Sean Couturier believes tonight's game is the ultimate test for a defensive-minded, two-way center like himself.
“Yeah, for sure. If our line is plus-1 or plus-2, we have a good chance of winning," Couturier said. "It’s kinda the mentality I’ve always had. It’s something I take pride in.”
For the second straight game, the Flyers will face a Hart Trophy finalist when they line up against Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche, but MacKinnon has the ability to take over a game and dominate unlike that of New Jersey’s Taylor Hall, who won the Hart Trophy as league MVP last season.
MacKinnon has points in all eight of his team’s games so far this season. Even more impressively, he has scored a goal in seven of those eight, and his eight even-strength goals lead the NHL.
“He’s such a dynamic and dominant player,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “We know who he is and what he is as a player and how effective he is. There’s a clear message for us on how we want to play against him.”
The Flyers will have the advantage of having last line change so Couturier can be out there if and when Avalanche coach Jared Bednar elects to put the MacKinnon line on the ice. However, that hasn’t been much of a difference-maker so far this season, as MacKinnon has nine points in five road games as opposed to four points in three home games.
Most top lines have been disassembled and reassembled over the past year. Take the Flyers, who started last season with Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux and Couturier as production-wise the No. 1 line in hockey until they were broken up last December. MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog have been playing together since October 2017, and they’ve been clicking on all cylinders ever since.
As of Monday, Landeskog and Rantanen were second in scoring with 14 points while Landeskog earned the league’s first star of the week. Since their formation, they’re a plus-26 in goal differential at even strength. Perhaps the only other line that can dominate to that degree is Boston’s trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, who have combined for 36 points to MacKinnon’s line with 38 points.
In the 5-2 loss in Colorado on Oct. 6, the Flyers did a modest job containing the Avalanche's top line. However, Landeskog’s controversial tip-in goal was the eventual game-winner before MacKinnon added an empty-netter. Still, by Couturier’s standards, it wasn’t good enough.
“I think we gave up a few too many odd-man rushes where he had the puck where he was flying down the middle,” Couturier said. “It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of recovering and being tight on (MacKinnon), and not letting him gain that time and space.”
The solution is simple in theory but difficult in execution.
“If we have the puck most of the night and play offense," Couturier said, "we won’t give up much of anything.”
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.