Couturier's dominance not limited to offense

Couturier's dominance not limited to offense
April 14, 2012, 4:02 am
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PITTSBURGH Even if Sean Couturier werent tasked with an incredibly heavy defensive responsibility, he would have had a game for the history books Friday night.
The Flyers rookie netted three goals including both the game-tying marker and the insurance goal in the closing minutes of regulation in the Flyers wild 8-5 Game 2 victory (see game recap).
But thats not all that Couturier accomplished in the game.
Dont forget, he had to play against probably the best player in the league, Evgeni Malkin, Jaromir Jagr said. If he wouldnt score any goals, I would say he had a great game. But he also played great defense and also scored three goals. I dont know if I know any words to describe his game today. Awesome. Maybe something better than that. He was unbelievable.
Only a few days ago, Jagr said he expected that these Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Pittsburgh Penguins would be a big test for the young Flyers center. But, he also said, he expected the series would show just how good Couturier truly is.
Jagr was right and it didnt take long.
Couturier has now outscored Malkin in this series, 3-0. Points-wise, Couturier has the 4-2 advantage. Hes limited the Penguins sniper to just two assists and only five shots in on goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. Perhaps best of all, he puts it right into perspective.
It feels good. Its kind of a bonus, Couturier said. I just try to limit his offense and not give him too much time and space. And so far weve done a good job. But its going to get tougher and tougher. Hes going to bounce back for sure.
Couturier is only 19 years old, the youngest Flyer on the roster. And yet, standing before a throng of reporters after the game, he held the puck with which he scored his third goal of the evening with an air of nonchalance. Friday was his first-ever NHL hat trick, scored at an impeccable time. He was the first Flyers rookie to have a multi-goal playoff game since Andy Delmore did it 12 years ago. His four points as a rookie tied a 27-year-old franchise record.
And yet, when he spoke about his accomplishment, he sounded much more like a mature veteran than a kid who just finished his second playoff game a kid who many believed wouldnt be NHL ready for at least another year.
Certainly hes a mature kid, coach Peter Laviolette said. He comes from a good family, a hockey family. I think hes really well-liked in the locker room by his teammates, hes got a real nice personality to him. But I think whats allowed him to increase his minutes and his responsibility is his hockey sense.
That hockey sense is undeniable. The Flyers elected to draft Couturier over the summer in great part because of his defensive game. When introducing himself to reporters at rookie camp back in July, he emphasized his defensive responsibility, the way hes been trained to play both ends of the ice.
That might be the way he reads his own game, but as it turns out, some of his teammates see a lot more to him than that.
I was saying exactly that to a French reporter. I was saying that since the beginning of the season weve seen a lot of Couturier playing great defense, and its a big part of his game, Max Talbot said. But I said that I think the more Seans going to grow and mature, I think hes going to turn into a real dangerous offensive player. And I think everybody saw that tonight.
For days, the Flyers and their coach have fielded questions about whether having so many rookies on the roster in the playoffs would be a disadvantage. The postseason is a different animal, after all, and nerves can play a big factor.
But Couturier said it didnt take long at all to shove off the nerves. He prepared just like he does for every other game, he said, aware of his job and ready to do what he needed to in order to help his team succeed.
Once you get out there, after your first shift, its just like any other game, Couturier said. Just work hard and have fun.
The rookies, as it turns out, are doing just fine.
Couts played unbelievable game, Claude Giroux said. Playing against one of the best players in the league, hes been able to play pretty good.
The games over, weve got to put it behind us and be ready, because theyre going to come out hard. But at the same time, were pretty happy with guys stepping up.
E-mail Sarah Baicker at sbaicker@comcastsportsnet.com.