Couturier puts sophomore slump behind him


Couturier puts sophomore slump behind him

This is a season of redemption for the Flyers.
For the team, the coaching staff and the general manager.
And yet, there is no escaping the fact that a number of players see it as a personal redemption for themselves.
Among them, 20-year-old center Sean Couturier, who was on the ice Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center during the Flyers' 4-3 shootout exhibition loss to the Capitals. Joel Rechlicz got the winner.
Couturier had two assists in the game, playing between Jason Akeson and Jake Voracek. That line scored two goals.
In 2011-12, Couturier was among the Calder Trophy nominees for Rookie of the Year with 13 goals, 27 points and a plus-18 rating in 77 games with 14 minutes of ice time a game. He was outstanding on the penalty kill that season.
Last year? The lockout-shortened season was a personal disaster.
“It was an up-and-down season,” Couturier said. “Not what I wanted. I wish it had been better. It’s behind me now. I’m just looking forward to a better season.”
He had just four goals and 15 points in 46 games but more importantly, his solid defensive play had vanished with a minus-8 rating while playing a hair under 16 minutes a night.
“A lot of times second-year players don’t have as good a year,” said Craig Berube, who coached the Flyers in Philadelphia while Peter Laviolette handled the split-squad in Toronto.
“The one thing I know with Coots is that he is an intelligent hockey player. He knows how to play the game. That is not going to go away. He looks pretty good this year, looks energized.”
What has to be better this season?
“I think my whole game,” Couturier said. “A little bit of everything. Last year, my defensive game kind of lacked at times. I got to be more constant offensively, as well, and produce more.
He put on a little weight -- almost eight pounds -- and you see it as he checked in at 208 pounds in training camp. The organization wanted him to bulk up over the summer. All rookies coming out of junior take a couple of years to “fill out” but it happens.
Berube feels Couturier is much better and the added weight has enhanced -- not hurt -- his game. He said his initial burst in the first 10 feet is better, much like the hot start that Claude Giroux has in his skates.
“The first 10 feet is where he needed to be quicker,” Berube said. “That’s where people like Jake Voracek get away from guys -- they get off, then they’re gone. That’s where he had to get quicker for me. Once he gets going, he’s fine. You pull away from people and create space for yourself."
Couturier is not the only player who gained needed weight. Defenseman Oliver Lauridsen gained a whopping 12 pounds to weigh in at 232. He trained with boxers to be more physical and a better fighter on the ice. Gaining muscle is important to young players.
“Last year, I played at about 200,” Couturier said. “As I get older, I want to get bigger and stronger. That’s one part of the game where guys are so strong on the puck. You want to get stronger and out-battle these guys.
“The organization wanted me to get bigger and stronger. I went home and tried to get bigger and stronger and I think I did a pretty good job. I feel good [on ice]. I feel stronger and my skating is more powerful, as well.”
Laviolette was pleased, too. He feels Couturier need to be physically stronger in his board play for one-on-one battles. Much of the drills in the first part of training camp practices every day focus just on that aspect -- one-on-one battles.
“What we do out there [is] designed to be part of what we do through the course of a game,” Laviolette previously said during training camp. “With that comes a lot of board work and battle play in the offensive zone. The first half of the sessions are up and down the ice and skating and skills.
“The second half is more geared to competitive nature. Guys getting into battles. Sean is stronger. That comes. When you first see someone at age 18-19 and then see them again at age 23, a whole progression takes place.”
That’s what is happening now with Couturier. He wants to turn this muscle into offensive point production, too.
“I have always been a two-way player no matter what I do,” he said. “It’s nothing new. I know I can produce offensively, go out and show what I can do.
“The last 15-20 games [last year] I felt I played better. I finished strong. This year, I want to build on that and keep pushing and improving.”
The big question in camp is who will play left wing on his line with Matt Read. It was a given that that job would have gone to Dan Cleary had he not backed out of a tryout and future contract with the Flyers and signed with Detroit.
Now it’s a wide-open competition with Tye McGinn, Michael Raffl and even Marcel Noebels.
“Obviously, I’d like to know who I am going to play with,” Couturier said. “It doesn’t really change my mindset. I just want to go out and compete hard. Try to get better.”
Would a grinder or a skill player best complement that line?
“I don’t know,” Couturier said. “Anybody they put there I will have to adapt to whatever style there is. Whatever they ask me to do. Whatever role I can do to help the team.”
Cleary, who is 34, was capable of playing both roles which is why the Flyers liked him. One thing seems certain: The opening will be filled with a younger player.
That player could be Scott Laughton, McGinn or Raffl.
“We have different guys here who can play different roles,” Couturier said. “We have a good group here. It doesn’t matter.”

