One of the justifications for using Simon Gagne on a line with Sean Couturier and Max Talbot is that his skillful puck sense might get both of them going.
Among the three of them, their goal total going into Wednesday’s game against the Washington Capitals was two.
Now it’s doubled after the Flyers' 4-1 victory at Wells Fargo Center that pulled them back into the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference with 21 points -- two ahead of Tampa Bay.
Couturier’s line was arguably the best the Flyers had with Gagne and Talbot picking up their first markers of the season in what was a complete, 60-minute effort from Peter Laviolette’s club.
“He’s fun to watch,” said Flyers captain Claude Giroux of Gagne. “He’s a smart player and knows how to score goals.”
Gagne, who played 16 minutes, made a difference.
“A lot of times you come back into a building you left or were traded to and sometimes the night takes over, but I thought Simon had a real good game defensively and offensively for us,” Laviolette said.
“From the first shift, [guys] played hard, played smart and defensively. We got chances in the offensive zone and there was good movement and lots of opportunities.”
Ilya Bryzgalov didn’t face a lot of shots but finished with 23 saves, losing his shutout in final 2:09 of the game.
“There wasn’t a lot of work -- maybe 10 quality chances,” Laviolette said. “He was sharp early when we needed him.”
The Flyers caught the Caps in the tail end of a back-to-back situation -- something teams had been doing to them with regularity this shortened season.
Gagne celebrated his return with a power-play goal to erase the bad memories of going 11 games without a goal in Los Angeles.
“Sometimes, [Philly] is a tough place to come to and a lot of pressure,” Gagne said. “I know what it takes and maybe I can help the young guys with that.
“And maybe I can help offensively. It was a tough situation in L.A. I was in and out of the line up in L.A. so it was hard for me to get my game going when you do that.
“I just have to play my basic game every game and help the team get back in the playoff mode.”
Gagne was warmly greeted by the crowd even before scoring, while the Flyers chased Caps starting goalie Braden Holtby with four goals.
The only “downer” here was another critical injury and even worse, on the banged-up defense.
Erik Gustafsson blocked a shot from Washington’s Eric Fehr seven minutes into the second period and did not return. He was hit in the left shin.
You really can see how much of an impact a healthy Scott Hartnell can have. Last year’s leading goal scorer, with a career-high 37, Hartnell had two assists on the Flyers' first two goals just 4:04 into the game.
That’s three points in three games for Hartnell since returning to the lineup from a fractured bone in his left foot.
“I feel a little more comfortable with the puck,” Hartnell said. “I had some chances going down the wing but I didn’t get my shot off the way I wanted to. I think it comes with more games played.
“If you want to look at it like an exhibition season on a regular season, it takes three, four or five games to feel comfortable and for not skating for four weeks, I feel a little better.”
His first assist was pure #HartnellDown. From his knees outside the paint, he managed to backhand the puck across the slot for Claude Giroux’s seventh goal on the game’s opening shift.
Hartnell then drew the primary assist on Wayne Simmonds’ power-play goal at 4:04. Simmonds backhanded the puck under pressure in the slot while falling backward for his eighth goal to make it 2-0.
The Caps' only danger these days is on the power play. Not coincidentally, Bryzgalov had two fines saves during a late Washington power play, using his blocker on Nick Backstrom and also stopping Alex Ovechkin, who came into the game six points shy of 700 for his career.
“They had a power play [there] and had some opportunities with some tricky plays through the slot, a couple redirects,” Laviolette said. “He was sharp.”
Gagne’s first marker at 3:54 of the second period with one second left on a power play made it 3-0. He rebounded a shot from Brayden Schenn.
Incredibly, that was Gagne’s first goal since Nov. 17, 2011!
Now it took Talbot 22 games to get his first goal of the season, blasting a slap shot from the high slot so hard off the camera inside the net that the puck ricocheted out in a blinding instant.
“Feels good to get the win, but personally it feels good to find the back of the net,” Talbot said.
“I have been practicing with some new sticks this week. That’s a good excuse, huh? But is worked out good. ... Same company (CCM) but different kind.”
That made it 4-0 with five minutes left in the period and brought on backup goalie Philipp Grubauer.
Bryzgalov had some fine stops on Ovechkin in the third period before losing his shutout to Joel Ward.
Obviously, the Flyers need to carry this over to Saturday’s matinee against Ottawa. Historically, the Flyers always have a strong third month of the season.
That’s always December but in a lockout-shortened season, it’s March.
And it also begins with the start of the game.
“The first couple shifts were huge ... to get a goal in there and after that power play, two goals in the first,” Talbot said.
“But I thought we played a solid 60-minute effort, which is nice to build on.”