SAN JOSE, Calif. — Not only do the Flyers finally know the way to San Jose, but they now also know the best mode of transportation to get here and to get the job done.
The “Wayne Train” delivered the cargo as he became the first Flyer in franchise history to score a hat trick on opening night. Two of those were vintage Simmonds parking the caboose in front of the goaltender and redirecting shots from the point. He capped his second career hat trick with an empty-netter that secured a 5-3 opening night victory Wednesday over the Sharks, just the Flyers’ second win in San Jose since the turn of the century (see observations).
It was Simmonds’ hand-eye coordination, coupled with an ability to screen a goaltender, that placed him in a very elite category.
“That’s pretty good,” Simmonds said. “I thought we started really well. I think we’ve got a lot more speed. I think if you watched the game, we just kept skating, skating and skating. I think it was because of our legs that we came away with the two points. The good thing about the young guys is they have a ton of energy and a ton of legs, so that’s good.”
“He’s the best in the business at that (working down low),” Shayne Gostisbehere said. “They always tell me if I get the puck through on net, don’t get it blocked. You’re going to get a point because it’s either going to go in or Simmer is going to tip it. It’s a good presence to have. It’s a weapon that we obviously have, and he showed it tonight.”
The Flyers utilized Simmonds and their power-play units to full potential. Not only did the Flyers’ power play complete a hat trick of its own, but collectively, the team’s two units also needed just 1:09 to accomplish the feat.
First, Jordan Weal got the Flyers on the board on the PP before Simmonds followed suit with his pair.
“Jokingly, we said we were saving them for the season,” Gostisbehere, who tied a career-high with three assists, said. “It was huge for us.”
The Flyers didn’t start working on their power play until a week into the preseason. They were never too distracted with their September struggles, especially in the game at Boston in which they finished 0 for 9.
“The last three games of the preseason, things were clicking pretty well,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Tonight, the puck went into the net. We had a real good shooting mentality. We scored a couple early by having great net-front presence. One or two passes and putting it to the net, and it was effective for us tonight.”
Brian Elliott earned the season-opening assignment in net and despite surrendering a 2-0 lead in the first period and a 3-2 lead earlier in the third period, he shut the door over the final 16:48 to earn his first win in orange and black.
“The first game of the season, you’re always figuring things out,” Elliott said. “But that was a good one for us to spoil a home opener.”
Making his NHL debut, Nolan Patrick played 13:30 and had three shots on goal. Patrick also won 56 percent of his faceoffs.
While he wasn’t noticeable on the offensive end, he played a responsible defensive game.
“I thought he played really well,” Simmonds said. “I asked him if he was nervous before the game and he said no. I think it was [Jakub Voracek] who said, ‘Ah, you better be nervous.’”
Robert Hagg, paired with Gostisbehere, was on the ice for 16:13 with two shots on goal. He saw time in all situations, including nearly two minutes on the penalty kill.
“You’d think he’d be nervous, but he was so calm,” Gostisbehere said. “He’s a cool, calm and collected guy. He just sees the game so well. He’s a good calming presence back there. I think he played really well out there tonight.”
Taylor Leier, playing right winger on the Flyers’ fourth line, saw significant ice time with 12:30 of action (4:35 shorthanded). Leier was not on the ice when the Sharks scored their two power-play goals.
For the stat junkies
• Hakstol is now 2-0-1 in season openers.
• Claude Giroux’s first-period goal marked the fourth time he’s scored a goal in a season opener. With his first assist this season, Giroux will pass Mark Recchi for fourth place on the Flyers’ all-time list.
• With his three goals, Simmonds surpassed the 400-point mark for his career (401).
• Wednesday’s game was the third time in franchise history the Flyers started their season in California. Last season, the Flyers began in Los Angeles with a 4-2 win over the Kings. Their first season opener in the Golden State came in their inaugural season of 1966-67 when they lost to the California Seals, 5-1, at Oracle Arena, home to the NBA world champion Golden State Warriors.