Dustin Byfuglien not only telegraphed his D-to-D pass to Tobias Enstrom but he Tweeted it and posted a picture of it on Facebook, too. Thank you very much, Sean Couturier happily confirmed that friend request and was off with the puck the other way.
It is the art of the read that will make Couturier a yearly Frank Selke Trophy candidate. By that we do not mean a Read named Matt currently playing on Couturier’s left side but the way superior defensive players know when to go and when to stay, how to best chase the game and or let it come to them.
Not only the better scorers know where the puck is likely to go next, but the better checkers do, too. Watching Couturier mine sweep the lanes, clear pucks, gets physical standoffs along the wall, win two big draws in the final two minutes in addition to scoring the winning goal of Friday’s 2-1 win over Winnipeg was a demonstration right out of a textbook.
The Flyers’ chapter was written by Bobby Clarke, before it went to a second printing named Dave Poulin. Two and a half decades after Poulin, here was Couturier sizing up Byfuglien’s shortage of options, anticipating his back-footed lollypop of a pass, and, even faster than Paul Holmgren could call Sean’s name with the eighth pick two summers ago, swooping in to change a tight game.
With the Flyers similarly skating shorthanded in the first period, a puck had hopped over Grant Clitsome’s stick at the point, Couturier had roared in, cut in front, and – story of his season -- failed to get the puck over the right pad of the splayed Ondrej Pavelec.
This time Couturier was on the opposite side, and -- as he closed in -- having to deal with Enstrom, who made a mild attempt at a shoulder check as the Flyers center cut in front of Pavelec. This time the goalie overplayed and the puck slid behind him for a 2-0 Philadelphia lead.
The Flyers, getting a first-minute goal by Scott Hartnell with a puck that kicked into the high slot off Olli Jokinen’s skate, then Couturier’s shortie, stayed in territorial control almost throughout. After two effort-thin losses in Florida, they changed not only their mindset but their socks, too, before heading right back out for a game Saturday night in Nashville that leads off six more straight on the road.
Not wanting to let a precious home game pass without two important points, the Flyers supported each other almost flawlessly and hugely deserved the victory, even if, thanks to careless third-period penalties by Steve Downie and Andrej Meszaros, they ended up asking for a three-game losing streak, something one cannot not afford after it takes a 6-0-1 run just to get back to .500.
After Michael Frolik broke Steve Mason’s shutout with 7:07 to go with a whack at a jumping bean that danced just out of the reach of Andrej Meszaros, Zac Rinaldo and Adam Hall in the slot, the Flyers resumed playing in Winnipeg’s end, the checking center, too, or maybe we should say the checking center especially. Couturier was aggressive, smart and cool.
“Just like most nights,” said Craig Berube, but in 23 of the first 25 on which the Flyers have played this season, Couturier has not scored a goal.
“Obviously only two goals in twenty-something games is not great,” he said. “But I am playing within my role and trying to shut down lines.
“I have had some scoring chances. I don’t think I am playing bad. Lately the puck has been going in. The production is going to start going up.”
With Read having a pair of two-goal games in his last four and Steve Downie contributing six assists in his nine Flyers games, up would seem to be the only direction things can go for a 20-year-old kid who, like a hard-nosed, presumably third-line type named Rick Tocchet three decades ago, should be given every opportunity to raise his own ceiling.
“I think it was coming for him offensively no matter what,” said Berube, asked again about efforts to support Couturier’s offense with Read and Downie. “But Downie adds another element for sure.
“He keeps a lot of pucks alive down low and they have good chemistry.”
Couturier may not have a 20-goal caliber shot, but he does have a shot at scoring 20 goals in a good year. His brain got him into the NHL at age 18, and all this ice time he will continue to get in a division that houses Evgeni Malkin and Nick Backstrom will get Couturier opportunities to score as long as he maintains the will to do so.
The Flyers had plenty more chances than they cashed on Black Friday, in part because of Pavelec, in part because they still badly need another scorer. All the more the reason why the team and Couturier would be selling themselves short if they didn’t play on the other side of the red line, too.
Instincts like Couturier showed Friday in keeping the Flyers out of a losing streak would be a terrible thing to waste.
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