Flyers-Blues 5 things: Returning from holiday break with different look

Flyers-Blues 5 things: Returning from holiday break with different look

Flyers (20-12-4) at Blues (18-12-5)
8 p.m. on NBCSN, and the NBC Sports App

The Flyers are back from the holiday break and should look somewhat different when they play the St. Louis Blues at the Scottrade Center on Wednesday night.

Here are five things you need to know for the matchup:

1. A boost from Coots?
The Flyers will get their top defensive forward Sean Couturier back, who has missed 16 straight games with a left knee injury.

“Coots has a shot at playing soon,” general manager Ron Hextall said Tuesday at practice.“Hopefully he plays [Wednesday]. We will probably flip Reader (Matt Read) to LTIR.”

Couturier’s presence would be timely and welcomed given forward Michael Raffl — playing well on the top line — is out one to two weeks after suffering a knee sprain right before the holiday break.

Couturier, of course, won’t join the team’s top line. He won’t play on the second unit, either, because head coach Dave Hakstol doesn’t want to break up Travis Konecny, Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. So Couturier appears set for a third-line role.

“I haven’t seen him or talked to him in a few days, but he’s a huge part of our team and we’ve seen that time after time, when he’s in the lineup versus out,” Hakstol said Tuesday. “If he’s available, it would be nice to have him back.”

2. Leier sees the top
So who takes Raffl’s first-line duty with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek?

Make that 22-year-old Taylor Leier in his 15th NHL game and ninth of the season.

“If I get put up there, they are putting me up there for a reason and that’s to play my game,” Leier said Tuesday. “I’ll stick to my strengths. Bring speed. Those guys are world-class talents. It’ll be nice to play with them if I get the opportunity.”

Leier was called up on Dec. 5 from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley, where he posted six goals and 14 assists in 22 games. With the Flyers, he has a goal and an assist in eight games this season, receiving 8:28 of ice time.

“He’s done a good job in a couple different roles,” Hakstol said. “He doesn’t seem to change his game. He’s a pretty intelligent two-way player, responsible defensively. Each and every night he’s brought good pace and tenacity.”

Speaking of changes, defenseman Nick Schultz is expected to play his first game since Nov. 11, as Brandon Manning will sit as a healthy scratch.

3. A look at St. Louis
After going 14-7-3 in their first 24 games, the Blues have lost seven of 11.

However, St. Louis poses a much bigger challenge at home than on the road. The Blues, who went to the Western Conference Final last season, are 13-2-4 at the Scottrade Center compared to 5-10-1 away from it. They’re also allowing a league-worst 3.69 goals per game on the road but just 2.26 at home, seventh-best in the NHL.

St. Louis, which ranks second in penalty-kill percentage (87.4) and seventh in power-play percentage (21.3), will also have center Paul Stastny back following his one-game absence because of an upper-body injury.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Shayne Gostisbehere has lit the lamp just once in his last 21 games dating back to Nov. 8. He’s gone 13 games without a goal, matching his longest drought from last season in which he was the Calder Memorial Trophy (top rookie) runner-up. Against the Blues, he’ll have a new defensive partner in Schultz.

Blues: Vladimir Tarasenko is a handful. The explosive winger is fourth in the NHL with 38 points (16 goals, 22 assists). The 25-year-old is pointless over his last two games. He has not gone three straight games without a point this season.

5. This and that
• Flyers goalie Steve Mason is 8-6-3 with a 2.47 goals-against average and .912 save percentage in 19 career games against St. Louis.

• Blues goalie Jake Allen has faced the Flyers only once. He allowed four goals on 31 shots in a 4-3 loss in Philadelphia back on Dec. 21, 2015.

• The Flyers are 4-0-2 in their last six meetings with the Blues.

• The Flyers are coming off their worst margin of defeat (four goals) this season vs. the Devils.

Best of NHL: Senators snap 5-game skid in return home

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Best of NHL: Senators snap 5-game skid in return home

OTTAWA, Ontario -- Craig Anderson made 27 saves to stop his seven-game losing streak and the Ottawa Senators snapped their five-game skid Wednesday night with a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers.

Bobby Ryan, Cody Ceci and Zack Smith scored for the Senators (10-13-7), who returned home from a seven-game road trip and improved to 2-10-2 in their past 14 overall. It was only their second victory in regulation since Nov. 11, which was the last time Anderson had won.

