Flyers

Now with Flyers, Nick Cousins showing 'night and day' improvement

ap-nick-cousins.jpg

Now with Flyers, Nick Cousins showing 'night and day' improvement

NEWARK, N.J. — When the Flyers placed Sean Couturier on injured reserve Feb. 5, general manager Ron Hextall had a few options trying to replace a major part of his team.

With cap space and an extra spot, Hextall would fill the position regardless, but it depended on the role he and head coach Dave Hakstol envisioned for said replacement.

The Flyers had a couple of extra forwards at the time, with Sam Gagner and Jordan Weal routinely sitting in the press box. Hextall could have opted to bring up a veteran such as Colin McDonald or Chris Conner to sit while Gagner or Weal cracked the lineup.

Instead, he decided to give 22-year-old Nick Cousins an opportunity.

"Nick's done a good job. He really has," Hextall said before the Flyers' 6-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night at the Prudential Center (see game story).

"Seeing him his first year in Glens Falls, there to now, it's night and day. Two and a half years, he's really improved and he's improved because he works.

"He works hard every day, every game. He's a tenacious player."

Cousins on Tuesday night found himself playing between Jakub Voracek and R.J. Umberger, as Hakstol changed up his lines in a move to spark his sluggish offense (see story).

The line changes worked and Cousins potted his second career goal — his first career game-winning goal — in the third period against the Devils.

"The more you play, the better you feel," he said. "Every shift, especially early on in the game, you get your legs underneath you and you get a little bit of confidence."

Despite being on the second line against New Jersey, Cousins played just 10:37 and did take a holding penalty in the final period, too. But the Flyers were shorthanded seven times, including for five minutes in the first, so special teams were a big part of the game. Still, Cousins has done an adequate job filling in on the second line. Couturier's absence has been highly advertised as a big blow, but Cousins has been productive since coming up.

"He's done a good job," Hakstol said. "Obviously, he had a penalty [Tuesday], but he's been a reliable two-way player. I think he's really concentrated on being reliable.

"I think he's concentrated on taking care of pucks. In the offensive zone, he's played with confidence with the puck at the right time and that's a positive for him."

Before his Feb. 5 call-up — his second of the season — Cousins had been a point-per-game player — 38 points in 38 games — with the Phantoms and made his first AHL All-Star Game.

In his first time around this season with the Flyers, he centered the fourth line for four games. This also isn't his first time playing in an orange and black jersey.

Last season, Cousins got the call when Umberger went down with a season-ending injury and played the final 11 games. He didn't register any points but finished a plus-1. A 2011 third-round draft pick, he led the Phantoms last season with 56 points. He was leading Lehigh Valley this season when he came up — and still is.

While the production is welcomed, Cousins doesn't want to be known as an offensive player.

"I think early on in my career," he said, "everyone really labeled me as a one-dimensional player — all offense but can't play defense. Battling for the puck.

"So I took that as motivation and I worked on that part of my game. It's come a long way, still not where I want it to be. I want to be reliable on the ice, all three zones."

At the AHL level, Cousins' role was much larger than it is with the Flyers. He was asked to put up points and he did. Up here, he's being asked to be responsible. No one is expecting him to replace Couturier's production or defensive prowess, but he's been given an opportunity playing with mostly Brayden Schenn on the second line. Cousins' mentality of trying to become a better two-way player has been noticed.

"He's a skilled player," Hextall said. "He's got to produce and I'm talking mostly at the minor-league level, he's got to produce and he has.

"And his 200-foot game has come a long ways. He's the type of kid that probably had the puck his whole life until he turned pro and all of sudden you turn pro and it's, 'Whoa.'"

Hextall recalled Cousins' first full year with the Phantoms, when they were in Glens Falls, New York. Cousins had 29 points in 74 games and was a minus-9 in his first pro year.

"I know that first year in Glens Falls," Hextall said, "he was shocked by the level of play and his production and all that, but give him credit. He worked his tail off."

When Couturier returns, Cousins was expected to return to the Phantoms, but he may now stay since Weal is out at least three weeks with an upper-body injury (see story).

Schenn said before Tuesday's game he didn't know a lot about Cousins before his call-up, but playing 10 games together on the same line allowed him to learn how he plays.

"He's been good. Really good," Schenn said. "He's smart, he's not afraid to get in the opposition's face and play that aggravating style of hockey.

"He's a small guy but highly skilled and always in the right position. He's playing well. Hopefully he continues to. We need him to play well right now.

"He's played some good minutes. We need him to keep playing his game."

Shorthanded Flyers can't keep up with Avalanche to begin road trip

Shorthanded Flyers can't keep up with Avalanche to begin road trip

BOX SCORE

From the moment it was announced that Oskar Lindblom would miss Wednesday night's game, the Flyers' chances at Pepsi Center felt bleak.

No Lindblom, no Travis Konecny and facing the NHL's highest-scoring team in its building was not a promising script for the Flyers, who lost to the Avalanche, 3-1.

