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Downie paying dividends for Flyers

by Jay Greenberg / Philadelphia Flyers

On the internet, one can find a list of not very smart things that Steve Downie has done during his nine-season NHL career. And yet among the first things that people who have played with talk about is his intelligence.

Vinnie Lecavalier did time with Downie in Tampa Bay and did not find that it was hard time at all.

“In the media it has been about big hits and things like that but he definitely is much more than that,” said Lecavalier. “He is smart player,

“Like on that first goal tonight, not everyone can make that play.”

The Flyers were so long looking for that first goal against the 5-18-1 Sabres Thursday night – more than 34 minutes -- that everyone who suffered their October was beginning to wonder if it was going to come. Fortunately the newest Flyer had a lot more patience than the boobirds. Downie took Sean Couturier’s feed behind the goal line and drifted out 10 feet above the goalline while waiting for Matt Read to free himself from Drew Stafford 20 feet in front of the goal.

“He definitely is one of those guys who has the patience to take a second and make sure the other guy is open and make that good pass,” said Lecavalier. “Not everybody can do that.”

As he fired past Ryan Miller to tie the game 1-1, Read slipped to one knee. But the Flyers were off theirs because of a checking line hardly content to go back to the defensive zone where checkers are supposed to belong. A minute-and-a-half later, Sean Couturier tipped the puck away from Henrik Tallinder along the wall, and found Downie 10 feet away.

Before the puck even arrived, Downie had already taken his look for Read and delivered the puck to him, alone in front of Miller, in one quick backhanded motion.

By reputation, there is supposed to be so much cement in Downie’s head that he could not lift it high enough to make plays like that on successive shifts. But he did, the first by waiting an extra second, the second by not hesitating at all. That is hockey sense to parlay with the dollars and cents decision to exchange the prorated $5.25 million left on Max Talbot’s contact for the prorated $2.65 million remaining on Downie’s.

He can become a free agent at the end of this season. Or, by continuing to play like this he can become a Flyer for the next few years, that decision largely hinging on his health – only once has he played more than 60 games in a season – and his discipline.

“We talk about penalties and took too many again,” said Craig Berube, speaking, among others, of a Jay Rosehill roughing penalty that wiped out a Flyers third period power play when they led only 2-1. Two lazy hooks led to two Ottawa power play goals and briefly, a tie score Tuesday night, the kind of things that have to stop if the Flyers are going to extend this resurgence.

Flirting with disaster on eight manpower disadvantages, they got the obligatory two points from the Sabres but might not have against a better team. Still, after a sluggish first period, they promisingly were able to pick it up, something that seemed beyond them three weeks ago. Three lines drove up the tempo and the third one even scored twice.

“If you want to call it the third one,” said Craig Berube.

No, you don’t, not with Couturier having at least 20-goal potential, not with Read’s speed and not with Downie up to five points in his first six games after having his Flyer re-debut rudely interrupted by an Aaron Volpatti punch. The Flyers took Downie 29th in the 2005 draft for more reasons than he can get under other team’s skins. There are few NHL talent evaluators who don’t believe he isn’t a better player than Talbot, including his current coach.

“He creates offense for that line,” said Berube. “He has very good vision and is strong on the puck, makes a lot of little plays.

“You are checking teams’ top lines with that line and it’s nice to get some offense too, and he provides that. He is a good player along the wall. He doesn’t panic and he’s strong. He’ll do the right thing.”

So did Paul Holmgren to add offense to a team in need of it.

“We shouldn’t say that it is just a defensive line,” said Lecavalier. “They shut down lines but they also play in the offensive zone, which means you are not getting scored on.”

A big score awaits Downie if he can help Couturier, too high a pick at eighth-overall to become just a generic checker, be a lot more. Downie, 14-2-1 this season with one team that had a sizzling start and another that warmed up as he arrived, says that’s a coincidence.

But he made two plays Thursday night that suggests it is not.

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