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Flyers' Couturier continues to frustrate Penguins

by Adam Kimelman

PHILADELPHIA -- Now in his third NHL season, Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier has played 189 regular-season games and another 11 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

He enters every game with the same goals -- play well in all areas of the ice, be strong in the faceoff circle, follow the game plan installed by the coaches -- but he also knows that he can't bring his "A" game every night.

Sean Couturier
Center - PHI
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 24 | PTS: 34
SOG: 127 | +/-: 2
But in the 12 regular-season games he's played against the Pittsburgh Penguins -- No. 13 will come Sunday when the Flyers and Penguins play the second half of their home-and-home weekend set at Consol Energy Center (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, TSN2) -- Couturier always has found a way to raise his game.

The 21-year-old did that Saturday, picking up two assists and providing blanket coverage on Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, holding the League's scoring leader to two shots, two attempts on net that were blocked to help the Flyers earn a 4-0 victory.

"It's not only me," Couturier said. "Everyone steps up their game and is excited to play the Penguins. There's a lot of edge out there and I think everyone steps up and it's huge. It's a great game."

Couturier might not think he raises his game, but it's obvious to his teammates.

"When he plays Pittsburgh he just plays better," Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. "He ramps up his game to another level and [Saturday] it was another example."

The two assists Couturier had gave him three points -- all assists -- against the Penguins in his career, and he has a plus-1 rating. But what doesn't show up in the box score is the job Couturier has done defending Crosby and the Penguins' other superstar scorer, Evgeni Malkin.

Couturier's history against the Penguins, and Malkin especially, goes back to the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs when Couturier, then a 19-year-old rookie, was matched head-to-head with Malkin, who had led the League in scoring in 2011-12. Couturier held Malkin to three goals in six games, but two of them came in one game and the Flyers won the series and Malkin appeared frustrated throughout.

At the offensive end, Couturier matched Malkin's goal output for the series with a hat trick in Game 2. He became the youngest player since Ted Kennedy of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1945 to have a hat trick in a playoff game.

Saturday marked the first time in three seasons that Couturier has gone head-to-head against Crosby; usually he's played his shut-down role against Malkin. Flyers coach Craig Berube said after the game Saturday that he liked the Couturier vs. Crosby matchup better for his team.

"I just like [Couturier's] positioning on him, and taking his speed away," Berube said. "He's got a good stick.

On Saturday, the Flyers unveiled an 8-foot, 1,300-pound bronze statue of Fred Shero on the former site of the Spectrum, where he coached for seven seasons and won the Stanley Cup twice. (Photo: Zack Hill, Flyers PR) READ MORE ›

"I think with Sid, he's so powerful and fast and quick, if you get on the wrong side of him and you're not positionally really sound, he'll make you look stupid. Couturier is very good positional player; he's got a very good stick."

Whether it's Crosby or Malkin, Couturier said his game plan doesn't change much.

"When we play our game and put pressure and we control the puck, it's not really any different than any other line," Couturier said. "They [Crosby and Malkin] are two great players. Whoever it is, they're both dangerous and at any time they can turn the game around. We take it one shift at a time and try to limit their offense."

Couturier appreciates the attention he's garnered for his shut-down skills against the Penguins, but he's quick to credit his linemates, Matt Read and Steve Downie, for any success he's enjoyed.

"I try to take pride in my defensive game," Couturier said. "I've always been like that, a two-way player, defense first [and] my offense comes after that. ... As a line, we're doing a good job. It's not only me. I've been playing with [Read] the past two or three years and I think we seem to have chemistry playing against their top lines, and [Downie] as well is doing a good job. It's a team effort, a line effort. It's not only me."

However, he did say he sees it as a point of pride that both Flyers coaches he's played for, Peter Laviolette and Berube, have consistently played him against the Penguins' two star centers.

His teammates certainly have noticed the job he's doing.

"It's not everybody that can do that at his age," center Vincent Lecavalier said. "He's very responsible. ... You've got guys like [the Boston Bruins' Patrice] Bergeron that do that, but there's not many guys in the League that do it like he does."


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