PHILADELPHIA – The list this season has been lengthy. It goes something like this:
Apologies to anyone who was forgotten. This marks the list of players this year who have taken a regular shift on a line with Matt Read and Sean Couturier.
In the playoffs it’s been Akeson, who has held his own and actually impressed with his play. But that’s the point – no matter who you put with Read and Couturier, it’s probably going to work.
Downie had his best stretch of the season playing with them. Hartnell got out of an early-season funk on that line. Raffl earned himself a new contract with his play there (among other places). Rinaldo looked good there too prior to his end-of-season suspension.
And now it’s Akeson, who has more playoff games to his credit (four) than regular season games (two).
After all, it was Akeson who made the smart play to miss a shot on purpose to have a hard shot carom off the lively end boards onto the stick of Read for the tying goal in Game 4.
And as good as he’s looked in these games – and this isn’t a knock on Akeson – but he probably looks better because he’s playing with Read and Couturier.
They have that ability to do that. They make you look good. Mostly because of their disciplined, defense-first approach to the game.
Everyone sees that the 21-year-old Couturier is a future Selke Trophy candidate – if he’s not among the top five in the sport already – but Read is almost the forgotten guy on the Flyers roster.
He’s a guy who gets credit for being a reliable 20-plus goal guy, and he’s a guy who’s looked at to kill penalties, but he’s often forgotten about as a top two-way player in the sport.
Well, if Couturier is top five, Read’s not far behind. Top 15? Top 20? Somewhere in there.
And he does it with a business-like approach to his game. He’s not flashy. He’s not outspoken. He doesn’t do anything to jump off your television screen. He’s just consistent. Really consistent.
And he and Couturier really mesh well together. They’re good friends away from the rink as well. They approach the game the same way. They talk turkey. They strategize. They are an excellent pair.
“Coots and I always talk about playing smart and simple hockey,” Read said. “No matter who we play with, it’s all a matter of doing the right things out there. Whoever is on our line we sit down and talk to them. We tell them, ‘This is how we want to play. Let’s not force anything. Let’s just do the right thing and we’ll create opportunities by playing good defense.”
It is a very patient approach. It is one that perfectly fits a top-end two-way line. And no matter who has played with them, they have bought into the philosophy when they are on the ice.
“It’s about playing smart out there and keeping your head on a swivel,” Read said. “As soon as their defensemen get the puck you have to check where everyone is and either start skating backward or pressure the puck. They want to create 3-on-2’s so you can’t let their forwards get behind you.”
In Game 3 they did a whale of a job shutting down the line of Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and Martin St. Louis. That trio was stifled and smothered from an offensive standpoint. Meanwhile, Read was able to score the tying goal as the line created some much needed secondary offense to relieve some pressure from Claude Giroux’s line.
And yet, Couturier thinks they can do more – even though they have accounted for a goal in each of the Flyers wins this series.
“I think we’ve done an alright job but I think we can create a little more offense,” he said. “We can keep it in their end and try to take over the momentum of the game and play in their end. Defensively though, we’re pretty good. They’ve been in our end but haven’t done a whole lot, so I think we do a good job overall.”
Read could certainly be a 30-goal scorer and Couturier a 20-25 goal guy if they abandoned some of their defense-first principles from time to time. But, then they wouldn’t be as valuable to the Flyers – or any team for that matter – as they are right now.
And right now, they are two wins away from being one of the final eight teams in pursuit of the Stanley Cup.
And Read, Couturier – and whoever else they’re playing with – wouldn’t want it any other way.
NOTES: Nicklas Grossmann (lower body injury) will miss Game 5. Coach Craig Berube wouldn’t say who would replace him in the lineup, but Hal Gill took all the reps in practice Saturday… The Flyers are 34-25 all time in Game 5 of a playoff series. They are 24-9 all time in a playoff series when winning Game 4, 14-7 all time in series when tied 2-2 and 12-9 all-time in Game 5 when tied 2-2.
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