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