Flyers

Flyers-Ducks: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Ducks: 5 things you need to know

Scoring outburst? Check. Back-to-back wins? Check. The Flyers are still far from perfect, but there were several positives that came from the club’s 5-2 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday.

The Flyers (3-7-0) will look to build on their best effort of the early season when they host the Anaheim Ducks (9-3-0), who are in the midst of an eight-game road trip, at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night.

The puck drops at 7 p.m. (CSN) and here are five things you need to know for the contest:

1. Keep it going
The Flyers entered Saturday with their leading goal scorer in the AHL. Tye McGinn, who had three goals in a brief stint with the Flyers as an injury call-up, was sent down to the Phantoms to make room for a returning Scott Hartnell.

So what did Vinny Lecavalier do? He made sure the Flyers left Long Island with a leading goal scorer who is actually on the current roster. Lecavalier netted his seventh career hat trick, and now has four goals and two assists in his first seven games in orange and black.

Lecavalier, however, didn’t act alone in the Flyers’ victory over the Isles. Several players had solid performances including Jakub Voracek, who netted his first marker of the season, Michael Raffl, who picked up his first NHL point, and former Islander Mark Streit, who collected two helpers. Even struggling center Claude Giroux got himself into the mix, earning two assists of his own.

After a horrid 1-7-0 start, the Flyers certainly appear on the precipice of breaking out after two wins over the New York teams of the NHL. They’ll search for their first three-game winning streak of the season against a very good Anaheim club.

The Ducks are capable of putting up goals at will -- they are averaging 3.17 per game -- but will also wear teams down physically. If the Flyers carry over their effort from the Islanders game, then Tuesday should be an entertaining matchup.

2. Advantage Flyers?
Believe it or not, the Flyers are actually better on special teams than the Ducks, statistically speaking. Both teams have struggled this season while on the power play, but the Flyers have the advantage in this game (see story).

The Flyers, who snapped a 1-for-25 skid on the power play against the Isles, are 10 percent on the man advantage. They’ll be going up against a Ducks penalty-killing unit that is at 76.2 percent.

As good as Anaheim has been offensively, its power-play units have disappointed early on. The Ducks rank dead last in the NHL in power-play efficiency at 8.2 percent.

That’s not to say Anaheim is weak on the PP. The Flyers can’t afford to give players like Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Teemu Selanne more ice to work with in the game.

However, one of the few things the Flyers have done well this season is kill penalties. They’ve allowed just seven goals in 43 shorthanded situations. If you take away the three power-play goals the Flyers allowed in a loss to Detroit, the team’s PK would be at 88.8 percent instead of 83.7.

3. Clipped Ducks
While the Flyers are fielding a healthy lineup, the Ducks have a handful of injuries to key players.

Veteran Saku Koivu returned to Anaheim for tests after taking a hard hit during Sunday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Koivu was knocked unconscious on a check by Brandon Dubinsky and must be tested and evaluated before he is allowed to return to the Ducks, per NHL protocol.

Netminder Viktor Fasth also returned to Anaheim on Monday. Fasth, who is receiving additional treatment on his lower-body injury, hasn’t played since Oct. 16.

In addition, the Ducks are missing forwards Jakob Silfverberg (hand), Matt Beleskey (upper body) and defensemen Luca Sbisa (ankle) and Sheldon Souray (wrist).

Forwards Dustin Penner (concussion) and Mathieu Perreault (wrist) were both full participants at practice Monday and head coach Bruce Boudreau said it was possible one or both could return to the Ducks’ lineup on Tuesday.

4. Ducks fly together
Tuesday will be a measuring-stick game for the Flyers’ defense. The Ducks have a potent offense, led by Perry, Getzlaf and company.

A big reason for Anaheim’s strong start is the balance throughout its lineup. Six players have scored three or more goals already, with Perry (six) and Getzlaf (five) leading the way. In addition, 12 Ducks have registered four or more points.

In comparison, the Flyers have just two players with at least three goals (Lecavalier and McGinn) and only five have four or more points (Lecavalier, Giroux, Streit, Voracek and Brayden Schenn).

The Flyers would be smart to pay attention to Perry. The former MVP has back-to-back two-point games and has three goals and four assists in his last five contests.

