Flyers

Flyers-Lightning: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Lightning: 5 things you need to know

The Flyers (23-17-4) will try for an 11th straight victory at the Wells Fargo Center when they face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning (26-14-4) on Saturday afternoon.

Puck drop is set for 1 p.m. (CSN) in South Philadelphia.

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

1.  If it ain’t broke ...
The Flyers look completely different from the team that got off to the worst start in franchise history. They’ve won nine of their last 11 games, have scored at least three goals in 11 of their last 12 and have reeled off 10 consecutive victories at home.

Heading into Saturday’s matchup with Tampa, the Flyers have a pair of skaters that could find their way back into the lineup soon. Earlier this week, general manager Paul Holmgren said Erik Gustafsson, who has been sidelined with a left knee sprain, should be available at some point this weekend.

Another player head coach Craig Berube could turn to is Tye McGinn. McGinn was called up on Friday after the Flyers placed Zac Rinaldo on injured reserve with a high-ankle sprain.

Right now, it wouldn’t make much sense for Berube to mess around with the chemistry of his roster. If Gustafsson is re-inserted on the blue line, he would likely replace Andrej Meszaros, who is coming off a three-assist performance. As for McGinn, he would most likely serve in a fourth-line role if he dresses on Saturday.

Superstitious fans would say it would probably be best for Berube to leave Meszaros in the lineup and play Jay Rosehill with Chris VandeVelde and Adam Hall against the Lightning, considering the Flyers have been playing their best hockey in recent memory. You know how the old saying goes. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

2. Bolt of energy
Martin St. Louis is a major reason why the Lightning are an Eastern Conference-best 9-2-1 against the Flyers since the 2010-11 season.

The Flyers simply can’t find a way to shut down the speedy forward. In 44 career games against the Orange and Black, St. Louis has scored 14 goals and assisted 43 more.

To add fuel to the fire, St. Louis, like Claude Giroux, was recently left off Team Canada’s roster for the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi.

St. Louis has been playing with a chip on his shoulder, and that’s bad news for the Flyers. The Lightning captain has collected 22 points in his last 14 games against the Flyers.

Keep in mind, Steven Stamkos is still sidelined with a leg injury. Tampa’s offense has been revolving around St. Louis, although Valtteri Flippula and Teddy Purcell have helped pick up some of the slack as of late. The Flyers can’t afford to lose track of St. Louis, however. He’s leading the Lightning with 41 points (19 goals) this season.

3. Solving Lindback
Ben Bishop is still on the shelf with a sprained right wrist, so Tampa head coach Jon Cooper is starting Anders Lindback in goal against the Flyers.

If you took a quick glance at Lindback’s stat line this season -- 4-9-1 with a 3.18 goals-against average and .877 save percentage -- you would think it would be an ideal matchup for the Flyers.

You’re wrong.

Yes, Lindback has struggled over his last four games (3.63 GAA), but the netminder always seems to have his best stuff when facing the Flyers.

Lindback is 3-3-0 with a .917 save percentage in six career starts against the Flyers and owns a 1.76 GAA over his last four starts against them.

In the Flyers’ first meeting with Tampa this season -- a 4-2 loss on the road -- Lindback picked up the win after turning aside 19 of 21 shots fired his way.

4. Hot on the PK
It’s never a good thing to take a lot of penalties, but being a man down hasn’t been an issue for the Flyers as of late.

After killing off all four penalties they took against Montreal on Wednesday, the Flyers improved to 19 for 19 on the penalty kill over their past six games.

Assistant coach Ian Laperriere has down a superb job with the Flyers’ PK units. Entering the weekend, they had moved to seventh in the NHL at 84.6 percent.

5. This and that
• Matt Read (concussion-like symptoms) will not play this weekend.

• In addition to Bishop and Stamkos, the Lightning will also be without Keith Aulie (hand). J.T. Brown (upper body) and Radko Gudas (lower body) are questionable.

• The Flyers’ stretch of not allowing a power-play goal in six straight games is tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the longest active streak in the NHL.

• Tampa has allowed multiple power-play goals in back-to-back games.

• Giroux and Jakub Voracek have combined for 27 points during the Flyers’ home winning streak.

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.