PHILADELPHIA – Looking at the score sheet after the Flyers 4-1 win over Buffalo if you go to the column that shows the total time on ice for each player and scroll down the list, you may find some interesting numbers.
Ordinarily, among forwards, the guys on your top line play the most minutes, followed by the guys on the second line and so on and so forth.
Reading the sheet Thursday, you will find that Claude Giroux, as usual, paced the forwards with 22:46.
O.K., why is this relevant? Why is this being pointed out in a game that the Flyers won, registering points for the sixth straight game and climbing ever closer to .500 and ever-closer to a playoff position.
Understanding why the Flyers are 8-3-2 in their last 13 games is not as easy as simply saying the team has confidence.
Nor is it as simple as saying there is a more defensive system that is being employed which is helping the Flyers limit chances, prevent goals, and overall keeping the team in games.
Goaltending has also been part of this great run for the Flyers, as the team has allowed just one even strength goal in the last six games and a total of 14 in the past nine.
Sure, those things matter. Sure they are part of the equation. But the crux of the matter is the players have actually bought in to what the coaching staff has asked of them and are operating pretty much as a well-oiled machine.
Under Berube, instead of the focus being on the Flyers best players making a difference in the game, instead much of the onus falls to the players who are charged with stopping the other team first and worrying about offense later.
Couturier is a prime example. A player who was being chastised for his lack of offense, has been arguably the best Flyers forward.
Knowing Couturier and Read are both reliable, two-way forwards, Berube paired them together, but he needed a third player to compliment them and turn them into a true powerhouse line that could be asked to shut down the best offensive players in the world on one hand, and on the other, generate a good amount of secondary offense.
Steve Downie joined the mix, and it’s been a success ever since.
Read had a pair of goals in the win over Buffalo. Both Downie and Couturier had two assists. And all told, they were the best line on the ice for either team in the entire game, even earning the three stars of the game.
Not bad for a third line, eh? Um, they are the third line right?
“[They] played great,” said coach Craig Berube. “Whatever you want to call them.”
Which is why the ice times are worth pointing out. Maybe it’s just easier to consider Couturier, Read and Downie the third line because the supposed second unit of Brayden Schenn, Vincent Lecavalier and Wayne Simmonds is more of a scoring threat.
But when the Couturier trio plays a combined 50:10, and the Lecavalier threesome totals 46:04… well….
“We talk a lot off the ice and try to figure out our system and figure out where each other are,” Read said. “I think the last couple games are showing Couturier, Downie and I are having fun out there, doing simple things and not turning pucks over. We’re just having fun out there and making things happen.”
On both of Read’s goals, Couturier won puck battles along the boards, getting the puck to Downie who used his elite vision to find Read.
Read’s first goal was a one-timer on which he didn’t get all of the puck, but it still went in, but the second was just pretty.
Read waited out goalie Ryan Miller and then finally lifted the puck past the sprawling goalie to make it 2-1.
“I think as a line we played pretty good,” said Couturier. “We kept it simple. A couple pucks deep and won some battles and Reader finished off two nice plays there.”
It marked the first time the Flyers won a game this season after allowing the first goal of the game – a power play tally by Tyler Myers on a scrum in front of the net that Ray Emery almost covered up.
But, that would be the only goal Emery would allow as he stopped 29 shots to improve his record to 3-3 this season and lowering his goals against average to 2.53 and increasing his save percentage to .910 in the process.
“If you have a tough start it’s nice to climb back to even,” said Emery. “It’s always like a fresh start when you get there. It’s encouraging as a team. We’re playing better; we’re getting the points we need to [get].”
The velvety smooth Vincent Lecavalier registered his team-leading eighth goal of the season on a laser from the right circle on the power play and Scott Hartnell added an empty-netter for his fourth goal of the season.
The Flyers (9-10-2, 20 points) vaulted three teams in the Metropolitan Division standings into fifth place and were only two points out of third place, and a playoff spot, at the time of this writing.
“You have to stay on it all of the time,” Berube said. “You can’t take a break and there are no easy games in this league. There are going to be nights where you might not have the jump and the legs, and that’s where you have to be real smart out there. It’s important because if you don’t have the legs and you can’t get there - you don’t have quite the jump the other team has, you have to work to play smart and not turn the pucks over; it’s important not to take chances.
“It’s just the little things like that. Like I said, it’s a work in progress and you have to stay on it all the time and keep building it.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers
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