Flyers

Sean Couturier's dominance hiding Flyers' depth problem

Sean Couturier's dominance hiding Flyers' depth problem

It was a scene not often portrayed in the Flyers' locker room. There, Sean Couturier stood Thursday night, in the middle of a pack of reporters with little room to breathe. The mob broke from a goalie who turned in his best performance as a Flyer to swarm him. Part of the pack partially departed from Couturier momentarily to chat with Shayne Gostisbehere, the fastest Flyers defenseman to reach 100 points. Then it moved on to Radko Gudas.

What started as a large flock dwindled to a small gathering, but there was no doubt. Couturier was the star of the show. In the end, after about 10 minutes, which is an eternity for postgame interviews, Couturier was the last man standing.

“I’m getting the chance to do what I can do offensively,” Couturier said.

That was all Couturier ever needed, a chance. He's received just that this season. In the Flyers' 3-1 win Thursday over the Blackhawks, Couturier again was the catalyst that carried the Flyers' top line that has Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek on his wings.

Couturier potted his 10th goal of the season in what has been prototypical fashion. As the Flyers’ top unit entered the Chicago zone, Couturier split Blackhawks defensemen Duncan Keith and Jan Rutta and crashed the net. Giroux fed Couturier with a backhanded pass, and the seventh-year centerman rammed home an easy marker.

It was Couturier's only point of the night, but the Flyers' top line produced all three goals. While it doesn't show in the box score, Couturier was front and center for both Giroux's and Voracek's goals. In the first period, Couturier pressured Patrick Sharp at the Chicago blue line, which allowed Voracek to get the puck and feed Giroux for a one-timer.

About eight minutes later, Couturier showed incredible balance, staying on his skates after being tripped by Cody Franson, then one-handing a pass cross-ice to Voracek. The sequence kept the play alive and it later led to Voracek's fourth of the season.

With a three-point night from both Giroux and Voracek and Couturier's goal, the Flyers' top line again proved elite. The trio, through 16 games, has combined for 48 even-strength points. Overall, the three have 60 combined points. Couturier is tied with Tampa's Nikita Kucherov and St. Louis' Jaden Schwartz for the NHL lead with 18 even-strength points. Giroux and Voracek are tied for fourth with Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau with 15 even-strength points.

The unit is on pace to produce 97 even-strength goals — that won't happen — but it's establishing itself as one of the league's top lines. There is a real threat of the three scoring every time they're on the ice.

"There [are] three good players on that line," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. "They're all different. They play the game differently. They have different elements, different strengths, but the three of them together — to a big credit to them — has worked well."

For as much fanfare as the Couturier line has received, there is an underlying concern with the Flyers. They're not receiving secondary scoring from their middle six.

Since Nolan Patrick left the Anaheim game Oct. 24, the Flyers have tallied 18 even-strength goals with 11 of them coming from the Couturier line. Travis Konecny, Valtteri Filppula and Dale Weise each have one, while the defense has three.

Patrick will miss his eighth straight game Saturday against Minnesota with a head injury he suffered 18 days ago. The Flyers have officially designated Patrick’s injury as “upper body,” and he remains “day to day.” He could return as early as Tuesday.

The lack of transparency with Patrick's injury is a story for another day. At this point, we should not expect the Flyers or any other team to disclose specific injuries. Some do, others don't. It's a hockey thing rooted deep in the culture.

"It's taken longer than we thought, certainly hope," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Thursday. "But he skated (Thursday) and everything went good and worked out. Now it's a matter of starting to ramp him up. You just can't go from zero to 60, it's gotta be zero to 20 and then up."

Taking Patrick, 19, out of the lineup changes the complexion of the Flyers' forward group. With Patrick, the Flyers have four lines with skill on each one. We know about the first line, and the fourth line has stayed intact since training camp.

The middle six has been virtually nonexistent. An argument could be made it has been all season even with Patrick — he has just three points in nine games — but it's been more noticeable without him in the lineup.

Wayne Simmonds, after a torrid start, hasn't scored in eight games. He has been banged up and perhaps a little more than he's led on. Jordan Weal has one goal in his last 13 games. Filppula has two goals since Patrick's injury, one at even strength. And while Konecny continues to get chances — he had a few prime opportunities against the Blackhawks — he has just two goals in 16 games.

"Personally, I have to bear down a little bit more," Konecny, who replaced Weal on the second line, said earlier this week. "I probably have some of the most 2-on-1s, just scoring chances, and I need to bear down a little bit more and capitalize on a few of them."

After Thursday's win, the Flyers are now 8-6-2 in 16 games and 3-3-2 in their last eight games. In the standings, it's been a mediocre start, but it doesn't feel that way.

The Flyers are a better team than they were last season, at least by the eye test. Injuries and bad luck have cost them a few wins. That's hockey.

So far, the Couturier line has carried the Flyers. They've been looking for a top line for years, and they've now found one. The problem is, the middle six isn't producing.

That has to change and quick.

Shayne Gostisbehere, not Ivan Provorov, cracks NHL Network's top 20 active defensemen

Shayne Gostisbehere, not Ivan Provorov, cracks NHL Network's top 20 active defensemen

A young Flyers defenseman cracked the NHL Network's top 20 defensemen list, but it's not exactly who you are thinking.

Shayne Gostisbehere, not Ivan Provorov, was listed Sunday night as the league's 17th best blueliner as NHL Network continued its nine-part series looking at the game's top players.

That's not a slight to Gostisbehere by any means, but many would argue that Provorov's overall game is far more in tune of a top-tier player than Gostisbehere.

