SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Flyers’ power play inefficiency cost assistant coach Joe Mullen his job last season, and the top unit struggled mightily in the recently completed preseason.
But in the opener Wednesday at the SAP Center, the power play was lethal as it scored on its first three chances.
Getting three goals from Wayne Simmonds — he became the first player in franchise history to register a hat trick in a season opener — and going 3-for-5 with a man advantage, the Flyers outlasted San Jose, 5-3.
Simmonds, who scored on a pair of deflections, completed the second hat trick of his career by scoring into an empty net with 35.7 seconds remaining.
“We came out on fire,” said Simmonds, whose team built an early 2-0 lead. “…We go two goals, and unfortunately we gave two back, but we stayed on an even keel and stuck with our program and did what we wanted to do.”
The Flyers are now 23-19-8 in season openers, and they are 22-16-12 in their road openers, many of which did not start the season.
Simmonds, who had a team-high 31 goals last season, tipped in Jake Voracek’s point drive with 10 minutes, 33 seconds to play, snapping a 3-3 tie.
Voracek and Shayne Gostisbehere had three assists apiece.
“We got a lot of passes through, and we moved the puck well,” Voracek said of the power play, which is directed by Kris Knoblauch, a former coach of Erie in the Ontario Hockey League. “…Simmy was outstanding in front of the net.”
The Flyers had taken a 3-2 lead when Gostisbehere’s power-play blast nicked Simmonds, and rattled off the right post and into the net with 2:24 left in the second.
Simmonds said he wasn’t worried that the first power-play unit had problems in the preseason.
“We didn’t start working on the power play until the end of camp,” he said. “I think our focus was to get our legs and make sure we had our five-on-five structure down. With both units this year, I think it was only a matter of time. We kept working on it and today was a pretty good showing.”
San Jose had a huge territorial edge in the second period, but the Flyers scored the only goal in the stanza despite being outshot, 13-6. Voracek set up Gostisbehere, notching his second assist of the night on a goal that went to Simmonds.
“I got the puck over to Jakey and spread it out a little bit, and he made a great pass back,” Gostisbehere said. “G [Claude Giroux] told me to shoot it to open things up.”
The lead was short-lived.
With Travis Konecny in the penalty box for hooking, Logan Couture whipped a backhander that deflected off the skate of defenseman Andrew MacDonald and past Brian Elliott, knotting the score at 3-all with 16:48 remaining in the third.
Earlier in the second, Sean Couturier was denied on two quality chances. Couturier had his wraparound knocked away by defenseman Paul Martin, and later in the period he went in alone after a Brent Burns giveaway — the Flyers were shorthanded at the time — and he was stopped by goalie Martin Jones with 11:20 left in the session.
Kevin Labanc, a second-year left winger who had eight goals as a rookie, scored two goals in the final 2:43 of the first period to erase the Flyers’ 2-0 lead. But Labanc was also in the penalty box for all three Flyers power-play goals.
The Flyers, looking faster than last season, had built a 2-0 lead on goals by new left winger Giroux and Jordan Weal (power play).
“That’s the good thing about the young guys. They have a ton of energy and a ton of legs,” Simmonds said.
Jones went behind the net and cleared the puck to Voracek on the right side. Voracek sent a quick pass to Giroux, who one-timed a slot shot into an open net with 11:32 to go in the first. Giroux, who had just four goals in his last 47 games last season, scored the Flyers’ first goal of the year for the third time in his career. The converted center also did it in 2011-12 and 2012-13.
A little less than three minutes later, Weal took a slick pass from Konecny and beat a shaky Jones with a quick right-circle to the far side, putting the Flyers ahead, 2-0. It was a continuation from a strong preseason by the Flyers’ second power-play unit. Jones allowed two goals on the Flyers’ first six shots.
“We got off to a great start,” said Weal, who scored eight goals in his final 19 games last season. “We were putting lots of pressure on them, but then we started sitting back a little bit.”
They regained their legs, took control of the game in the third period, and won in San Jose for just the second time this century. In the process, they snapped the Sharks’ seven-game winning streak in season openers.
The Flyers play in Los Angeles on Thursday, and it is the third time in the last four years that they begin the season with back-to-back games….Ivan Provorov played 25:35 and blocked five shots…Nolan Patrick, in his NHL debut, played 13:30, took three shots, and won five of nine faceoffs…..Couturier, who centered the top line, had a game-high six shots, an assist, four hits, and a plus-2 rating…Elliott stopped 32 of 35 shots. “When you’re scoring like that on the power play and right away, it makes your job a little easier,” he said….Coach Dave Hakstol: I thought a couple of good penalty kills pushed us in the right direction in the second period and kind of righted the ship for us.”