Couturier steals show as Flyers' winning streak continues

Couturier steals show as Flyers' winning streak continues


NEWARK, N.J. — It was billed as No. 1 against No. 2 with the Devils' crowd even chanting "Nico's better!"

Instead, it was the No. 8 overall pick from 2011 who was at his best yet again Saturday night as the Flyers beat New Jersey, 5-3, at the Prudential Center (see observations).

Sean Couturier scored the Flyers' first goal during a rough and sloppy first period and then added the go-ahead power-play goal in the final minutes of the second period that gave the Flyers a 3-2 lead after 40 minutes which they never relinquished. 

“It was huge, especially with the way the game was going,” Couturier said. “It was to get some flow, some momentum, especially with the penalties. You want to get something going quickly, especially five-on-five, we got the bounce and it got us into the game.”

“I looked at his minutes after one period and he was at nine minutes,” said head coach Dave Hakstol, who earned his 100th career victory. “He scored a big goal in that period, logged a lot of time and then goes out in the second period and continues performing. For me, that’s maybe something that goes unnoticed a little bit.”

Spending his bye week working on a new house he’s having built in his hometown of Drummondville, Quebec, Couturier is also constructing a monstrous offensive season. He’s currently third in the race for Rocket Richard trophy for goals, behind Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov, and on pace for a whopping 48.

“It’s every night,” Travis Konecny, who has a point in five of his last seven games, said of Couturier. “You get used to it. The whole first half — it doesn’t surprise me when he does things like that.”

Couturier continued his torrid offensive streak ripping off his third straight two-goal game and has now scored nine goals in the Flyers' last seven games. The Flyers' No. 1 center didn’t feel a boost after he was excluded from the Metropolitan Division All-Star team.

“Not really any extra motivation,” Couturier said. “I just wanted to keep going the way it was. There’s still another half of the year to play. I had a good first half, but I need a better second half to make a push and make the playoffs.”

Touted as the first matchup between Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick, the top two picks in the 2017 NHL draft, Patrick admitted he had a little extra energy for this game.

Unfortunately, it was channeled in the wrong areas, as Patrick was whistled for two high-sticking penalties in successive shifts.

“Those penalties are unacceptable,” Patrick said. “I think I was a little too excited for the game. I’ve got to keep my stick under control. Obviously, we have a great coaching staff and a great group of guys to really help me through it mentally.”

Collectively, the Flyers excelled in the special teams battle, killing off five of the Devils' first six power-play opportunities while converting on their only two power-play chances.

“Guys just went out and did a good job,” Hakstol said. “I thought we had a great night on the penalty kill. The last one is one we don’t want to give up at that point in time, but I thought the guys did an outstanding job on the penalty kill in the areas we and (Ian Laperriere) have asked them to focus on.”

More importantly, the Flyers continue to close the gap between themselves and the other teams above them in the Metropolitan Division standings, including the Devils.

At Christmas, the Flyers trailed New Jersey by nine points in the standings. That margin has been closed to just four points following Saturday’s regulation win, as the Flyers also find themselves one point back of the Penguins and the Rangers in the wild card.

“I think we were moving pretty well which is surprising to me after the bye week,” Jake Voracek said. “It shows that the guys took care of themselves and wanted to be ready for today’s game. When you look at the Metro (Division) it’s so stacked up that you can’t afford to lose a game.”

And the one player they can’t afford to lose is a red-hot Couturier.

Hall's late OT goal helps Devils keep pace with Flyers

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Hall's late OT goal helps Devils keep pace with Flyers

RALEIGH, N.C. — Taylor Hall scored on a rebound with 22 seconds left in overtime, giving the New Jersey Devils a 3-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday.

The goal extended Hall's league-best streak of games with a point to 18.

New Jersey had won the first of the teams' four meetings this season on Thursday night to start the Hurricanes' three-game losing streak.

Keith Kinkaid stopped 40 shots for the Devils.

The Devils led 1-0 after a first period in which the Hurricanes outshot them 13-9.

Nico Hischier scored New Jersey's first goal on a power play midway through the first, assisted by Sami Vatanen and Kinkaid (see full recap).

Matthews scores in final minute to give Maple Leafs win over Red Wings
DETROIT — To Jeff Blashill, the outcome came down to one simple fact.

"They made one more play than us," the Detroit coach Blashill said.

To Toronto center Auston Matthews, it came down to persistence.

"We've got a lot of chances the last couple of games," Matthews said. "We had some pretty good chances tonight, the puck just wouldn't go in.

"It was nice to finally finish it off there with a half a minute left."

Matthews scored with 30.2 seconds left to give the Maple Leafs a 3-2 victory over the Red Wings on Sunday night.

James van Riemsdyk and Mitch Marner also scored for Toronto, and Curtis McElhinney made 27 saves (see full recap).

McDavid notches 3rd hat trick of season in Oilers' victory vs. Avalanche
DENVER — Late in the second period, with his team outplaying Colorado, Edmonton coach Todd McLellan couldn't believe his Oilers were trailing 2-1.

"Jay Woodcroft and I looked at each other and said, `How are we losing this game?'" McLellan said.

They didn't, thanks to another big game by Connor McDavid.

McDavid had his third hat trick of the season and fourth of his career, and the Oilers beat the Avalanche 4-2 on Sunday to snap a six-game losing streak.