Here is NHL Network Ken Daneyko's explanation for "Ghost," who ranks right behind Boston's Torey Krug and ahead of Carolina's Dougie Hamilton:

"He really came into his own last year. This kid is dynamic, and for me, I think there are some defensive liabilities, but because how offensive the game has become and defensemen being part of that offense, Gostisbehere can do it all. He's shifty and can make a pass in the blink of an eye for a great scoring chance."

Gostisbehere had a frustrating sophomore season in 2016-17 after exploding onto the scene in 2015-16. Last season, though, he rebounded in grand fashion.

The 25-year-old finished fourth in the NHL among defensemen in points with 65. He led all defensemen in power-play points (33) and was tied for the league lead with seven power-play goals.

His offensive production returned — actually increased substantially — to his rookie season level, when he scored at a 0.72 points per game clip in 2015-16. Last season that number was 0.83.

But Gostisbehre's defensive game began to round into place. He credited that to "a little more snot," but the player we saw in his own end was far better than what we've seen before.

We can chalk some of that up to Dave Hakstol putting Gostisbehere with Provorov in late December. The pair became dynamic because, at any moment, either could jump up in the offensive zone and create, but Provorov was the pair's anchor.

“He’s a 1,000 of years better than me defensively,” Gostisbehere said in April. “We use that to our advantage and it really showed as a pair. Provy’s very good defensively, but offensively, he took another step.

"He’s probably one of the best, if not the best two-way defenseman in the NHL.”

Provorov did not totally get snubbed by the NHL Network. Daneyko had Provorov on the bubble and if we return to this list after the 2018-19 season, it's safe to say Provorov will likely, at least, make the leap.

"For such a young age, poise, good in all three zones and only getting better," Daneyko said of Provorov. "He moves the puck and has good offensive instinct. He's going to be a real good player for a long time."

Provorov, 21, was tied for the league lead among defensemen with 17 goals in his second NHL campaign but didn't post ludicrous overall numbers — just 41 points and not many on the power play.

But Provorov played the tough, shutdown minutes (see story). He led the team in ice time with 24:09 per game, more than 2 1/2 minutes more than Sean Couturier's 21:35 and 2 minutes and 42 seconds more than Gostisbehere.

We're splitting hairs here, really. Lists are lists and a good list often creates debate. Does it matter that Gostisbehere, not Provorov, made the NHL Network's top 20 defensemen list? Not really, but it's still a neat honor.

If anything, it's another testament that the Flyers are doing things right even if the process at the rink is slower than fans would like.

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Flyers featured heavily on NBC national broadcast schedule

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Flyers featured heavily on NBC national broadcast schedule

NBC Sports on Monday revealed its 2018-19 national broadcast schedule and the Flyers, per usual, are heavily featured.

The Flyers will have 17 games aired on either NBC or NBCSN in 2018-19. It's important to note, though, that some of the NBCSN games will be blacked out locally and air on NBC Sports Philadelphia.

The local TV broadcast schedule typically comes out in early September. The full 2018-19 schedule was released in June (see Flyers highlights here).

Still, the Flyers will be featured in six major national TV games — four on NBC and two on NBCSN's "Wednesday Night Hockey" games.

Wednesday Night Hockey

Both of the Flyers' "Wednesday Night Hockey" games will be home games.

Jan. 16, 2019: The Flyers will host the Boston Bruins for their first appearance on the NBCSN's signature hockey night.

March 6, 2019: The defending Stanley Cup champions Washington Capitals come to Philly for a tilt against the Flyers.

NHL on NBC

The Flyers will be on NBC four times, including the 2019 NHL Stadium Series showdown with the Pittsburgh Penguins at Lincoln Financial Field.

Nov. 23, 2018, 1 p.m.: The Flyers host the New York Rangers on Black Friday — it will be the first of 13 NHL games aired on NBC in 2018-19.

Feb. 23, 2019, 8 p.m.: Yep, Flyers-Pens are going back outside. This time, at the Linc. It'll be on NBC in primetime.

March 24, 2019, 12:30 p.m.: The Flyers will face the Capitals in Washington.

March 31, 2019, 12:30 p.m.: Back-to-back Sundays the Flyers will be on NBC. This time, they're playing the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Flyers' full national TV schedule

Oct. 4, 2018, 10 p.m.: Flyers at Golden Knights (NBCSN)

Oct. 9, 2018, 7:30 p.m.: Flyers vs. Sharks (NBCSN)

Nov. 21, 2018, 7:30 p.m.: Flyers at Sabres (NBCSN)

• Nov. 23, 2018, 1 p.m.: Flyers vs. Rangers (NBC)

Dec. 27, 2018, 7:30 p.m.: Flyers at Lightning (NBCSN)

Jan. 8, 2019, 7:30 p.m.: Flyers at Capitals (NBCSN)

Jan. 16, 2019, 7:30 p.m.: Flyers vs. Bruins (NBCSN)

Jan. 28, 2019, 7 p.m.: Flyers vs. Jets (NBCSN)

• Jan. 29, 2019, 7:30 p.m.: Flyers at Rangers (NBCSN)

Feb. 11, 2019, 7 p.m.: Flyers vs. Penguins (NBCSN)

Feb. 17, 2019, 6 p.m.: Flyers at Red Wings (NBCSN)

Feb. 23, 2019, 8 p.m.: Flyers vs. Penguins (NBC)

Feb. 26, 2019, 7 p.m.: Flyers vs. Sabres (NBCSN)

March 6, 2019, 7:30 p.m.: Flyers vs. Capitals (NBCSN)

March 17, 2019, 7:30 p.m.: Flyers at Penguins (NBCSN)

March 24, 2019, 12:30 p.m.: Flyers at Capitals (NBC)

March 31, 2019, 12:30 p.m.: Flyers vs. Rangers (NBC)

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