Don’t forget about Getzlaf, either. The Ducks’ captain is at a point-per-game pace (12) and trails Perry by just one point for the team lead.

5. This and that
• The Flyers have not played Anaheim since Dec. 2, 2011. In that game, Jaromir Jagr scored twice and added an assist to help the orange and black to a 4-3 overtime victory. Kimmo Timonen registered three helpers, while Giroux and Hartnell each had a goal and an assist.

• Selanne, who is in his 22nd NHL season, has faced the Flyers 21 times in the regular season. The 43-year-old has 17 goals and 13 assists in those contests.

• Due in large part to the strong play of Steve Mason, the Flyers have allowed the fewest goals of any team in the Metropolitan Division (27).

At this point, Brandon Manning appears to have advantage over Travis Sanheim

At this point, Brandon Manning appears to have advantage over Travis Sanheim

VOORHEES, N.J. — Brandon Manning won’t have to wait another 10 days for his shot in the lineup.

Manning was paired with Radko Gudas during Monday’s practice while Travis Sanheim put in extra work, suggesting that Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol will lean on the Manning-Gudas combination as his third pairing for Tuesday’s game against the visiting Florida Panthers.  

“To be honest, I think I have good chemistry with both guys, “Gudas said. “Playing with Manning, I’m a little more used to it. We played together for awhile the last two years. It’s a little more that we know each other already. And with Travis, he’s getting better every game he plays. It was fun playing with him and we’re getting used to each other.”

Manning started the season as the sixth defenseman in San Jose and was surprised his number wasn’t called again until the home opener this past Saturday.

“You start off the first game of the season and you pick up the win. To come out of the lineup is obviously tough,” Manning said. “I understand the situation. I understand the direction the team’s going, the value of the young kids and their development. You look at the Washington game and it’s a bit of a blowout. But after sitting around for 10 days, I felt pretty good out there. It’s a home opener, so it’s an easy game to get up for.”

Manning can see the writing on the wall. Sanheim, Robert Hagg and Samuel Morin are the future of the Flyers' defense. On a handful of other teams, including the Capitals team the Flyers demolished on Saturday, around the league, Manning would be a mainstay on the blue line.

The numbers back up Hakstol’s thought process. Through the first five games this season, the Flyers are 2-0 with a plus-8 goal differential with Manning in the lineup, compared to the games Sanheim has played in which the Flyers are 1-2 and a minus-2 differential. With Sanheim, the Flyers' even-strength save percentage is 73.3 percent (last on the team) compared to that of Manning’s 88.9 percent, which is currently ranked fifth out of the seven Flyers defensemen.

“I think Travis has played well,” Hakstol said. “I think his play in games and his practices have been good. We're trying to build our lineup each night to what we think gives us the best opportunity to win that night. Travis' play has been good and I’ve been very happy with his performance.”

It's not unexpected that Manning has served as the Flyers' steadier option in the opening month as Sanheim continues to acclimate himself to the NHL game, which has come at a different speed than the level of play during the preseason.

“That’s part of being professional,” Manning said. “That’s something I’ve learned in my couple of years here in the NHL. The situations I’ve been in, I think it’s all about how you react and how you handle them. You can sit there and be pissed off about it, but at the end of the day, there’s going to be decisions that [GM Ron Hextall] and Hak make that you can’t control. What you can control is how hard you work in practice and how well you play, and you prepare for those situations you’re going to be in.”

It’s a unique paradox right now. The Flyers need wins and Sanheim needs to play. At some point this season, everyone’s needs will be met.

Flyers finding their top-line center and 'Answer' in Sean Couturier

Flyers finding their top-line center and 'Answer' in Sean Couturier

VOORHEES, N.J. — Can Philadelphia accept two Answers?

The nickname so passionately attached to superstar Hall of Famer Allen Iverson, who had a bulldog tattooed on his left arm with “The Answer” inscription above it, has now been adopted by the Flyers for their top-line center Sean Couturier, but for far different reasons.

“We call him ‘The Answer’ because we feel he always has the answer for whatever you say,” linemate Jakub Voracek said. “We just make fun of him a lot.”

While players and media members were digging for the answer to a certain trivia question following Monday’s practice, Claude Giroux looked around for Couturier’s “wisdom” since, as the captain jokingly put it, “he knows everything,” including all the rules to whatever games the team play on road trips.

