Rookies in name only
Flyers core of rookies are not playing like first-year NHL'ers
VOORHEES, N.J. -- Rookies have been part of the solution for the Philadelphia Flyers since the start of training camp.
It's why they're not a problem now.
Philadelphia has used at least five rookies in all three games of the series against Pittsburgh (six rookies played in Game 1), and some of them deserve credit for being major factors in why the Flyers are up 3-0 in the series heading into Game 4 Wednesday at Wells Fargo Center (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN).
"When you're getting put in key situations throughout the season, toward the end of the year you don't have to feel so tense when you step out there," Brayden Schenn said. "Everyone feels comfortable and we're just trying to do our jobs, make the most of it."
Schenn has five points, including the game-tying goal and two assists in Game 1, when the Flyers had to claw back from a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3 in overtime.
Sean Couturier had a hat trick plus an assist in Philadelphia's 8-5 win in Game 2, but he's getting more attention for the work he's done in shutting down Art Ross Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin, who has no goals and one even-strength point in the series.
Matt Read scored twice in Game 3 to help the Flyers win 8-4.
And although he doesn't have a point yet, Eric Wellwood saw his minutes rise to over 16 in Game 3 because of the confidence coach Peter Laviolette has in him.
"He has a lot of confidence in all of us and he throws us in every situation," Wellwood told NHL.com. "He mentioned before the playoffs that he was going to play us like he played us during the regular season, and that's what he has been doing. You gain confidence from your coach when he's playing you, and [when] your teammates are encouraging and have trust in you, as well."
They've watched the Penguins unravel in part because of how well the rookies have performed and how composed they've remained in the intense chamber of emotions of this rivalry series.
"I thought it would be maybe a step below what it is right now, but maybe it's just a rival, the playoffs, playing the Penguins, in-state," Read told NHL.com. "This is great hockey and I love to play it."
Couturier has thrown Malkin off his game, so much so that the Penguins superstar center has tried on more than one occasion to throw punches at the 19-year-old rookie.
"If he's punching me back I must be doing something good," Couturier said. "I just try to focus on what I have to do. If I can get him to go to the box, good."
Schenn has gotten under the skin of Sidney Crosby. He's also used his size (6-foot-1, 190 pounds) to play an imposing physical game.
Paul Martin took the brunt of it in the first period Sunday when Schenn hit him hard and received a charging minor for it. Schenn also was on the receiving end of a high cross-check and a subsequent punch to the back of the head from the Pens' Arron Asham.
"The players grow into their roles and you find out where else you can utilize them in their team concept and your identity," Laviolette said. "I talked with Brayden [on Tuesday], and I think he's doing a terrific job of using his speed, his skill and his physical presence."
Read has been using his offensive instincts to create space for scoring chances. Veteran Jaromir Jagr found him on the power play in the second period by threading a pretty circle-to-circle pass. Read, who was set up in the left circle, blasted a one-timer past Marc-Andre Fleury to put the Flyers up 5-3.
It was Read's second goal of the game.
"It's confidence," Read said. "Everyone, all of our young guys, our rookies have been given roles throughout the year. The coaching staff puts you on the ice in certain situations, and you learn how to play in those situations and how to deal with those situations and how to succeed. Every rookie has been given a role and it's great to see everyone succeeding and doing well. Having confidence out there helps so much, and it stems from the regular season. It's just continued here in the playoffs."
Laviolette credited general manager Paul Holmgren and his scouts for finding these players and bringing them into the organization. He then credited the players for running with the opportunity right from the beginning.
His confidence in them is a result of the growth they've shown throughout the season.
All that's growing now is that confidence.
"Back then they were truly rookies," Laviolette said, referring to the early part of the regular season. "They were getting their first tastes of practices, NHL rinks, systems, coaches, the travel, the grind of the NHL. From there I think they've grown. Sometimes you can look at it and say, 'Well, they can wear down at the end (of the season).' In this circumstance it seems like they've grown into the players that they are, which is really necessary for our success."