As you may have heard, the Flyers are 6-0-1 in their last seven games, have earned 13 of a possible 14 points during the successful stretch and have clawed their way out of the Metropolitan Division basement to currently sit just two points behind the New York Rangers for the division’s last playoff spot.
That’s quite an accomplishment considering the way the Orange and Black didn’t exactly start off on the right foot. You know what I’m talking about. No need to rehash the horror scenes and kill the good vibes we’ve got going here.
How have they turned things around?
There are plenty of reasons, but a particularly vital cog in the Flyers’ resurgence has been the “third” line of Matt Read, Sean Couturier and Steve Downie.
Since head coach Craig Berube put the trio together on Nov. 12 when Downie returned to action from a facial injury, they have been running roughshod over opponents.
In that six-game stretch, the line has produced six goals and 12 assists. Five of those goals belong to Read, who has scored two goals in each of his last two games and is tied with Vinny Lecavalier for the team led in goals with eight. The other goal belongs to Couturier, who finally broke his 25-game goal-less drought when he scored last week against visiting Ottawa.
While Downie hasn’t scored, he’s contributed six assists to the cause. The Flyers are 6-1-1 with Downie in the lineup since he was acquired on Halloween for Max Talbot.
Part of the success is due to the line often seeing favorable matchups and taking advantage of them with their skill.
They are so good defensively that the trio usually plays against opponent’s most-skilled line. For example, they’ll see Alexander Ovechkin’s line when they play the Capitals or they’ll see John Tavares’ line when they play the Islanders.
Sometimes, those highly-skilled lines don’t feature the most defensive-minded players. Read, Couturier and Downie take advantage of those defensive deficiencies and put points on the board.
The trio scores timely goals too.
Take for example last Thursday’s win over the Sabres. The Flyers had a lackluster first 30 minutes against a terrible team. That was until the “third” line got out there, went to work on the forecheck, forced a few turnovers, netted two goals courtesy of Read and lit a fire under both the team and the Wells Fargo Center crowd.
They did it again in Saturday’s 5-2 win over the visiting Islanders. The Flyers were sloppy in the first period but the “third” line ignited a three-goal second period when Read scored 46 ticks into the frame.
They are almost reminiscent of the Scott Hartnell-Danny Briere-Ville Leino line that was put together during the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the way they gel despite different styles.
Read is the speedy scorer. Couturier is the defense-first center who is slowly starting to get his scoring talent on track. And Downie is the gritty winger who isn’t afraid to get physical and get into the dirty areas to make a play.
Call them a “third” line if you want, but they’ve been the Flyers’ top line during the team’s recent hot streak.
The softer schedule as of late certainly hasn't hurt either.
During the team’s seven-game point streak, the opponents the Flyers have faced have a combined 54-78-14 record. The only team of any relevance and that currently holds a playoff spot that the Flyers have played in this stretch was those filthy Penguins.
That trend continues tonight when the Flyers visit the Panthers to begin a quick two-game jaunt through Florida.
The Panthers are not a very good team.
With a 6-13-5 record and spared only by the mess with that is the Sabres, they currently sit in second-to-last place in both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference.
They feature solid, young talents in this past draft’s second-overall pick Aleksander Barkov and last year’s rookie-of-the-year Jonathan Huberdeau, but that’s about all there is to write home about them.
But, hey, insane politico goaltender Tim Thomas is the Panthers’ goalie, so there’s that, I guess.
Steve Mason will get the call between the pipes for the Flyers.
The Flyers beat the Panthers, 2-1 during the teams’ first meeting back in October and that was when the Flyers were in full tailspin mode coming out of the gate. In fact, that win was the Orange and Black’s only win in their first seven games.
The Flyers are 4-3-2 away from home this season and have a glorious chance to improve that record and grab two more points that are ripe for the picking.
It’s not 25 freakin’ degrees in South Florida right now like it is here so they won’t have that for an excuse.