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Getting a kick start on offense

Couturier-Downie-Read providing confidence for other lines

Thursday, 12.05.2013 / 1:50 PM / News
By Jay Greenberg  - philadelphiaflyers.com
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Getting a kick start on offense
Couturier-Downie-Read line also providing confidence for other lines

Sean Couturier didn’t look, yet still knew Matt Read was where he was supposed to be - in front of Jimmy Howard to get the Flyers back within a goal Wednesday night in Detroit.

Now that’s chemistry, blessed chemistry, for a team 27th in the NHL in goals scored. For too long this season, no-look meant mostly can’t bear to watch the Flyers missing the net. But the way Couturier and Read have been helped since the acquisition of Steve Downie, it came as no shock when Downie found Couturier at the side of the goal for a re-direction that extended the Philadelphia lead to two.

A line than can make plays like these is not just a checking line. In fact, Couturier, Read and Downie have been the Flyers’ carrying line, keeping them from slipping backwards again after that 6-0-1 burst of relief got them back to respectability from a 4-10-1 start.

It is encouraging to see Couturier’s creativity re-emerging after a stagnant sophomore year; to witness the addition of a winger, Downie, who can make a play off the wall or in traffic; to watch Read providing consistent finish for a team that has suffered for it.

But on Wednesday night, it was even better to watch Claude Giroux roofing a slapper from the edge of the circle to tie a game in the third period and the Scott Hartnell-of-yore one-timing a Giroux set-up to put the Flyers ahead.

Those goals came on a power play that in 28 games has scored only at a 17.3 per cent rate, 18th in the NHL. In today’s game, where you need a two-man breakdown to score at even strength, the Flyers have to become more efficient on the man-advantage, but we always have looked at power plays as not the engine of a team’s success but an extension of its offensive capabilities.

So, best of all from the Flyers’ best win of the season was seeing their goal scorers score goal-scorers goals again.

There is too much time left on Hartnell’s contract – five seasons after this one at $4.75 million per -- for the Flyers to be able to overcome a cap-clogging salary for a thirty-something player who is a shadow of his old self. While inherent in the $8.25 million cap average with which the Flyers have tied themselves to Giroux as their marquee player until 2022 is the responsibility to carry a team, the captain cannot star in a vacuum.

Giroux has not been an irrepressible force since Jaromir Jagr’s play started to wind down at about Game 50 two seasons ago. So Giroux needs Hartnell doing a lot more than giving the puck away and taking careless penalties.

Hartnell’s best season -- 37 goals two seasons ago – rose out of a similar slow start, and now the Flyers need him to get hot and stay hot, helping Jakub Voracek to score at the near point-a-game pace he did a year ago. Then and only then will the Flyers rise out of a pack of too many similar teams and join Boston and Pittsburgh as a club you could expect to see in an Eastern Conference final.

They will be just another club struggling to make the playoffs without a first line that plays like a first line.

The Flyers have come a long way since that “pathetic” (Ed Snider’s word) 3-0 home loss to the Devils that dropped them to 4-10-1. The fragility that would doom them at any downturn in a game has been replaced by a confidence that can bring them back from a 3-1 deficit against the Red Wings.

It is not as much fun to play this system of defensive end support as the more freewheeling one that was used by Peter Laviolette. But the Flyers clearly are buying into what Craig Berube wants, getting that much tighter in their own zone by the day and that much smarter in the neutral zone by the game.

Nick Grossman, who was good even when the Flyers were bad, is playing a shutdown defense. Vincent Lecavalier has shown he still has it, as long as he has his health. And after all those years of breathholding on practically every shot, hallelujah, Steve Mason looks not just hot but for real.

Now, the Flyers have to cut down on their penalties, stay relatively healthy, and score.

Being in a great, grey mass of offensively-challenged teams in this era of the cap – all the more reason not to expect a savior at the trading-deadline -- they must get more out of what they have. They did that in Detroit and it looked good on them.

SCHEDULE

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AWAY
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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 MTL 61 40 16 5 167 135 85
2 NYR 60 38 16 6 190 148 82
3 NYI 62 40 20 2 200 173 82
4 TBL 62 37 19 6 203 167 80
5 DET 60 34 15 11 176 156 79
6 PIT 61 35 17 9 176 152 79
7 WSH 62 33 19 10 184 156 76
8 BOS 60 29 22 9 158 158 67
9 FLA 61 26 22 13 145 172 65
10 PHI 62 26 25 11 164 181 63
11 OTT 59 26 23 10 167 161 62
12 NJD 61 25 27 9 137 161 59
13 CBJ 60 26 30 4 157 189 56
14 TOR 61 25 31 5 170 185 55
15 CAR 59 22 30 7 134 159 51
16 BUF 62 19 38 5 120 207 43

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Voracek 62 19 45 4 64
C. Giroux 61 18 41 2 59
W. Simmonds 62 24 18 -2 42
M. Streit 62 8 32 -4 40
B. Schenn 62 12 23 -3 35
S. Couturier 62 12 14 -2 26
M. Del Zotto 50 7 17 -7 24
M. Read 62 5 18 -9 23
M. Raffl 47 13 3 4 16
V. Lecavalier 44 7 9 -9 16
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
S. Mason 11 13 7 .925 2.26
R. Emery 10 10 4 .893 3.15
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