McDavid now has 11 goals in the last nine games and two hat tricks. His first two goals tied the game, and his last one was into an empty net with 1:26 remaining (see full recap).

Sheahan scores twice in Penguins' win over Blue Jackets 
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Riley Sheahan scored two goals in the first period, rookie Tristan Jarry had 35 saves and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 on Sunday night.

Jake Guentzel had a goal and two assists, and Brian Dumoulin and Zach Aston-Reese also scored for the Penguins. They have won five straight and 10 of their last 12. The win in front of a sellout crowd at Nationwide Arena moved them past Washington into first place in the Metropolitan Division.

The 22-year-old Jarry played well standing in for starter Matt Murray, who got a rest as Pittsburgh played the second leg of a back-to-back and its third game in four days. It was Jarry's first NHL action in a month after going 3-0 in three starts for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL.

Artemi Panarin and Alexander Wennberg scored, and Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 18 shots for the Blue Jackets. They have lost two straight and seven of the last nine. In what is becoming the norm lately, Columbus outshot its opponent (37-23) but couldn't score enough to win. The Blue Jackets lead the NHL in shots per game but are lingering near the bottom of the division (see full recap)

Alex Lyon unfazed by the moment in massive relief effort

Alex Lyon unfazed by the moment in massive relief effort


NEW YORK — Entering a game cold to start the second period following a wild six-goal first period while staring down at future Hall of Famer Henrik Lundqvist at the other end of the rink may have intimidated most rookies, but Alex Lyon simply wasn’t phased. Not this time. 

Perhaps Lyon didn’t have a moment to absorb the magnitude of the moment, and even better, playing on the grand stage of Madison Square Garden didn’t overwhelm him at all. After all, for Lyon, the best way to earn that first NHL victory was in a building where he had never lost. Lyon is now a perfect 4-0 in games at the Garden, dating back to his days with Yale and their battles with Ivy League rival Harvard.

“I actually did take a comfort in that,” Lyon said. “I’ve been here, I’ve won here. You know the surroundings here a bit, so it’s good. When you’re in college and you look at the building and say, ‘Oh my God, it’s huge’, but now that I’ve seen a lot of NHL and AHL rinks it calms things down a little bit.” 

Sunday, Lyon came off the bench in relief of Michal Neuvirth to stop 25 of 26 Rangers shots in leading the Flyers to a 7-4 win over their Metropolitan Division rivals (see observations)

“It really does make a difference when you get that first win, especially after my first start against New Jersey where I felt like I could have uplifted the team there and we lost late. I’m just happy I could contribute,” Lyon said. 

The Flyers announced after the first period that Neuvirth would not return to the game after suffering a lower-body injury. Neuvirth was slow getting to his skates on a Rangers 2-on-1 goal where he was forced to fully extend himself moving post-to-post. 

“You never want to see injuries happen and you never want to see them in key areas, but it is part of the game,” said head coach Dave Hakstol. “With Neuvy and (Brian Elliott) being down, it’s a challenge. Alex stepped in today and did the job. And that’s what our guys will rally behind going forward.”

On the 50th anniversary of the very first game at the current Madison Square Garden, which coincidentally was played between the Flyers and Rangers, the two bitter rivals had no problem turning back the clock to a time when fighting went hand-in-hand with scoring goals. Shayne Gostisbehere dropped the gloves for the first time in his NHL career with Rangers forward Pavel Buchnevich, who laid out Travis Konecny with a hard hit on the opening shift of the game.

“I’d never done that before, but the boys were happy I did it,” Gostisbehere said. “I just heard the loud noise and I saw him on the ground. I thought he got smoked and I passed it to him so, I don’t know, I dropped the gloves.”

“It was cool. It was a fun game. It’s not how we drew it up. 3-3 after the first. As a team, our coach said we didn’t really have it tonight, but we found ways. I think the boys stood up for one another and we went out there and got the job done.”

Most impressively after a dismal defensive effort in the opening 25 minutes and facing the adversity of losing another goaltender, the Flyers still found a way to earn a victory during a time of the season when earning points are vitally important. The Flyers have now collected at least a point in their last eight games with a 6-0-2 record dating back to Feb. 3.

“Sometimes you have those nights,” Hakstol said. “Guys were ready to go. There were three scraps in the early parts of the game. It was one of those nights playing against a good offensive team. We weren’t sharp enough and we weren’t quite hard enough with or without the puck, but we recovered enough to get the two points.”

Fortunately, the Flyers were still able to dismantle a fragile Rangers team that has plummeted to last place in the Metropolitan Division by racking up seven goals against Lundqvist for the first time in 56 career games against the Orange and Black.

“Obviously, there were a lot of mistakes,” Lundqvist said. “They’re getting deflections in our net, odd-man rushes. I just have to start with myself, somehow find energy and confidence to play your game, but it’s hard when you give up so many goals to stay confident.” 

“You got to get to the net. There were some flash screens and just a good job of getting pucks to the net and winning net-front battles and it kinda went both ways,” said MacDonald.

Notable stats
• The Flyers are digging the day games, now 7-1-3 in afternoon starts.

• The top line dominated once again with seven points and a plus-five rating. Konecny registered his first career three-point game and Claude Giroux scored his 200th career goal.

• The Flyers scored seven goals on the Rangers for the first time since November 11, 1992, at the Spectrum.

• The Flyers have not allowed a power play in back-to-back games, which has not happened since the NHL began tracking those number through box scores dating back to 1977.