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Coots and the Kids

A deeper look at why Lindblom-Couturier-Konecny are the hottest line on the Flyers

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer

Over the first seven games of the regular season, the Flyers' most effective line at 5-on-5 has been the trio of Sean Couturier centering right winger Travis Konecny with Oskar Lindblom on the left wing. 

For two games -- in Edmonton on Oct. 16 and against Dallas at the Wells Fargo Center on Oct. 19 -- the line was altered somewhat with team captain Claude Giroux moving onto its left wing. Those three players were regular linemates for much of the 2017-18 and 2018-19 season.

On the opening shift of the Dallas game, Couturier scored to complete a tic-tac-toe line rush goal with Giroux and Konecny. The tally proved to the Flyers only one of the net. In Monday's home game against Vegas, Lindblom was back on the line, with Giroux moving over from wing to center as part of four different reconfigurations of the forward lines. 

Additionally, the Lindblom-Couturier-Konecny line was deployed as a power play unit against Vegas along with defensemen Shayne Gostisbehere and Matt Niskanen.  

"I like what they've done as a line, both at five-on-five and on the power play. They've generated consistent puck pressure on the forecheck. They have protected the puck. And they have been putting pucks in the net for us," Vigneault said.

The line has remained intact on the power play. Vigneault adamantly refuses to label one power play combo as the "first unit" and the other as the "second unit." Instead, he simply calls the latter grouping "Coots' unit"; essentially a 1A and 1B arrangement, with the two supplementing each other but also pushing one another.

On Monday, the Couturier-driven unit struck twice for power play goals. Konecny sniped a goal off a partially broken play in the first period. In the third period, Konecny lifted the stick of a Vegas penalty killer to create a lane for a tape-to-tape connection between Couturier and Niskanen that was deposited in the back of the net.

"When you're seeing that pressure, it is the same thing as 5-on-5. When you've been out there for 35-40 seconds, normally it is time to make a change unless you have full control on the other end. Right now, Coots' unit execution was better and that is why they played more [than the unit with Giroux, Jakub Voracek and James van Riemsdyk]," Vigneault said.

What has made the line so effective? 

It starts with puck possession, as all three players are aggressive in puck pursuit and both Couturier and Lindblom are particularly adept at winning board battles and playing a 200-foot game. Konecny's speed backs off opposing defense and he is fast emerging as one of the better young snipers around the league.

Without question, 2017-18 Selke Trophy finalist and back-to-back 30-goal scorer Couturier is the backbone of this line -- or any line that he's on. The vast majority of shifts, he's in exactly the right position and makes smart plays both with the puck and in off-puck situations.

"Coots is one of the best players in the world, so it's very easy to play with him," Lindblom said on Oct. 8. 

Currently Konecny and Lindblom are tied for the team lead with four goals through seven games. Both Lindblom (second half of 2018-19) and Konecny have previous experience playing with Couturier as their center but this is the first time they've played more than a few mid-line change shifts together. 

Lindblom, for whom Konecny has set up three times for point-blank scoring chances -- one resulting in a third-period tying goal in Vancouver -- earned a primary assist on Konecny's power play goal off a somewhat broken play in the Vegas game. He has praised his linemate's offensive creativity.

Konecny showed some of that creativity on a Matt Niskanen power play goal in Monday's game, lifting the stick of penalty killer to widen the passing lane for a cross-ice feed from Couturier to goal-scorer Niskanen.

"To be honest, I think Coots' pass was going to get through to Nisky, anyway, but I just tried to help it along," said Konecny, who earned a secondary assist on the goal for previously getting the puck to Couturier.

Konecny, the Flyers' resident jokester, broke out in a broad grin on Tuesday when he was asked about Lindblom when his linemate was sitting right next to him in the locker room in Voorhees. 

"He's right there," Konecny said.

Dutifully, Lindblom got up and walked away a few feet, but was still in earshot. Still smiling, Konecny opted to give a serious reply. 

"He's a threat. He's always around those greasy areas where you score goals. AndI don't know how he does it, but he always seems to come up with the puck on the forecheck," Konecny said. "Right now, things just seem to be clicking."

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