Couturier steals show as Flyers' winning streak continues

Couturier steals show as Flyers' winning streak continues


NEWARK, N.J. — It was billed as No. 1 against No. 2 with the Devils' crowd even chanting "Nico's better!"

Instead, it was the No. 8 overall pick from 2011 who was at his best yet again Saturday night as the Flyers beat New Jersey, 5-3, at the Prudential Center (see observations).

Sean Couturier scored the Flyers' first goal during a rough and sloppy first period and then added the go-ahead power-play goal in the final minutes of the second period that gave the Flyers a 3-2 lead after 40 minutes which they never relinquished. 

“It was huge, especially with the way the game was going,” Couturier said. “It was to get some flow, some momentum, especially with the penalties. You want to get something going quickly, especially five-on-five, we got the bounce and it got us into the game.”

“I looked at his minutes after one period and he was at nine minutes,” said head coach Dave Hakstol, who earned his 100th career victory. “He scored a big goal in that period, logged a lot of time and then goes out in the second period and continues performing. For me, that’s maybe something that goes unnoticed a little bit.”

Spending his bye week working on a new house he’s having built in his hometown of Drummondville, Quebec, Couturier is also constructing a monstrous offensive season. He’s currently third in the race for Rocket Richard trophy for goals, behind Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov, and on pace for a whopping 48.

“It’s every night,” Travis Konecny, who has a point in five of his last seven games, said of Couturier. “You get used to it. The whole first half — it doesn’t surprise me when he does things like that.”

Couturier continued his torrid offensive streak ripping off his third straight two-goal game and has now scored nine goals in the Flyers' last seven games. The Flyers' No. 1 center didn’t feel a boost after he was excluded from the Metropolitan Division All-Star team.

“Not really any extra motivation,” Couturier said. “I just wanted to keep going the way it was. There’s still another half of the year to play. I had a good first half, but I need a better second half to make a push and make the playoffs.”

Touted as the first matchup between Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick, the top two picks in the 2017 NHL draft, Patrick admitted he had a little extra energy for this game.

Unfortunately, it was channeled in the wrong areas, as Patrick was whistled for two high-sticking penalties in successive shifts.

“Those penalties are unacceptable,” Patrick said. “I think I was a little too excited for the game. I’ve got to keep my stick under control. Obviously, we have a great coaching staff and a great group of guys to really help me through it mentally.”

Collectively, the Flyers excelled in the special teams battle, killing off five of the Devils' first six power-play opportunities while converting on their only two power-play chances.

“Guys just went out and did a good job,” Hakstol said. “I thought we had a great night on the penalty kill. The last one is one we don’t want to give up at that point in time, but I thought the guys did an outstanding job on the penalty kill in the areas we and (Ian Laperriere) have asked them to focus on.”

More importantly, the Flyers continue to close the gap between themselves and the other teams above them in the Metropolitan Division standings, including the Devils.

At Christmas, the Flyers trailed New Jersey by nine points in the standings. That margin has been closed to just four points following Saturday’s regulation win, as the Flyers also find themselves one point back of the Penguins and the Rangers in the wild card.

“I think we were moving pretty well which is surprising to me after the bye week,” Jake Voracek said. “It shows that the guys took care of themselves and wanted to be ready for today’s game. When you look at the Metro (Division) it’s so stacked up that you can’t afford to lose a game.”

And the one player they can’t afford to lose is a red-hot Couturier.

Samuel Morin's future with Flyers grows murkier with torn ACL

AP Images

Samuel Morin's future with Flyers grows murkier with torn ACL

Samuel Morin is taking the long and winding road to the NHL, one that’s now more rugged and elongated than ever.

The Flyers confirmed Thursday that Morin tore the ACL in his right knee when his skate caught a rut on the ice in Charlotte while he was attempting to check an opponent. The injury took place in the first period of the Phantoms' epic five-overtime game against the Checkers two weeks ago.

General manager Ron Hextall told the Courier-Post's Dave Isaac that Morin is facing a nine-month recovery process and that the 6-7 defenseman is “probably out until February” as he recovers from surgery — which Morin will undergo sometime in the near future.

