The Philadelphia Flyers are in the midst of arguably the most important stretch of their 2019-20 regular-season schedule.
After a horrid road trip, they have a chance to get back on track on home ice with six of seven games at the Wells Fargo Center before the All-Star break. They’re 1-1 so far after beating the NHL-leading Washington Capitals in the second half of a back-to-back, but they couldn’t find the back of the net in a tough 1-0 loss – their first shutout loss of the season – to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Orange and Black with the Boston Bruins coming to town.
The Bruins are tied atop the NHL with 65 points in 46 games. They have been up and down since December, but they’re up recently with a three-game winning streak (and 6-1-2 in their last nine) after going 1-4-4 in their previous nine games. The reigning Eastern Conference champions are showing why they took the St. Louis Blues to seven games.
Boston’s “Perfection Line” of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak has been on the ice for 27 goals which is tied for second-most in the league. Pastrnak leads the league in goals (35) and is fourth in points (65), with Marchand right behind him (62 points). Bergeron isn’t a slouch either with 38 points in 37 games. It’s going to be a tough task to shut them down.
Luckily, Alain Vigneault has the advantage of the last change, allowing him to match up the lines how he chooses. And that starts with Sean Couturier.
Couturier has emerged as a widely-recognized elite two-way center in recent years, and this season is no different. He was able to quiet both Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos in the past two games.
Couturier played nearly 10 minutes (9:57) against Ovechkin at 5v5 on Wednesday night and he did not disappoint. The Flyers out-attempted the Capitals 10-9 in those 10 minutes, with a 6-5 lead in scoring chances and 2-0 lead in high-danger chances. Each team scored a goal, with the Flyers more than doubling the Capitals’ expected goals, 0.49 to 0.24 (67.31 xGF%). That came with Couturier taking six defensive zone draws to just four in the offensive zone, and two in the neutral zone.
Couturier ended the game with an assist – thanks to a great play on the forecheck – on Travis Konecny’s opening goal, five shots on goal, and nine faceoff wins on ten tries. Ovechkin was limited to just four shots on goal as the Flyers came away with a 3-2 win.
The Flyers weren’t as successful against the Lightning, but Couturier did his job in limiting the Lightning’s top line, namely Steven Stamkos.
Couturier played 6:30 against Stamkos at 5v5. The Flyers and Lightning each had six shot attempts, with the Lightning out-chancing the Flyers 1-3. However, the Flyers had the only high-danger chance. That came out to 0.23 to 0.06 expected goals for (80.10%) in the Flyers’ favor.
The Flyers are going to need to do more offensively, but Couturier did a great job of limiting Tampa’s offense with four of his five faceoffs against Stamkos’ line coming in the defensive zone.
Couturier was able to quiet the dangerous top lines of both the Capitals and Lightning so far this homestand, and another tough test looms against one of the best lines in hockey.
Couturier’s performance against Tampa was similar to his play back in November in Boston. He played 5:28 against Bergeron, with the Flyers getting out-attempted 8-6 and out-chanced 1-3, but the Flyers had the lone high-danger chance. Most importantly, the Bruins did not score with Couturier on the ice.
The Flyers are going to need more than just their top line to beat a team like the Bruins, but a strong performance from Couturier and the top-six forwards can go a long way toward a win.
You may remember that Couturier had a hat trick last year against Boston, scoring three straight goals in a 4-3 win on Jan. 16. He’ll be hoping for a similar outcome nearly one year later at The Farg.
Stats via Natural Stat Trick and Money Puck