Don't expect Brandon Manning to lose his role when Radko Gudas returns

Don't expect Brandon Manning to lose his role when Radko Gudas returns

MONTREAL — It figures to be the hardest decision that Flyers coach Dave Hakstol has to make, but if Radko Gudas is to enter the lineup Tuesday against Buffalo, someone has to come out.
And what happens with the Flyers tonight in Montreal could impact that.
A year ago, in the blink of an eye, people would suggest Brandon Manning as the obvious pick to exit the lineup.
Yet since the preseason, the guy they call “Man Dog” — sometimes Hakstol refers to him as “Mad Dog” — has been the Flyers' best two-way defenseman. And he’s done it despite suffering a left shoulder injury in training camp.
Hakstol has so much faith in Manning that he switched up rookie Ivan Provorov so the 26-year-old Manning could settle the 19-year-old down. Given the ages here, that’s saying something.
Manning admits he felt honored being asked to be a mentor.
“As a young player, I’ve been in the same situation,” he said. “Obviously, last year being my rookie season, it was different.
“But just being a little older, having a lot of experience in the American League, I just wanted to make him comfortable out there. Make it as easy as possible for him.”
Through five games, Manning has a goal and four points and is a team-high plus-5. While the Flyers may have missed Gudas' physical edge, there’s no way Manning will be the odd man out “if” Hakstol makes a lineup change against the Sabres.
Even if he does make a move, Manning is supremely confident he’s earned his keep. He has been defensively sound without the puck, challenging entries at the blue line, handling his man down low and generating offense when he has a chance.
The Flyers gave him a two-year, $1.95 million contract in July to avoid an arbitration hearing.
“My attitude after I got the new contract was I wanted to present myself as a top-six D-man,” Manning said. “A lot of people are saying, ‘He’s a seven or eight,’ but I don’t listen to that stuff.
“Coming into the season, I saw myself as a top-six guy, I felt good in the playoffs ... just continue to get better and grow.”
Hakstol says he’s seen significant growth in Manning’s game.
“Steady improvement,” Hakstol said. “Last year was the first time he was able to get into a stretch of games. He knows he is in the lineup and what his role is.
“You got to be careful about reading into the last couple months of last season because sometimes that doesn’t carry over. But we see continued, confident, reliable, two-way play out of Mad Dog. He continued that again the other night [against Carolina].”
Hakstol said he liked the result of moving Mark Streit back with his old partner, Nick Schultz, and giving Manning a rookie to school a bit.

“They were a solid pair,” he said.
The Flyers' lineup tonight against Les Canadiens is unchanged from Carolina.
Manning says he has seen the biggest improvement in his play when compared to two years ago. Playing consistently in the lineup since last season has allowed his game to evolve a bit.
Manning came here in the fall of 2010 as an undrafted free agent and had already played more than three seasons in the Western Hockey League, where he began his pro career. By 2011, he was with the Phantoms. There were Flyer call-ups here and there but nothing of substance until last season, when he played 56 games in the NHL, largely because of injuries across Hakstol’s blue line. He and Gudas were a strong pairing from early-February to season’s end.
“The finish last year gave me a lot of confidence,” Manning said. “This year, more ice time, a little 4-on-4, playing on the penalty kill allows you to become more involved in the game.
“I’ve taken that on and tried to build off it. If you look at my career from junior, I’ve gotten better every single year.”
As for the nickname, it was one of the few lasting treasures left behind by Harry Zolnierczyk during the Peter Laviolette era. Except some people still call him Mad Dog, which is why Manning wears an undergarment that says “Man Dog.”
“Last year, Hak and Lappy started called me Mad Dog and then sometimes it’s Man Dog,” Manning. “I think he should know. It’s on my shirt.”
Hakstol is aware.
“He has a nickname and I have mine [for him],” Hakstol laughed.
Dale Weise’s three-game suspension won’t end until after the Buffalo game. He still has declined to talk about it.
His previous suspension was in 2013, when he was in Vancouver and had an illegal hit on Taylor Hall during an exhibition game.
Weise admits he badly wanted to play tonight against his former club.
“I look forward to playing here but we play here [again] in two weeks,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t come here twice a year.
“If it had been the end of the year, I would have been a little upset. It’s nice to come back in two weeks.”
F: Schenn-Giroux-Simmonds
D: MacDonald-Gostisbehere
G: Mason

Flyers-Canadiens 5 things: Long week starts with a bang

Flyers-Canadiens 5 things: Long week starts with a bang

Flyers at Canadiens
7:30 p.m. on CSN, Pregame Live at 6:30

The Flyers’ mettle will be tested this week with a stretch of five games in seven days.

