Flyers

Flyers weekly observations: Sean Couturier on tear, Wayne Simmonds trade chatter, more

Flyers weekly observations: Sean Couturier on tear, Wayne Simmonds trade chatter, more

The Flyers are playing arguably their best hockey of the season.

Now they won't be playing again until next Monday.

Let's get into some observations on the state of the organization:

• Imagine where Sean Couturier would be if he had a full training camp and preseason?

Scary good.

Remember, he played just one exhibition game because of an offseason injury suffered to the same right knee in which he tore his MCL during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Couturier was good enough to go by opening night but the first two weeks of the regular season were like his preseason — trying to find his legs, his conditioning, his rhythm.

Understandably, he didn't race out of the gates, putting up three goals and no assists through his first 11 games. Since then, he has 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) over his last 35 games and leads the Flyers with 19 goals on the season.

He's projected to finish with 33 goals, which would be a new career high and awfully impressive considering all the circumstances. In a season needing positives, the 26-year-old center has been one of the biggest, showing general manager Chuck Fletcher he's a clear part of the solution moving forward.

• Last week on Sportsnet's "Tim and Sid" show, Wayne Simmonds was a topic of discussion, with Sid Seixeiro making an interesting point about a possible trade partner for the Flyers ahead of the Feb. 25 deadline.

"I think the Leafs need Wayne Simmonds," Seixeiro said.

"Toughness is enough guys who are willing to go in the blue paint. … The Leafs don't have enough of those guys, this is a player in Simmonds … he goes to those areas."

Toronto is a team with a slew of offensive weapons. Still, head coach Mike Babcock has highlighted a missing element to the Maple Leafs, who many are considering as a Stanley Cup contender.

Via Sportsnet's Luke Fox, here's what Babcock had to say Jan. 7 following a 4-0 loss to the Predators:

Being heavy isn't getting on a scale and measuring yourself; it's a state of mind. I think we can do a better job there. And I think we can get better defensively so we can spend more time offensively and have the puck more. We got a lot of work to do.

It's heavy on offense. It's having the puck. It's getting the puck back all the time. It's checking it back. It's putting your work in front of your skill. It's being determined offensively, not coming down, having a rush and being one-and-done. It's multiple-shot shifts.

It's having some jam.

Sure sounds like Simmonds, who would not only bring that heaviness but also provide leadership and experience to a relatively young roster.

Toronto has the talent, prospects and picks to intrigue the Flyers.

• Speaking of trades, the 2017 Brayden Schenn deal continues to look better and better for the Flyers.

The club received two first-round draft picks in the exchange with the Blues and used them on prospects Morgan Frost (27th overall — 2017) and Joel Farabee (14th overall — 2018).

Frost on Sunday went off for five goals after scoring four points (two goals, two assists) the night prior. Yes, that's seven goals and nine points in two games.

Last season, the 19-year-old center put up 112 points in 67 regular-season games with the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. This season, he has 30 goals and 45 assists through 38 games.

Meanwhile, Farabee, an 18-year-old goal-scoring winger, has 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 20 games as a freshman at Boston University.

Prospects are only prospects until they prove themselves in the NHL, but the future looks exciting — and not all that far away — for these two picks.

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Flyers' Carter Hart matches an NHL accolade not seen in 32 years

Flyers' Carter Hart matches an NHL accolade not seen in 32 years

CHICAGO — Carter Hart continues to turn back the clock.

Just last month, the Flyers' rookie netminder matched Jocelyn Thibault’s rookie record with eight straight victories before the age of 21, a record established back in 1995.

Thursday against the Blackhawks, Hart may have done himself one better. 

Hart’s 40-save performance in a 3-1 win at the United Center was another gem in his rookie season and marked the first time in 32 years that a rookie goaltender had three winning performances of making 40 saves or more while allowing one goal or less (see observations). Boston’s Bill Ranford was the last goalie to do that prior to Hart Thursday night.

Here's how Hart did it:

• March 21 at Chicago, W 3-1, 40 saves
• March 17 at Pittsburgh, W 2-1, 41 saves
• Feb. 4 vs. Vancouver, W 2-1, 41 saves

Hart is also 7-0 during games in which he’s been forced to make 37 or more saves, and certainly the volume of shots Hart has been subjected to is an element general manager Chuck Fletcher and the Flyers will want to address in the offseason.

However, the Chicago Blackhawks didn’t want to give Hart too much credit for the victory.

“I think he made some pretty good stops,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “I think we had a lot of opportunities in the second and third, but yeah, I give him credit — he played pretty well.” 

Since losing three straight games, and getting pulled in the first period in two of the losses, Hart has regained his composure and appears to be locked in with a .966 save percentage over his last three starts. Moreover, it shows the maturity and intelligence of a young player in a position that can be quite demanding. 

“I’m just trying to worry about things one day at a time and worry about the present moment,” Hart said. “The past is in the past and you don’t want to dwell on it. I think for me, I just have to live in the present moment whether I’m at the rink or at home. Just focus on what I’m doing and not get ahead of myself, or dwelling on the past.”

Right now, Hart is merely rewriting the past. 

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Flyers 3, Blackhawks 1: Carter Hart with another 40-save effort, James van Riemsdyk with another goal

Flyers 3, Blackhawks 1: Carter Hart with another 40-save effort, James van Riemsdyk with another goal

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — The Flyers continue to hold on to dear life in their playoff pursuit, beating the Blackhawks, 3-1, Thursday night.

Goaltender Carter Hart turned aside 40 shots as the Flyers completed a season sweep of the Blackhawks for the first time since the 2015-16 season. 

Here are my observations from the United Center:

• It was interesting to see interim head coach Scott Gordon start with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier together on the same line when it had been Nolan Patrick on that top line. I’m wondering if it was a strategic move with the Blackhawks loading up their top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Near the end of the second period, Gordon had split Giroux and Couturier up again. 

• The Flyers had two centers (Patrick, Scott Laughton) along with Travis Konecny on the ice for Erik Gustafsson’s 1-0 goal. The breakdown came as Laughton and Konecny were caught on the same side of the ice with Patrick battling Toews down low. By the time defenseman Travis Sanheim recognized the poor coverage, he was too late and Gustafsson blew a wrister past Hart.

• Hart has regained his mojo. Chalk up three straight starts for Hart, who has been consistently solid in making the saves he’s expected to make, and coming up with some timely saves that only a goaltender with his athleticism can make. It was the first time in 52 games that an opponent had held the Blackhawks to under two goals dating back to Nov. 16. 

• A solid all-around shift for the Flyers' fourth line that started with Justin Bailey breaking free on a breakaway, although his shot didn’t have much on it and was an easy save for Corey Crawford. Bailey picked up the assist on Corban Knight’s snap shot from the slot.

That fourth line is one area I would like to see more production from next season, especially when you look at the production teams like the Lightning and Islanders get out of their bottom lines.

• Ryan Hartman was a popular interview subject of the Chicago media as the Chicagoland native returned to the place where his career started.

Hartman had a rough third period as he was checked hard and was sent to the ice. On his next shift, he blocked a Brent Seabrook shot from about 10 feet away. He also committed a holding penalty, giving the 'Hawks a third-period power play.

While he doesn’t bring consistent effort to every shift, I thought Hartman had some bite to his game playing in front of family and friends.

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