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Greenberg: Secondary Scoring

by Jay Greenberg / Philadelphia Flyers
The hat trick Couturier scored as a 19-year-old, in the second playoff game he ever played in, while frustrating Evgeny Malkin besides, was one of the more memorable individual playoff performances for a franchise that has had no shortage of them.

It was so good it teased for more.  The fans, media and even Couturier’s coaches have pleaded for it. And he gets the message.

"I think I can score more, yeah,” Couturier says. “I want to be a 200-foot player.”

In Tuesday night’s 4-3 victory over Montreal, he pretty well covered all 200.

The Canadiens were within about 35 of the Flyers goal when Couturier’s quick stick foiled a shot by Andrei Markov, sending Brayden Schenn alone for about 155 feet towards a breakaway game-opening goal.  Couturier was about 25 up the wall in the Montreal zone when he stripped Daniel Carr and only two from the net when Couturier completed that play off a carom from the backboards.


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That put to the best possible use all the areas in which to win a game, a Cout-tour-de force, so to speak, displaying the all-around value of one of the franchise’s main men – at age 23 no longer is a boy  -- going forward.

Thursday night in Minnesota, Couturier followed up with his 11th point in the last ten games, again not looking lost as he went to the net after being lost by four different members of the Wild to convert Michael Raffl’s nifty passout.

Except for two bad third-period giveaways, the Flyers would have won impressively in regulation, but they won regardless in overtime, 4-3, on Michael Del Zotto’s second goal.  The Flyers, 10-5-2 in their last 12, are back in the playoff hunt because their hunt for secondary scoring has been suspended.

Schenn followed up his three-point night on Tuesday with an assist on the first Del Zotto goal, bringing his point spurt to six in three games.  The big line of Wayne Simmonds and the reunited Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek then set up the second Del Zotto goal in overtime, to give the Flyers four goals in consecutive games, pretty good for the NHL’s 29th highest scoring game.

There is a huge amount of evidence – including a spirited run to the playoffs from a disastrous start in 2013-14, and an NHL scoring title competed for in 2014-15 -- that Giroux and Voracek are at their best together. And there have been samplings gleaned over the last two seasons that Schenn and Couturier can bring out the best in each other.

Among Schenn’s 18 goals and 47 points last season, seven goals and 15 points came in two stretches on Couturier's line. Couturier scored three of his 15 goals and 10 of his 37 points over those spans.

Once he gets to the net, Couturier always has been efficient, the breakaway goal he scored in San Jose last week demonstrating why he has been used in shootouts by three different Flyer coaches.

Is he a good third line center who, for lack of better alternatives at present, is being forced to anchor a No. 2 unit? Or, a fifth-year pro with skills that made him an eighth-overall pick blossoming before our eyes?

Eleven points in Couturier’s last 10 games is evidence towards the latter. But we have seen similar spurts, after which the 200-foot player reverts back to the 120-foot player.

It’s been two seasons of robbing Peter to pay Paul for Flyer coaches trying to put the right guys in the right spot that can make Simmonds more productive at even strength, and coax more consistency from Schenn and Couturier. Everybody knows this club has have needed another top six forward to make two good scoring lines. But when you look around the league, however, how many teams don’t?

Chicago has won three Cups in six years with the luxury of throwing Patrick Kane at you on one line, then Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa on another. Pittsburgh is the team you love to hate because it has two top five players in the league in Malkin and Crosby.

Dallas is in the President’s Trophy race because it can hit you with Tyler Seguin, then Jason Spezza, and the development of Evgeny Kuznetsov in a one-two tandem with Nicklas Backstrom has taken Washington up a notch, too, to Cup-contending status.

Thanks to the salary cap and a 30-team league, you have to be an old coot, not a young Cout, to recall a league where team after team, shift after shift, made opposition coaches choose their poison.

Wednesday’s trade of Vinnie Lecavalier and Luke Schenn to the Kings has opened up some cap room sooner rather than later, but offense is at such a premium around the league that it still is not going to be easy for Ron Hextall to obtain.  In the meantime, the Flyers are far from alone in the search for secondary scoring and hardly the only club having to look first for answers from within.

It seems like an old problem, but Couturier and Schenn still are young guys. Together this week they have been what the Flyers envisioned that startling June 2011 day that Paul Holmgren decided to retool with both of them.
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