That’s a lot of pucks.

It starts Monday night when the Flyers (2-2-1) visit the hot-starting Montreal Canadiens (4-0-1) at the Bell Centre.

Let’s get you set with five things to know for the matchup:

1. Goals, goals, goals
There should be an abundance of them Monday night.

The Canadiens are scoring an NHL-most 4.00 goals per game while the Flyers, coming off a six-goal outburst, are third at 3.80.

Montreal has been scary good through five games. Not only are the Canadiens lighting the lamp at a league-best clip, but they’re also allowing the fewest goals per game at 1.60 a night. They have hockey’s No. 1 goal differential (plus-11) and No. 8 penalty kill, having thwarted 23 of 25 opponents' power plays (92.0 percent).

The Canadiens' offseason additions of defenseman Shea Weber and backup goalie Al Montoya have paid instant dividends. Weber, acquired in a blockbuster trade that sent P.K. Subban to the Predators, has one goal, four assists and leads all NHL blueliners with a plus-8 rating. Montoya, who filled in early for a flu-stricken Carey Price, is 2-0-1 with a 1.30 goals-against average and .962 save percentage. Price, the 2014-15 Hart Memorial Trophy winner (NHL MVP), looks in form after playing just 12 games last season because of a knee injury.

2. A fresher Ghost
Shayne Gostisbehere went off for three points (one goal, two assists) in the Flyers’ 6-3 win over the Hurricanes on Saturday, his biggest output of the season.

It just so happened to come in a game in which Gostisbehere registered his lowest ice time of the season at 16:45, a significant drop from his previous low of 20:57. Before the defenseman’s three-point game, Gostisbehere played an average of 23:14 over the prior three games while totaling one point and a minus-3 rating.

Is it a coincidence Gostisbehere’s best game yet was in far less ice time? Maybe, but the 23-year-old is playing the Flyers’ most minutes (21:29 per game) after undergoing offseason surgery and finishing the longest year of his hockey life.

Defensemen Mark Streit (22:45), Nick Schultz (19:44) and Brandon Manning (18:41) all played season highs in minutes on Saturday, and there’s no way that was by mistake.

If head coach Dave Hakstol can manage Gostisbehere’s ice time and not rely so heavily on the second-year blueliner, it can only help the Flyers. A more rested Gostisbehere is a better Gostisbehere — and we all know how vital the 2015-16 Calder Trophy runner-up is to the Flyers’ power-play success, as well as defensive coverage.

3. Stop and start
Speaking of defensive coverage, while the Flyers are scoring quite a bit, they’re not stopping anyone. The orange and black are surrendering 3.80 goals per game — tied for fifth-most in the NHL — which is exactly what they score on average.

The Flyers can’t consistently bank on winning goal-fests.

Starting fast will be critical against the Canadiens, who close games as well as anyone. Montreal is outscoring its opposition 17-6 through the second and third periods. The Flyers have just one goal in the first period.

Facing this Habs team, it’ll be problematic if the Flyers fail to get going early.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Matt Read, why not? With five goals, the 30-year-old is astoundingly tied for second in the NHL with Maple Leafs phenom Auston Matthews. Last season, it took Read 29 games to score five goals. The previous season, he needed 56 games. This year, just five. Until he comes back to Earth, Read will be worth watching as much as any other Flyer.

Canadiens: The 22-year-old Alex Galchenyuk racked up career highs last season in goals (30) and points (56). To start this season, the 2012 No. 3 overall pick has a goal and four assists in five games. Young and offensive-minded, Galchenyuk has given the Flyers trouble in the past with 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 11 career games against them.

5. This and that
• Steve Mason has played in the Flyers’ last four games with three starts and one relief appearance. Michal Neuvirth has not played since last Tuesday. He is 6-4-2 with a 2.14 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 13 lifetime games against Montreal.

• Price is 11-9-0 with a 2.61 GAA and .916 save percentage in 21 career games against the Flyers.

• Jakub Voracek leads the Flyers in points with seven but is third in the NHL in penalty minutes with 24.

• The Canadiens have won three straight games by a combined score of 13-4.

• Defenseman Michael Del Zotto (knee) and forward Scott Laughton (knee) returned to practice on Sunday.