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A New French Connection

by Anthony SanFilippo / Philadelphia Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. – The way Peter Laviolette juggles lines, it’s not likely that this line will last long enough for the nickname to stick, but let’s have some fun while we have the chance, shall we?

Today at practice, Laviolette flip-flopped Danny Briere and Matt Read, getting Read on the left wing with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds.

Meanwhile, Briere moved to the right wing on a line with Simon Gagne and Sean Couturier.

Of course, that prompted Philadelphia Inquirer beat writer Sam Carchidi to call them the new French Connection.

“I knew that was coming,” Briere said with a smile.

And why not. Rene Robert, Gilbert Perrault and Rick Martin they are not, but it’s an interesting trio with three completely different roles.

Briere is the goal scorer. Gagne is the two-way forward who contributes on both ends of the ice. Couturier is the defensive-minded center.

And the Flyers are hoping they can take advantage of certain matchups and be productive.

“When you are not winning games there’s going to be changes,” said Briere. “Hopefully with the other two French guys we can start to get something [going]. I’ve played with Simon quite a bit before, so at least it’s somebody I know and we get some young legs with us [Couturier] so it should be fun.”

Briere played with Gagne some in the 2009-10 regular season. But when the Flyers went on their playoff run to the Stanley Cup Finals, it was Briere with Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino that took off in the playoffs, as Gagne played with Mike Richards.

Gagne has played well since returning to the Flyers via a trade last month, but Briere and Couturier have had their share of ups and downs.

Briere has never gotten going offensively after starting the season behind the eight ball with a fractured wrist he suffered in Germany during the lockout.

Meanwhile, Couturier is mired in a bit of a sophomore slump offensively, going 21 games without a goal and 10 games without a point.

Yet, he is still considered a top defensive forward on the team, and as such has seen increased minutes over last season.

“Last year he was playing [14] minutes a game. This year he’s playing [17],” Briere said of his roommate. “To be able to play 17-18 minutes a game you have to be doing something well. His role has increased. People expected him to go from scoring [13] goals last year to scoring 25 right away. I think he’s doing fine. Like everyone else in this room he’s had a game here or there that weren’t up to par, but I think Sean is playing good. He’s a force defensively and that’s his role on this team.”

Couturier is often given the assignment of shutting down an elite player on the opposition, and has done a nice job of that – most notably against Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh, but his offensive numbers have waned this season with more responsibility, which has to be a little cause for concern.

“Expectations always grow with young players and players expect more of themselves as they mature and gain more experience,” Laviolette said. “They learn. They play different situations. They expand their roles on the team. Like all players there’s probably points where you are on top of your game and points where you feel you could be better. That especially comes into play with younger players.

“You have to remember how young he really is. Sean has played well for us at times and at other times he’s probably looking for more consistency in his game.”

Couturier is just 20 years old. He’s only played in 102 games in the NHL. So there is still a lot of room for growth and improvement and sometimes it takes a measured hand to guide a young player like Couturier down the right path – and that’s what Laviolette is trying to do.

“There’s a time to be firm and there’s also a time with young players to talk to them and understand their situation with where they are at and help them find their confidence and find their game,” Laviolette said. “I think Sean played a strong game for us [against Buffalo] and I think he’s not alone from the[Boston] game. We all needed to play better than we did [in] the [Boston] game… So, for him to come back and have a strong performance against Buffalo, I think that’s a good starting point to try to work your way out of something.”

And the key to working his way out of that something is to focus on different parts of his game that don’t include the statistically measurable.

“I try not to think too much about my production,” Couturier said. “I just try to [pay attention] to details. Things haven’t really gone my way but I’m going to keep working hard and things will turn around soon.”

He has two goals and five assists for seven points this season in 25 games, so yes he is off pace from the 13-14-27 numbers he posted last season, but not by a lot, as he is on pace for 24 points if this was an 82-game season.

Nevertheless, putting him between two players like Briere and Gagne who know each other well is definitely an attempt by coaches to jump start his offensive game to go along with his strong defensive game.

“For the coach to trust him that much [17 minutes per game] he has to be doing good things out there,” Briere said. “He’s doing fine. People want to look at goals and assists, but that’s not really his role. He’s been good on the penalty kill. Hopefully the goals will start coming for him, but I don’t think he has to worry too much.”


NOTES: After sitting out one game as a healthy scratch, Erik Gustafsson looks like he’s going to be back in the lineup tomorrow, taking a regular shift in practice with Andrej Meszaros. Gustafsson said he learned a lot by watching the Buffalo game and realized that he has more time than he thinks when he’s on the ice… Kimmo Timonen did not practice, but the team called it a maintenance day. Timonen will play tomorrow.

To contact Anthony SanFilippo email or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37

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