Michael Grabner and Pavel Buchnevich scored for the Rangers (16-12-3), who dropped to 4-7-0 on the road. Henrik Lundqvist had 27 saves, becoming the 15th goalie in NHL history to reach 20,000 for his career.

Ottawa, which eliminated the Rangers in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last season, was coming off a 3-2 loss at last-place Buffalo on Tuesday night (see full recap).

Pitlick, Benn lift Stars over Islanders
NEW YORK -- Tyler Pitlick scored twice and Jamie Benn had a goal and two assists to lead the Dallas Stars to a 5-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Wednesday night.

Alexander Radulov and Remi Elie also scored for the Stars, who won their second straight after a three-game skid. Kari Lehtonen stopped 32 shots for his 300th career victory, and John Klingberg had two assists.

Anders Lee scored twice for the Islanders, who have lost five of seven (2-4-1), and John Tavares and Josh Bailey each had two assists. Jaroslav Halak, starting for the seventh time in nine games, was pulled near the midpoint of the second period after giving up four goals on 20 shots. Thomas Greiss came on and stopped six of the seven shots he faced (see full recap).

Sean Couturier proving he belongs in Selke Trophy conversation

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Sean Couturier proving he belongs in Selke Trophy conversation

VOORHEES, N.J. — By definition, the Frank J. Selke Memorial Trophy is awarded to the NHL forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game.

Since the day Sean Couturier arrived in the league as an 18-year-old rookie straight out of the June draft in 2011, the defensive element has always been part of his game. He was tasked with shutting down one of the league’s premier centers in Evgeni Malkin as a teenager and a fourth-line center. His commitment to defense was the primary reason the Flyers drafted Couturier eighth overall in 2011.

Of all the NHL’s major postseason awards presented in Las Vegas next summer, the Selke may be the one piece of hardware the Flyers have the greatest chance at claiming, as Couturier has refined his all-around game. The paradox of the award is how winners typically need respectable offensive numbers to receive serious consideration for what’s regarded as a defensive accolade.

The last 21 winners have all scored at least 20 goals, while 11 of the last 12 winners have racked up 50 or more points. Couturier has never reached either scoring plateau, which probably explains why he’s never finished higher than eighth in the voting. He’s currently on pace this season for 41 goals and 82 points.

“It would be a nice recognition,” Couturier said Wednesday. “Obviously, just getting your name thrown out there with those guys that are there every year, it’s kind of nice. It gives you that extra boost to kind of push yourself and try to be as good as you can.” 

This season, Couturier has proven he belongs in that elite conversation. Tuesday’s game against the Maple Leafs was a vintage Selke effort: winning faceoffs, including draws that led to goals, staying committed defensively while playing 1:35 of the final 2:12, preserving a one-goal lead.

Over his last 50 games dating back to last season, Couturier also owns an impressive plus-32 rating.

“I know some people don’t like the plus/minus. Five-on-five, if you’re in the plus, it's usually a good thing and you’re helping your team win," Couturier said. "My mentality is still the same: being solid, taking care of details and like I said, if you take care of details defensively, the offense will come and that’s always the thought process I’ve had.”

Another Selke measurable is faceoffs — an area in which Couturier has improved greatly over the past two years from a 48 percent success rate to winning 55 percent from the beginning of last season.

“It’s the one area of his game that he’s taken a lot of pride in,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I think if you look at the numbers in both faceoff dots, he’s done a real good job, as well as the neutral zone."

For an award voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, there’s almost no way to accurately assess the defensive play of 300-plus forwards without extensive video review, as most writers are solely covering the team in their city. So faceoffs, plus/minus, consistency on the penalty kill coupled with shorthanded goals can be areas that separate Selke candidates.

Currently, Boston’s Patrice Bergeron is the Selke gold standard as a four-time winner, and he’s finished first or second in voting in each of the past six seasons. Fair or not, Bergeron’s reputation alone will likely land him in the top three once again barring injury.

“When you look at (Anze) Kopitar, Bergeron and (Jonathan) Toews, I think Coots is up there with those guys,” Jakub Voracek said. “Without a doubt [Couturier is a Selke candidate]. He’s got 15 goals in 30 games. His stick is very good and he’s always one step ahead defensively. He doesn’t over-backcheck. He just knows what kind of responsibility that he has. You can see it on the PK, it’s really hard to get a puck through him. Those kind of players are very hard to find.”

Just ask the Flyers' organization. They haven’t had a Selke winner since Dave Poulin 30 years ago.