In stretches this season, the Flyers have struggled to bury goals. And that has been with Lindblom and Konecny — their two leading goal-scorers at 11 apiece — in the lineup.

The Flyers (17-9-5) did some good things but Colorado finished plays behind its world class talent up top.

The Avalanche (20-8-3) are on an eight-game point streak (7-0-1) in which they've scored 4.13 goals per game.

• Without Konecny (concussion) and Lindblom (upper body), the Flyers had difficulty putting the puck in the net. They were going to have to put up some goals against the Avalanche, who entered scoring an NHL-best 3.70 goals per game. For the second time in the last three games, the Flyers scored only one goal.

The lone tally came from Claude Giroux when the Flyers were trailing 3-0 with just over five minutes remaining in regulation.

• Following a first period in which they survived, especially in the back half of it thanks to Carter Hart, the Flyers actually played a solid second period. At one point during the middle stanza, the Flyers were outshooting Colorado 11-0.

But as the Flyers kept pushing to no avail, the Avalanche changed the whole complexion of the period with one play by their two best weapons. Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen hooked up for a nasty marker to make it 2-0 with 3:55 left in the period, a deflating goal to allow for the Flyers (see highlights).

Considering Colorado was 14-0-1 when leading after the middle period, the Flyers were in a serious hole, even after a hard-working period.

• Hart, who entered 8-2-2 with a 1.96 goals-against average and .928 save percentage over his last 12 starts, faced the Avalanche for the first time in his career.

He made a highlight-reel save and gave the Flyers a fighting chance in tough circumstances.

The 21-year-old has been impressive during the first period all season long, allowing the Flyers to find their legs and rhythm. He converted 12 of his 24 saves in the opening stanza against Colorado.

On the Avalanche's first-period goal, Scott Laughton won a defensive zone faceoff but the Flyers failed to clear the puck, resulting in Matt Calvert's tally.

Rantanen added his second goal early in the third period and that was pretty much the game.

Colorado goalie Pavel Francouz, who came in 5-0-1 with a 2.36 goals-against average and .926 save percentage over his last eight games (six starts), finished with 32 stops.

• When Philippe Myers (back spasms, day to day) is ready to return, Robert Hagg should be the odd man out on defense. Shayne Gostisbehere has found some of his offensive mojo and Myers has shown way too much promise to be sitting when healthy.

A stay-at-home guy like Hagg was far too noticeable against the Avalanche. He committed a penalty and was a minus-2 in 15:21 minutes.

• David Kase was summoned to Denver this morning to make his NHL debut and become the ninth rookie to play for the Flyers this season

The 22-year-old winger had a nice scoring chance and two shots in 7:47 minutes. 

• The Flyers head to the old stomping grounds of general manager Chuck Fletcher and assistant general manager Brent Flahr when they visit the Wild on Saturday (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

Fletcher was the GM in Minnesota from 2009 to 2018 and Flahr was his AGM from 2010 to 2018.

The Flyers have not lost consecutive games in regulation since Oct. 27-29.

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Flyers at Avalanche: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Flyers at Avalanche: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

As one of the NHL's best teams since Nov. 1 (12-3-4, 28 points), the Flyers now face a new challenge.

Alain Vigneault's undermanned group begins a three-game road trip Wednesday as the Flyers (17-8-5) visit the Avalanche (19-8-3).

Let's get into the essentials:

When: 9:30 p.m. ET
Where: Pepsi Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Network
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com

• The Flyers are without Travis Konecny (concussion, out indefinitely), Oskar Lindblom (upper body, out tonight), Philippe Myers (back spasms, day to day), Michael Raffl (broken right pinkie finger, out approximately four weeks) and Nolan Patrick (migraine disorder, out indefinitely).

"Injuries are a part of a season. You have to expect it," Vigneault said Monday. "Then you need somebody else to step up."

More than ever this season, the Flyers will be looking to Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes and James van Riemsdyk to produce among the forwards.

The Flyers are 10-2-1 when Hayes records a point and 9-1-0 when van Riemsdyk records a point.

• Not only are the Flyers severely shorthanded Wednesday night, but they're also facing the NHL's highest-scoring club. The Avalanche lead the league with 3.70 goals per game. Their top line of Nathan MacKinnon (47 points in 30 games), Mikko Rantanen (18 points in 14 games) and Gabriel Landeskog (nine points in 14 games) is scary.

"We know going into Colorado, we're going to have to be careful versus their top unit," Vigneault said Tuesday. "[Monday] night, they seemed to load up. That's one of the best lines in hockey."

• Carter Hart will face the Avalanche for the first time in his career.

The 21-year-old goalie is 8-2-2 with a 1.96 goals-against average and .928 save percentage over his last 12 starts.

Projected lineup

Forwards

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
James van Riemsdyk-Morgan Frost-Tyler Pitlick
Scott Laughton-Kevin Hayes-Joel Farabee
David Kase-Mikhail Vorobyev-Chris Stewart

Defensemen

Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen
Travis Sanheim-Justin Braun
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg

Goalies

Carter Hart
Brian Elliott

 

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