Sean Couturier's defensive game is sparking Flyers victories
In another life, Sean Couturier may have had information about the other life.
Even in this one, before his face sprouted a carpet, making the Flyers center look as mad as the monk, Rasputin, who knew all, saw all, on behalf of the Czarina, Craig Berube’s hole card could probably wield a mean Tarot card, omniscient as Couturier seems to be on a rink.
“Some guys have a feel, or better peripheral vision,” said assistant coach John Paddock. “You don’t even know how they are doing it, but they do.
“Sean is aware of everything going on around him. Whether he is intentionally looking back over his shoulder or he just knows, guys like him just know things and you can’t explain it.”
Couturier didn’t have to smell Jonathan Toews’ breath in all three zones Tuesday night any more than he had bump Sidney Crosby all over Pennsylvania over the weekend. Both stars, he fronted and in the corners confronted, but it was the eyes in the back of Couturier’s wise 21-year-old head that as much as anything helped hold Toews and Crosby to just one point in the three games.
In fact, the puck Duncan Keith shot needed Sean Couturier eyes to squeeze through the pads of the rusty Ray Emery for Toews’ assist.
If, after that frustrating 2-1 home loss to the Devils, last week you predicted the Flyers whipping off three straight against the Metropolitan Division leaders and Stanley Cup champions, then congratulations. You see the future almost as clearly as Couturier senses the direction of the next pass.
Greater hockey minds than even a wise lifer like Craig Berube have failed to instruct what a Couturier inherently has.
“Good instincts,” said the Flyers coach. “It’s engrained.”
“Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin play 20 minutes every night so you need two guys to play against them. Claude can take advantage of skill guys on the other team because he can be a physical player. He knocked Malkin on his butt here.
“Couturier is aggressive more in the way of a thinker. I love his positioning and his stick.”
It’s a gift, taking away the gifts of the best players in the NHL.
“There was a play he made skating backwards on a penalty kill against Pittsburgh that his stick all of a sudden was there,” said Paddock. “He knows how to stay between the puck and our net and their best players and our net.”
Since they almost blew a 4-0 lead to Washington two weeks ago, you may have noticed only two pucks entering the Flyers net during the third period in the last five games, The saga of this season has been written in 11 third-period comebacks for victories, but the story of the playoffs is almost always getting leads and keeping them. That’s where Couturier comes in, exactly where he left off in the 2012 playoffs, outplaying Crosby and getting a hat trick besides.
“He and Brayden (Schenn) were allowed to play in the minors during the lockout and neither one of them came back last year after that where we thought that would be,” said Paddock.
“It wasn’t their fault, the team wasn’t doing good but it wasn’t a good year for either. Sean was caught in the middle sometimes, not sure of where he was supposed to be.”
The offensive zone is where Berube wants Couturier to more regularly be, putting hockey sense to work at both ends. “I know Chief would like he and [Matt Read] to play a little more power play but he wants them against the others team’s best player so it’s tough,” said Paddock. “Eventually they are going to get more power-play time.”
Eventually, the Capitals and Red Wings, chasing the Flyers for one of three playoff berths, are going to run out of time if Berube’s team keeps playing like 18 Sean Couturiers. The decision-making has been excellent, how this brutal schedule of contenders the Flyers are facing doesn’t look intimidating anymore.
As demonstrated by Couturier’s arrival in the passing lanes, timing is everything in life. The Flyers, skittish in their own end even while they were coming back to win all those games, are peaking with a togetherness that was almost unfathomable while they were playing like strangers through a 4-10-1 start.
In the depths of that skid, Claude Giroux said he still saw a playoff spot for this team, clairvoyance that would impress even Couturier.
When the opposition tries to form attack, not only can he tell fortunes, but will be worth a fortune to this franchise if it resumes being a year-in, year-out playoff fixture.