However, if the question posed coming into this season was about how to get Voracek and Giroux back to playing at an elite level again, especially at even strength? Well, Couturier has been that answer.

“One hundred percent, 100 percent,” Voracek said. “He’s a very responsible guy that plays very good on both sides of the puck and it shows. He creates more space for me and 'G' to go in the offense and that’s what we’ve been doing.”

Saturday against the Capitals, the line of Giroux-Couturier-Voracek resembled something from the Legion of Doom era. After a pair of lackluster shifts to begin the game, the trio quickly shifted into overdrive and took over the game as it combined for four goals, six assists and a plus-10 rating against the top-ranked defensive team from last season.

Couturier scored twice against the Caps, including the game's opening tally, when he finished off a slick passing play between him, Voracek and Giroux by slamming home a rebound. He now has three goals and three assists on the young season through five games with his new linemates.

“I think they can bring a lot to my game and I can bring something to their game,” Couturier said. “So far, it’s been working pretty good. I think we still can get better — have more of a shooting mentality. My minutes aren’t changing. The quality of players I’m playing with are. Playing with two great guys, two great players.”

If the organizational philosophy was to establish a better 5-on-5, even-strength presence by inserting Couturier as the top-line center, then the Flyers came to the right place. In the last 24 games he's played dating back to last season, Couturier has eight goals and 15 assists for 23 points. Couturier is a whopping plus-27 over his last 26 games dating back to Feb. 28 of last season. Not only does he lead the NHL by a wide margin, but as the chart suggests, no one else is even close to Couturier's dominance:

Plus/minus leaders since Feb. 28

1. Sean Couturier (PHI) +27
2. Jaden Schwartz (STL) +15
2. David Savard (CBJ)
2. Brett Pesce (CAR)
5. Five players at +14

“It’s nice. I try to take pride in being a solid 200-foot player,” Couturier said. “I’m reliable defensively and offensively I can produce and help out, and so far, it’s been clicking. As much as they can bring a lot to me, I think I can bring a lot to their 5-on-5 game here.”

In a game where speed, skill and shot-creating ability are the dominant traits for a top-line center, Couturier is unique in that he doesn’t possess those exceptional attributes. He’s in sound position, defensively responsible and, when provided with skilled wingers, can generate occasional offense as a result of strong puck possession. If you’re looking for another No. 1 center with a similar game, then perhaps Carolina’s Jordan Staal would serve as Couturier’s closest comparison.

In the two-plus seasons he’s been in Philadelphia, head coach Dave Hakstol has seen steady improvement out of Couturier.

“I think he just continues to grow as a player,” Hakstol said. “He’s got a lot of games played in the league, no question, so he’s very much a veteran in that sense. I think he’s continued to improve his faceoffs. That’s one area where I think he’s continued to improve and has done a very good job, and I know he’s hungry offensively.”    

From the moment Couturier was drafted eighth overall in 2011 following back-to-back 96-point seasons with an average of nearly 40 goals a year in the QMJHL, the Flyers anticipated having a bona-fide goal-scorer on their hands for years to come. However, those numbers should have been locked up in a time capsule and buried in the bowels of the Wells Fargo Center because Couturier was never asked to be that type of player.

Until Nolan Patrick arrived on the scene, Couturier was the last Flyer to earn a spot on the team in the same year he was drafted. Like most 18-year-olds who show up for boot camp, Couturier never questioned his assignments and took whatever duties and responsibilities he was given with an understood, “Sir, yes sir” approach, but in the back of his mind, he was always capable of so much more.

“I always believed I could produce offensively at this level, but it was more just the situations I was put in I think,” said Couturier, who began his NHL career as a fourth-line checking center. “Coming into the league, there wasn’t much room for me in the top six or top nine. I was taking whatever role I could to help the team and I think I did pretty good in a shutdown role.

“It did get pretty frustrating at times. People see you as a shutdown guy. That can be most frustrating at times. I don’t want to complain about ice time and stuff, but like I say, it’s always been the situation I’ve been put in.”

Now Couturier finds himself in a situation even Philadelphia’s original “Answer” could envy.

The opportunity to score more working alongside a very high-caliber supporting cast.