Flyers Weekly Observations: Debuts and possible Philly swan songs

Flyers Weekly Observations: Debuts and possible Philly swan songs

This is it -- the final Flyers Weekly Observations column of the season.

Queue the sad intro music.

But this last go-round does leave us with plenty to chat about, as the Flyers played three eventful games this past week. They fell to the New York Rangers, 4-3, last Sunday at MSG, dropped a 1-0 overtime decision to the New Jersey Devils in Newark on Tuesday and rebounded with a strong 4-2 win over the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday afternoon.

Let's take a closer look at the week that was for the Flyers.

• Everybody loves talking about the prospects, especially now that the playoff hunt is over, so let's start there. I thought Sam Morin was very solid Tuesday in New Jersey during his debut. He was just getting his feet wet in the first period and it showed, as he was forced to rush a few plays and then absorbed a couple hits. And that's what you would expect early on from a 21-year-old rookie in his debut. During his first intermission interview with Chris Therien, he readily admitted the game was way faster than anything he experienced at the AHL level. But Morin settled in nicely. You have to like the way he used his size to deny puck carriers and rushes at the blue line. To me, the best play he made was when he denied Taylor Hall a clean breakaway in the second period. Hall can turn on the burners with the best of them, but Morin used his speed to get back and disrupt Hall, not allowing the Devils' star to get off a clean shot. Quite impressive. He almost scored himself when he ripped a one-timer from the slot in the second period, but Jersey goalie Keith Kinkaid had the answer. All in all, a nice showing from Morin to whet the appetite of Flyers fans.

• Say what you want about Steve Mason, but you can't deny these numbers -- 103 wins in 230 games as a Flyer, both third-most in team history in the respective categories behind just Bernie Parent and Ron Hextall. Saturday marked his 200th NHL win, a pretty impressive milestone. Yes, consistency has been an issue over the years, but he's been a pretty damn good goalie in a city that's been starved for one. Remember when he carried the Flyers on his back to the playoffs at the end of last season? That may have been the best stretch of his 10-year career. His honesty in the locker room after games is always refreshing, too. If Saturday's win was indeed his swan song in Philadelphia, Mason left his mark here. Of course, the Flyers' goalie situation is still very much unsettled heading into the summer.

• Another week, another Travis Konecny benching to talk about. After taking a bad tripping penalty in the first period Tuesday against New Jersey, the 20-year-old rookie was benched by Dave Hakstol for the entire second period. I get the need to teach lessons in development, but what is this proving anymore? These are important minutes for Konecny as he continues to grow into a possible prime scoring role next year. It's only natural for a kid to keep thinking about this kind of stuff. I like what Flyers Insider Tim Panaccio said last week when he wrote about Konecny: "Both Konecny and Shayne Gostisbehere were Hakstol's poster boys for discipline this season while certain veterans, who committed far more egregious errors, or simply disappeared for games on end, skated off without discipline. No benchings, no cut in ice time." Straight to the point.

• What is it about Kinkaid that makes him like kryptonite to the Flyers? This year against the Flyers, Kinkaid is 3-0-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average, a .967 save percentage and a shutout. Against everyone else, he's got a 5-13-3 record. He's been a red-and-black brick wall against the Flyers this year.

• Valtteri Filppula's shuffle with the puck to end Sunday's playoff-eliminating loss to the Rangers definitely looked odd. But his explanation afterward did make some sense. The Rangers had a wall set up in front of him and he didn't want to just fire into it and have the rejected puck bounce right back to him. That would have been useless and would have wasted even more time. He was just trying to make a play rather than waste time or turn it over. Another thing about that deflating loss at The Garden -- give the Flyers some credit there. They were down 4-1 and could have just rolled over. They fought to the bitter end and brought the house. The Rangers were just better.

• Good to see the refs overturn the goalie interference call on Sean Couturier Saturday after a video review and rightfully give Michael Del Zotto his goal. That one would have been just brutal to not have. Seth Jones, not Couturier, clipped Sergei Bobrovsky. Earlier in the year, the Flyers had a similar goal taken away in Columbus when it was determined Michael Raffl clipped Bobrovsky and it proved costly in that game.

• See the way Ivan Provorov delayed slightly, repositioned the puck to change the angle and then fired away on that second-period goal Saturday against the Jackets? It may not seem like a lot, but that is such a skillful move that can totally throw off both defenders and goaltenders. And the 20-year-old Barry Ashbee Trophy winner makes it look so easy. The goal was eventually given to Couturier Sunday as the puck nicked off Couturier's sweater before going in, but the point stands.

• One final observation -- thanks for reading these all season. The goal with these isn't to force you to agree or disagree with me or shove my viewpoint down your throat. And the goal isn't to just regurgitate stats as anyone can read a stat sheet and do that. The goal is twofold -- to generate compelling conversation about the Flyers and to try and give context and perspective to the things you see and why they're happening. So that's what I try to do here and I appreciate you reading along. There's no more Flyers hockey this season, but, hey, at least the weather is nicer out.

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.