Morin’s 2018-19 season will now be spent rehabbing from injury and utilizing what’s left of the regular season working his way back with the Phantoms.   

The Flyers' 2013 first-round pick is also a restricted free agent after playing out the final year of his three-year entry-level contract. In the five years since he was drafted, Morin has suited up for just three NHL games. 

Expect the two sides to reach an agreement on a one- or- two-year extension rather easily since Morin doesn’t have much leverage in negotiations at this point. Since Morin signed his rookie deal at the age of 18, he also had a five-year (or 160-game) waiver exemption that has now expired.

In other words, the Flyers will no longer have the luxury of shuttling Morin back and forth from Lehigh Valley without exposing him to the rest of the league if they attempt to send him back to the minors.

The Flyers have no choice but to give Morin the necessary time to ensure he’s not only ready physically, but also that his game can be trusted at the NHL level.  

Hextall has preached patience in the deliberate development of the organization’s prospects.

Right now, Samuel Morin is the poster child for that process.

Phantoms' Travis Sanheim-Philippe Myers pairing can't be trusted with Flyers ... yet

Flyers/USA Today Images

Phantoms' Travis Sanheim-Philippe Myers pairing can't be trusted with Flyers ... yet

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The Flyers' general manager who was able to construct an entire blue line through trades and free-agent signings was once asked, "What's the number one trait you look for out of a defenseman?"

Paul Holmgren’s response was decisive and to the point. Paraphrasing, Holmgren said, "The one who can get the puck out of his zone as quickly as possible."

As much as the game of hockey has been broken down into advanced metrics and analytics, it’s rather simple at its core. The more time a team spends in its end of the ice, the greater likelihood it'll be on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

The AHL playoffs have served as an ideal test site for Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers, who have been stalwarts throughout the Phantoms' postseason run. 

However, Game 3 at the PPL Center Wednesday night further exemplified the necessary strides the Flyers' defensive prospects must take in order to develop into reliable, everyday NHL blueliners.  

Oftentimes, less is more when you have the puck in the defensive end of the ice, and it took roughly 62 seconds into the game on Sanheim’s opening shift for the 22-year-old to make a major gaffe that gave the Toronto Marlies a 1-0 lead. 

Instead of making the simple play of a quick pass up the boards, Sanheim elected to keep it, reversing his field and was suddenly stripped with the attacking forward trailing. Roughly two seconds elapsed from the moment Sanheim lost the puck to when it was behind goalie Alex Lyon in the net. 

“On that particular play, we have full possession of the puck and the opportunity to advance it," Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon said. "Instead, we go back behind the net to where their guy is. That’s just playing into their hands. In that situation, and in a few of our breakouts, there were opportunities to move forward with the puck and we didn’t.”   

However, the gaffes involving the Sanheim-Myers pairing didn’t stop there. Sanheim was stripped of the puck at his own blue line during the first Phantoms' power play. Myers inexcusably lost his edge skating with the puck through the neutral zone. Toronto’s Andreas Johnsson muscled his way around Sanheim to generate a quality scoring chance, and then another terrible pass and turnover inside the Phantoms' zone.

And that all came in the first seven minutes of the game. 

If Dave Hakstol had been behind the bench (he was actually watching from the PPL Center press box), Sanheim is likely sitting in front of him for the remainder of the game. That’s essentially what transpired in mid-January at the Prudential Center in New Jersey when Sanheim’s play landed him back in the minors for a month and a half. 

Chalk this up as one bad game. Game 3 of the AHL’s Eastern Conference Finals was simply another teaching moment as the Phantoms were blown out, 5-0, falling behind 3-0 in the series. Both players will be back there together logging close to 25 minutes as the Phantoms try to avoid elimination Friday night.    

As exciting as it is to watch Sanheim and Myers generate offense within the Phantoms' system with their size and skating ability, there’s no way Hakstol and the Flyers can depend on that pairing defensively next season. Together, they’re still young, inexperienced and unreliable. 

If anything, expect the competition between Myers and Sanheim as something worth watching when Flyers camp opens in September. Myers has closed the gap in his first full season in the AHL. 

And the guy who can clean up their play defensively will likely be the one that starts next season with the Flyers.