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Flyers notch first victory in Berube's debut

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Flyers notch first victory in Berube's debut

BOX SCORE

Updated: 11:30 p.m.

Sometimes you win ugly in hockey.

And when your team is 0-3, with a discombobulated power play, has fired its coach, torched itself with bad penalties, and yet somehow managed a win … well, Craig Berube will take it.

Thanks to goalie Steve Mason, who was unconscious in net (see story), the Flyers were able to overcome their own shortcomings with a gut-check 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center for “The Chief’s” first NHL victory as a head coach.

“He played great,” Berube said of Mason’s 33 saves. “His composure in net, he looked real solid, right on top of things. Saw all the pucks. Just looked big in net.”

Mason kept the Flyers in the game, helping them erase a four-minute Panthers' power play with a couple of saves and four huge blocked shots from the penalty kill units, which were superb as well.

“It was good -- guys are getting on the same page and Mason making some big saves when we need it,” Braydon Coburn said. “We really needed him to play good. He really stuck out his head for us. That’s been a strong point for us right now.”

Clutching a 2-1 lead that last period, Jay Rosehill picked up a roughing call behind the play. A scrum broke out as Rosehill, headed to box, then turned around and darted across the ice to knock down Tomas Kopeck from behind as teammate Zac Rinaldo was surrounded by Panther jerseys.

Rosehill drew a double minor and 10-minute misconduct.

Along with that, Rinaldo and Kopecky had minors to cancel each other out, leaving the Panthers with a four-minute power play.

That could have been the game right there. Instead, the Flyers rose to the occasion.

“It’s a fine line. You don’t want to be in the box all the time, but at the same time, when he’s surrounded by four other guys, I feel a need to get in there,” Rosehill said.

“If I had to do it over again, I might not have gone in there the same way or I would have tried to take someone with me.”

Berube, a fierce enforcer himself as player, said that turning around when you’re just about to step into the box and picking up those extra minutes were “unacceptable.”

He’s been preaching better team discipline. Yet when a newspaper columnist asked whether Rosehill would be disciplined, Berube fired back, “You want me to spank him? Get lost.”

As bad as that was, Eric Gudbranson’s five-minute boarding of Scott Hartnell later was worse, giving the Flyers a five-minute power play.

The Flyers had three quality chances from Mark Streit, Vinny Lecavalier and Brayden Schenn but no goals. In all, five shots on goalie Jacob Markstrom.

They were 0 for 5 on the power play and are just 2 for 19 on the season.

“Our penalty kill was great,” Hartnell said. “Blocking shots, defensive play … Our power play was awful again, especially our unit.

“We worked to get it into the zone, they pressured us and we were a step behind. We had some shots, but perimeter shots.”

There was a first for the Flyers on the season in this game. Not just scoring two goals, but actually having a 2-0 lead.

Panthers goalie Tim Thomas had trouble with puck caroms off the back boards on both those goals and appeared to injure his groin defending on them, as well, because he left the game after the second goal at 7:31 and never returned.

“They’re lucky goals and that happens,” Berube said.

Jakub Voracek’s shot off the left boards bounced ahead of Thomas’ reach into the slot for Schenn’s easy rebound at 4:49. He now has two goals and three points in four games.

“It’s still early,” he said. “I just want to keep on contributing and get the opportunity to play with Vinny Lecavalier and Jake Voracek right now. You have to make the most of those opportunities and that is what I am trying to do.”

The second goal saw Sean Couturier line one off the boards that had Thomas moving awkwardly. He was well out of position for the crazy carom that ended up on Braydon Coburn’s stick, making it 2-0.

Thomas removed himself from the game for Markstrom.

“Anytime you put pucks on net or shooting the puck, you know things can happen like a bounce, rebound or going off the boards,” Coburn said. “You just have to play the pucks. There is no other way about it.”

Thomas came into this game with a career 8-0 record in Philadelphia with a 1.86 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. So, this was a rather huge loss for the toothless Panthers.

The second period was all Mason with 12 saves among breakdowns with uncontested shots.

“There’s always work to be done and right now it’s a difficult game because there is new stuff being thrown our way because of the coaching change,” Mason said.

“At the same time, our own end is going to take care of itself eventually. Just a matter of keep working at it.”

His pad stop on Shawn Matthias' shorthanded breakaway that period stood out.

“He was on his game,” Matthias said.

What hurt the Flyers in the second was the same thing that harmed them in Montreal -- penalties. They took consecutive ones to wipe out whatever momentum they were generating five-on-five.

Hence, they seemed tired at period’s end when Luke Schenn blocked a shot from Aleksander Barkov, but the puck went onto Brad Boyes’ stick for an easy rebound, setting up a tense final period.

“The players are squeezing their sticks -- everybody can see that,” Berube said. “I really liked our third period. We did a lot of good things without the puck.

“And I thought we did a lot of good things with the puck ... Overall effort, I have no problem with it.”

Ugly or not.

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.