Wayne Simmonds was having a helluva game in Tuesday night's 6-5 shootout victory over the Florida Panthers.
Until he took himself off the ice.
Really. With two of the five goals the Flyers posted in a second period that was their most dominant stretch of hockey this season, he was again messaging foe and teammate alike that he was back, that he was again the offensive monster he was two seasons ago before a core-muscle injury greatly compromised his effectiveness with the puck, and without it.
He was the game's No. 1 star, or shaping up to be, until he literally jumped into a scrum along the boards with the Flyers ahead, 5-2, late in the second period. Technically, referees Dan O'Halloran and Justin St. Pierre removed him for the 12-minute stretch the Panthers used to tie the game and gain a point. But he left them little choice, trapping an overwhelmed linesman as he reached over bodies and attempted to get at 6-foot-4 Alexander Petrovic.
The Panthers defenseman was face-raking Flyers defenseman Robert Hagg along the boards at the time, clearly attempting to alter the tenor of the game. Hagg seemed in no apparent danger, seemed bemused by it, even issued enough of his own face-rakes to earn his own roughing penalty and match the one issued to Petrovic.
No harm, no foul. Play on, fellas. That seemed to be O'Halloran's preference.
Simmonds made that impossible once the linesman received a few errant blows.
"I didn't want to get the 10,'' the Flyers winger said, referring to a 10-minute misconduct penalty that was added to the two-minute roughing infraction. "I asked the ref and he said, `You just kept going and my linesman got hit.' The linesmen get hit, they're gonna do that, so … ''
Apparently hockey's quirky code extends to officials, too.
You hit my guy.
I hit you.
"I know what he's trying to do, and I want to counteract that,'' Simmonds said of Petrovic, Florida's agitator. "I want to stop that right when they're trying to start it, and unfortunately it didn't work too well for us. They scored. But, you know, we're not going to let guys come in here and push us around — that's for sure.''
But that's kind of what happened after the scrum. After mustering just one shot in two previous power plays, Florida scored 8 seconds into their third one, then tied the game via a pair of third-period goals with Simmonds still watching from the penalty box. They won board battles, took away pucks, became more physical.
Meanwhile, Simmonds' line, which Dave Hakstol had dynamically revamped to include Scott Laughton in place of rookie Mikhail Vorobyev, had to be revamped again. Remember, this team was already playing without James van Riemsdyk and Nolan Patrick. The magic was lost, and what was shaping up as a festive night for the Flyers and their fans became the hockey equivalent of water torture, their two points secured only after Calvin Pickard, the third goalie to enter the game, stopped Frank Vatrano on Florida's third shootout attempt.
That put relieved smiles on faces of players in the dressing room afterward and simmered — get it? — the scowl Hakstol wore for the entire third period as well.
"That's hockey,'' Hakstol said of his winger's intercession on behalf of Hagg. "That's team building. You don't go into those scrums thinking about all the different scenarios. You're either going in or you're not going in. He made the right decision going in.''
Really? You don't go into a scrum with a three-goal lead telling yourself not to give them any unneeded energy or motivation? Always thought that's what coaches did preach, that there's a time and a place. Petrovic might not have been playing in front of a home crowd, but he was clearly looking to fire up his own teammates, to reset them. After a first period in which the Panthers outshot the Flyers, 12-4, flying through the neutral zone as if it were an E-ZPass lane, this winless team had become completely discombobulated by a tighter Flyers effort there in the second.
"We start throwing pucks east and west a little bit in the neutral zone,'' their coach, Bob Boughner, lamented afterward. "Instead of making them go back and turn for pucks, we started the turnover game a little bit.''
The scrum created a reset.
Here's another undeniable aspect of the Flyers as currently constituted: Simmonds and Radko Gudas are the only players who strike real fear among opponents, who create additional space with their physicality. And three suspensions have dulled that effect for Gudas, who actually patted Aleksander Barkov — who scored two regulation goals and once in the shootout — after one stoppage Tuesday night.
So Simmonds in the box for that length of time said: Not in our house? Simmonds' playing just 1 minute and 36 seconds of the third period sent a message?
Make yourself at home?
Earlier in his career, Simmonds often spoke of being more judicious with his choice to mix it up, particularly when it backfired, as it did last night. His injuries last season severely impeded his ability to lead this young team, to be its sergeant-at-arms.
If that's what he was re-establishing Tuesday night, OK.