Monday, December 29, 2014

Hottest line in hockey?

Jake Voracek said two weeks ago the Flyers' line of Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Steve Downie was the hottest line in hockey. He might be right.

Hottest line in hockey?

Flyers forward Sean Couturier. (Mark Humphrey/AP)
Flyers forward Sean Couturier. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

DETROIT -- Maybe Jake Voracek was right.

Well, we know he was right on Wednesday, as he wisely predicted at the Flyers’ morning skate that the power play would soon be hot.

But I’m actually talking about his statement from a week back, when he called the Flyers’ line of Sean Couturier, Steve Downie and Matt Read the “hottest line in hockey.”

They’ve been good, but it seemed like a little bit of a reach. After all, the Flyers have one of the league’s weakest overall offenses - how could they possible have the hottest line?

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Turns out, Voracek might not be all that far off.

The trio combined for 9 points in Wednesday’s furious comeback against the Red Wings in front of a national television audience: a career-high 4 for Couturier, 3 for Read and 2 from Downie.

Over their last 10 games, they’ve combined for 26 points: Couturier (5-5-10), Read (5-4-9), Downie (1-6-7).

It’s hard to call them a third line anymore, even though they have the most defensive responsibilities of any Flyers line. They actually play more minutes than the usual second line of Brayden Schenn, Vinny Lecavalier and Wayne Simmonds - who have been joined by Michael Raffl in Lecavalier’s absence due to back spasms.

“They haven’t changed much,” coach Craig Berube said of the line. “They just keep plugging along, doing the right things with the puck and checking. Because of their checking, they get offensive chances because of their position. Their composure with the puck is really good. They play the system well.”

Is it something about their composition that makes them work? Read called it “a little bit of instant chemistry,” but it’s undeniable that Downie’s presence has transformed the duo that had been together most of the season so far.

“They bring a little bit of everything,” Berube said. “Obviously a big centerman (Couturier) that plays his position really well. They’ve got some speed with ‘Reader,’ he takes the puck wide and he’s got good hands. And they’ve got Downie who is really strong with the puck on the walls and around the net.”

Couturier has been one of the Flyers’ top players for more than a month now, but previously that didn’t include scoring. He now has 4 goals in 4 games.

I’ll be the first to admit that I thought it might have been wise for Paul Holmgren to explore Couturier’s trade value last summer. If he didn’t start scoring, or at least show glimpses of the offensive player we saw in the 2012 playoffs, his value might have soon plummeted. Strong defensive players don’t grow on trees, but there are reliable guys out there with half the value and half the salary. His defense seemed to wane in last year’s lockout-shortened season.

It seems that’s because too much was being asked of him by Peter Laviolette. The coaching change has done wonders for the 20-year-old. I caught up with Couturier and Berube a couple weeks back and both seemed confident this would happen. Sometimes, it's important to be reminded that Couturier cannot even legally by an alcoholic beverage in the United States - he turns 21 on Saturday.

MOTOR CITY MIRACLE: Berube was informed after the game that the Flyers’ comeback earned them just their second win (1-16-0-2) at decrepit Joe Louis Arena since 1988. 

That set off a humorous exchange with reporters in the post-game scrum.

Berube: “I know, I was playing the last time,” Berube said. “I think I had three points.”
Reporter: “Did you really?”
Berube: “I don’t know. Look it up.”

Well, I looked it up. Turns out, Berube was in the AHL for that win on Nov. 4, 1988, but he wasn’t all that far off. He was there for the last win before that - Feb. 23, 1988 - and he did have two points

It was significant because out of the 1,054 career games he played in the NHL, it was his first ever multi-point game and ended up being one of only 12. Berube finished his career with 61 goals and 159 points to go along with 3,149 penalty minutes - 7th all-time.

QUOTABLE: Berube wasn’t thrilled with the call on Zac Rinaldo when he joined Downie in the box to create the 5-on-3 advantage for Detroit that ultimate game them a 3-1 lead: 

“To me, when you’re already down a man, that’s cheesy. That’s just my opinion.”

For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers

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Frequent Flyers is your home for news and analysis of all things orange and black.

Frank Seravalli Daily News Staff Writer
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