier or any of the other top playmakers on the team. But with Simmonds the correlation is great.
After Thursday’s 2-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres, the Flyers are 13-11-7 with 33 points through 31 games. In those 13 wins, Simmonds has at least one point in 10 of those games. The only games in which he did not score and the Flyers won were in Toronto on Oct. 28, versus Chicago on Nov. 9, and Thursday’s game against the Sabres. In the 11 losses, Simmonds has yet to register a point, and in the 7 OT losses, he has one goal and three assists. Breaking down the numbers, when Simmonds registers a point, the Flyers have won 71% of their games (10-0-4 in such games). The Flyers have a 100% chance of getting at least one point from the game when Simmonds gets a point. If he does not, they win only 18% of the time (3-11-3).
Overall, Simmonds’ numbers are better in wins. He has logged only seven penalty minutes compared to 23 in losses. He is a plus-six in wins and a minus-10 in losses. Most players are positive in wins and negative in losses, but with Simmonds, it is very clear. Keep him on the ice. Keep him out of the box. Get him the puck to assist or score.
A Seasonal Trend
If you take a look back at Simmonds’ career, you will find that this trend has been consistent over the years. Last season, he had 35 points in 39 wins compared to just 19 points in 43 losses. Two seasons ago, he had 47 points in 41 wins for the playoff team compared to just 13 points in the 41 combined losses. For his career, he is a +127 in wins and -153 in losses. He has 287 points in 356 wins and only 130 points in 362 losses.
His importance and impact on the ice were on clear display in the 2015-16 season, and are on display once again this year.
Hakstol Helping the Cause
Much of the credit for the Flyers recent success is credited to Dave Hakstol. Recognizing the lack of scoring depth within the roster, he moved Simmonds to the top line and Voracek to the second line. Voracek has been the most consistent player with his passing, so his moving to the second line has really helped Michael Raffl, Valtteri Filppula, and others. More on the shuffling of the lines and the Flyers win streak can be read here.
Now the Flyers are on a five-game winning streak. Simmonds has three goals and two assists in those five games with points in four out of five. The switch has seen immediate results and has already paid dividends. Simmonds has more opportunity to score with Giroux and Couturier feeding him the puck and opponents having to worry about Giroux and Couturier putting one in the back of the net themselves. This is the line for the Flyers that strikes fear in opponents. Hakstol’s switch has shed more light on the importance of Wayne Simmonds’ play.
And don’t worry about Jake Voracek. He and the second line have been flourishing since the lineup change, too. He has eight assists over the last five games. Michael Raffl has three goals and three assists during the winning streak. Valtteri Filppula has two goals and three assists. Suddenly, there are two legitimately intimidating lines for the Flyers.
What About the Other Guys?
When you talk about an X-Factor for a team, it is a guy who is not leading the team statistically but can make or break the outcome any given night. An X-Factor rarely is someone who does not directly contribute offensively. The Flyers have relied heavily on their former top line of Giroux-Voracek-Couturier to do most of the scoring, so the list of players who can be in this discussion are limited.
So why isn’t one of the three names mentioned above considered the X-Factor?
Leaders of the Team
With Voracek, it is easy. He has been the most consistent and best player on the Flyers this season. He leads the NHL in assists with 31 and has made few mistakes when on the ice. His play has been good regardless of how the rest of the team fairs. Regardless of if the team wins or losses, Voracek probably has an assist. In fact, there have been 11 games in which Voracek has not gotten a point, three of which were wins. He is one of the most important players on the team, but he is not the X-Factor.
Sean Couturier has been consistent this year as well. Looking at his splits for the season, he is equal in points during wins and points during losses at 15. His play on both sides of the ice has some talking about him being the Selke Trophy winner. When you are in the conversation for the best two-way player in the league, you are not an X-Factor.
Then there is the captain, Claude Giroux. His numbers are closer to that of Simmonds where he has 21 points in wins and 13 points in losses. But Giroux is the Captain – he energizes the team and has been the team’s best player for years. He was the X-Factor in 2012 when he laid out Sidney Crosby in Game 6 of the 2012 playoffs. Then he became the Captain and the leader. The X-Factor is a talented guy that may get overlooked. He is the guy that the best player needs in order to be successful. Giroux is the best player while Simmonds is the X-Factor.
What does this mean for the team moving forward? It means they should get Wayne Simmonds the puck.
Keep feeding him the puck. Get him out there on the power play where he is most effective. Win games. Simmonds isn’t fancy like the play Giroux and Couturier made Tuesday night. Let him do his thing, and that is to grind out goals, deflect pucks in front of the net, and win you games.
So while everyone will have their eyes on Giroux as the Captain, the alternate captain will be the difference maker. Simmonds wears the A. He is a two-time 30 goal scorer. The team plays with confidence by feeding off of his success. The top three players on the team have been consistent. Simmonds has been the X-Factor.
Two games into the homestand and the Flyers are 2-0-0. 5-0-0 in their last five. 5-5-5 in their last fifteen. Three more games at home.