By Jack McCaffery
PHILADELPHIA >> Not that there is ever a bad time for one to peak, but the Flyers' No. 1 power-play unit suddenly, impressively is looking like it could be a force in the playoffs.
Concocting two goals in a 3-2 victory over the visiting Ottawa Senators Saturday, the unit of Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Claude Giroux and Shayne Gostisbehere has provided three in the last two games.
Beyond that measurable result, the unit has been physical, alert, crisp with its passing and as confident as any Flyers man-advantage unit all season.
“I don’t know about all year, but it is going good,” Dave Hakstol said. “They did a great job for us today. It was the difference in the game for us.”
The Flyers' third goal was also on the power-play, Sean Couturier scoring from Schenn and Simmonds.
“Specialty teams were obviously a big part of it for us,” Hakstol said. “I think those are the signs that we’ve seen coming from the Giroux unit over the last couple of games. And Sean Couturier’s unit has been good and solid over the last month.”
The nature of the power-play, if not hockey overall, is that hot units cool. With five games left in the regular season, Hakstol is not concerned. Indeed, the Flyers' coach believes that top unit can improve.
“No, it can keep building,” Hakstol said. “Guys work really hard at the little areas of the game. A day like today doesn't happen by accident. Those guys, in terms of the power play, work hard at it. (Assistant coach) Joey Mullen works hard at it through their collaboration. You see the result today.”
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With Michal Neuvirth undergoing lower-body recovery, Steve Mason has made eight conscutive starts and will make it nine Sunday evening at 5 in Pittsburgh.
Hakstol sees no reason to be concerned with the workload.
“I haven’t seen it yet,” he said. “We’ll take it day by day. Everybody’s playing a lot of hockey so we’re going to keep looking at things on a day-by-day basis. That being said, we don’t have the luxury of rest. The schedule doesn't afford it right now. We’ve got to take care of ourselves and mentally be ready to go tomorrow. ”
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Having created their own straits in the first two-thirds of the season, the Flyers have been saying, to a man, that they just want to win a playoff spot, any playoff spot.
But with their recent hot play, they can begin to peek at the scoreboard and the standings and consider, perhaps, bettering their postseason seeding. That was a 5-0 Islanders loss to Pittsburgh Saturday, drawing the Flyers within two points of New York in the wild-card scramble.
“At the end of the day, I think we’re just striving to make the playoffs, regardless of the position,” Steve Meson said. “If we can get up in a higher seed, then that would be great. But we’re just focusing on the day-to-day aspects and getting two points whenever we can. It’s the end of the season we’ll see where we end up. And if we’re in a higher position, great.”
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NOTES: The Flyers had three power-play goals for the second time this season … Giroux was 13-for-18 on faceoffs, a 72-percent success rate … The Flyers had 14 blocked shots, five by Andrew MacDonald … Simmonds has 24 career games of two or more goals.