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.

Joel Farabee: 'If I was the coach, I wouldn't have put me out there'

Joel Farabee: 'If I was the coach, I wouldn't have put me out there'

VOORHEES, N.J. — Flyers assistant coach Ian Laperriere had a joke for Joel Farabee to lighten the 19-year-old’s spirits following the rookie’s 12th NHL game.

“I think Lappy said I had more turnovers last night than I did in all the games before,” Farabee said with a slight smile Thursday.

By no means was Farabee OK with his performance during Wednesday night’s 2-1 shootout loss to the Capitals. He was quick to give the puck away three times instead of looking confident and comfortable with it on his stick, like the skilled winger typically does. 

Farabee expects much more of himself and so do the Flyers. It’s why the youngster fully understood losing his spot on the first line Wednesday and playing only 52 seconds from the third period to the final horn. Farabee finished with his lowest ice time of the season at 11:51. The game marked his first true setback as an NHL player.

"Obviously my play wasn't good enough,” Farabee said. “If I was the coach, I wouldn't have put me out there. I’ve got to be better, too many turnovers. I’ve got to eliminate those, play smarter. You can’t turn over the puck against the Caps, they’re a really good team.

“Just trying to do too much, trying to make the pretty play instead of just taking your medicine, maybe getting the puck deep. I think a lot of my turnovers were right in the neutral zone, so just trying to make too many plays there. I think I just have to simplify now, go back to the basics and go from there.”

With how Farabee works, no one seems too worried about his ability to respond. The Flyers plan to show confidence in him this weekend over a road-home back-to-back set against the Senators Friday (7:30 ET/NBCSP+) and Islanders Saturday (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

“Lappy has already got five or six clips that he wants to show him,” Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said Thursday. “Joel last night, for one of the few times, when he had the puck and he touched it, after he touched it, the other team had it. That’s not what we’ve seen from the young man. Sometimes guys are going to want to do well but have an off night. He had an off night last night but he’ll be right back at it [Friday] and I’m sure he’ll be real good for us.”

Farabee may have felt some pressure Wednesday night and it would be hard to fault the teenager if he did. He’s playing a game on national television against Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals. When Ovechkin scored 65 goals and 112 points in 2007-08, Farabee was 7 years old.

Farabee’s accountability is a positive and so too is the Flyers’ belief in him.

“You can’t have turnovers, it hurts the team when you turn over the puck,” Farabee said. “Honestly, I don’t think it’s the biggest deal for me. Just have to forget about it, refocus and focus on Ottawa now.

“Have to demand better for myself, have to help the team as much as I can. Refocus and get back at it.”

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Jakub Voracek knows sleep is vital — but never easy — during NHL grind

Jakub Voracek knows sleep is vital — but never easy — during NHL grind

Jakub Voracek has played 865 career NHL games. Since the 2012-13 season, he has missed only 13 games, playing 546 out of a possible 559 contests.

He understands the gauntlet that is the NHL schedule. It doesn't make it any easier, though.

"Me, personally, I’ve had trouble sleeping after games," Voracek said in an interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "There are times when you fall asleep at 4, 4:30 a.m., and you’ve got to be up by 10 a.m. or 9:30 a.m. to go to practice or have a game the next day."

Voracek owns the NHL’s seventh-most assists since the 2013-14 season. Confidence and a positive mindset are important to his game, which makes daily rest crucial.

"Try to get as much sleep as you can," Voracek said. "It might not seem for a lot of people outside as a grind, but it is — traveling, time changes, three [games] in four [days]."

NBC Sports Regional Networks has launched a multi-platform campaign on mental health and men's health, HeadStrong: Mental Health and Sports, for the month of November. You can find more information about the initiative here.

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