Sean Couturier didn’t register a point in the Flyers two first-period goals of last night’s 3-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. But without him, they don’t happen. Hard work by the first-line center along the right boards ultimately popped the piuck onto Jake Voracek’s stick, who slid it across the high slot to Claude Giroux for a one-timer that beat Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford to the short side for a 1-0 leasd at 4:58. A little over seven minutes later Couturier worked the other side of the ice, his long reach securing a puck around a Chicago defenseman ala Keith Primeau and sending it across the slot to start a series of passes that ended with Voracek firing into a wide open net on the other side for a 2-0 lead.
Brian Elliott. It was a bad night for Brian bashers. He faced 37 shots, 14 in a third period in which the Blackhawks emptied their considerable tank. He denied Brandon Saad’s second period rebound with a last-ditch flick of his stick, denied Toews as he danced past Provorov and in alone from the side boards with a little over nine minutes left, stopped Artem Anisimov point blank during a power play with 5:03 left. He fended off that 2-man advantage. I’ll say it again. Michal Neuvirth may be the more talented of the Flyers goaltenders, but Elliott’s better read of the game’s flow is more important right now to a team that starts four young defenseman, two who are rookies. Time and again, as he had in the Flyers 4-2 victory over Toronto two Saturdays ago, Elliott defused the opposition’s cycle either by not surrendering a rebound or with a well-timed freeze. If my defense is whole and in sync then yeah, give me Neuvirth. But it’s more than just luck that Elliott now has six of the Flyers eight victories.
Dominance is the only word to describe the matchup between the Flyers “Ginger” line, and one of the NHL’s most productive for much of this decade. Two of the first three goals scored by the Flyers first line came with Chicago’s Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp on the ice. Even when Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville occasionally quickshifted for a more favorable matchup, the Flyers fourth line handled the challenge admirably and even had a couple chances. By the middle of the second period, second-line left wing Brandon Saad had replaced Sharp on the first line, but the Gingers were still snapping passes as they had during their emergence early last month. After two periods, the Flyers first line was a combined plus-9, the Blackhawks first line a combined minus-5.
Special teams. As important as any matchup was the two-man disadvantage the Flyers killed late in the second after Chicago had pulled to within 3-1. Even one goal there would have changed the complexion of the game. Rather than feed a comeback, it restored a certain control of the game, at least temporarily. Later, when Travis Konecny took a tripping penalty with just under five minutes left, they again rallied.
Déjà vu – almost. Almost in the same spot he coughed up a puck that led to a Colorado goal Saturday night, Gostisbehere got stripped 2:39 into last night’s game by Chicago’s Tommy Wingels along the left boards. It led to a scoring chance for Lance Bouma that Elliott stopped and froze, ending in a scrum that sent Wingel and Voracek off for roughing.
Did you notice? About 11 minutes into the first period, amid a messy line change, Jori Lehtera used his stick to propel Travis Konecny even a little faster as both scrambled back to backcheck. Never seen that before… Gostisbehere’s assist on the Flyers second goal was his 100th point. He has reached that mark in less games (155) than any Flyers defenseman in history… Chicago defenseman Connor Murphy got his first goal of the season to cut the Flyers lead to 3-1 at 12:13 of the second period. The son of Flyers assistant coach Gord Murphy also got into a nasty face-raking math with Couturier along the boards as the period ended. He was booed roundly each time by the fans he once sat next to.