Hockey

Around these parts, we’re familiar with the concept of a unicorn center–i.e. one that takes the dungeon shifts and yet continually turns the ice over to the good end of things. Not like you’re thinking, Beverly Brewmaster, you weirdo. Marcus Kruger was the backstop to two Cup teams doing it, and David Kampf has taken the torch from him and is currently filling the role in exemplary fashion.

But neither of them, nor really anyone, does it as well as Sean Couturier.

Couturier stuck with the Flyers right out of his draft year, becoming one of the league’s best checking centers as a teenager. He routinely drove centers nuts from the dawn of his NHL career with his high-speed, instinctive game that always had him in the right spots. He was the anchor to that team that beat the Penguins in the playoffs where neither team had a goalie, nearly causing Sidney Crosby to start painting with his own bodily fluids. Jonathan Toews has found Couturier to be a complete pain in the ass in their limited meetings per year. They’re not the only ones.

But Couturier has been more than that of late. When the Flyers lacked a #1 center, or Claude Giroux was better utilized on the wing, Couturier slotted up there the past couple seasons. That led to back-to-back 76-points seasons, while still providing his possession-dominant ways.

Couturier has slotted back down this season, but nothing’s changed. Over the past five seasons, only five centers have had worse zone starts than Couturier. Two of them are now out of hockey in Dominic Moore and Ryan Kesler, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Mikael Backlund, and Luke Glendening are the others. None of them have matched Couturier’s Corsi-rating or expected-goals percentage, and no one’s even really close on the latter. You have to get down all the way to find Patrice Bergeron to have a significantly better number than Couturier, and he gets 10% more shift-starts in the offensive zone.

Of course, Couturier didn’t get any Selke consideration until he started putting up those 76-point seasons, because that’s just how these things work as voters really have no idea what they’re looking for when it comes to that award.

Couturier’s $4.3M cap hit per year might be the biggest bargain in the league, considering all the things he can do. If Nolan Patrick is ever able to fill in higher up the lineup (or even healthy), Coots can be the second or third center simply erasing other top centers out of the game. He can be the #1 and score just enough to justify being there. He is the league’s best Swiss-army knife, basically.

So far this year, his line with Oskar Lindblom and Travis Konecny has been the Flyers biggest threat, and that might be the case going forward. Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek have crossed into their 30s, and James van Riemsdyk isn’t too far behind. These three kids are right in their prime or just about to be, and the Flyers path forward is that trio making it easier on the older guys as they start to lose their fastball. That appears to be the plan, and the one the Hawks have to watch out for tonight.

 

Hockey

vs.

PUCK DROP: 1pm

TV: NBCSN in the 606, NHLN outside

WOOTER ICE: Broad St. Hockey

What seemed like a three-year offseason finally comes to an end this afternoon, or at least it sort of feels like it does. This still has an extended preseason feel to it, even though the points will be real. The Hawks don’t play for another week after this, giving it sort of an odd oasis-in-the-desert-of-West-Texas feel. Still, these points might matter come April, so you might as well get them.

We’ll start with the reason we’re here, and that’s the Hawks. The opener feels like new toy day in a way, though the Hawks will have to wait to unveil a couple. Calvin de Haan won’t make the bell, which allows Dennis Gilbert and Slater Koekkoek to be your third pairing and for you to wonder if maybe there isn’t a better way to spend your lunch break. Robin Lehner will cede the first net of the season to Corey Crawford, as he should.

So whatever’s “new” about the Hawks today is what you were kind of worried about before. Olli Maatta will debut next to Brent Seabrook, because of those preseason performances that apparently only the coaches could see. Alex Nylander will get to run with Daydream Nation, as the Hawks make every effort to prove he does in fact give a shit, or slightly more of a shit to actually get inside the circles. No one was actually “worried” about Zack Smith or Ryan Carpenter, because we know what they’re here for. So yeah…ok, maybe it doesn’t have the juice of a real “New Toy Day.”

As far as weird openers in a foreign country that don’t really feel like openers, there are harder landings than the Flyers. Except they do come with a fair amount of speed up front, which is something that will give the Hawks problems all season. And if you’re wondering, “Doesn’t every team have a fair amount of speed up front?” Well, now you see the problem.

The Flyers are in a strange place, where it feels like they’re rebuilding but most of their players have been around a while now, whatever their age. And to help take it a step forward, they have three failed coaches behind the bench. Alain Vigneault seems to get a bounce in his first year or two, but eventually drives everyone nuts and by the time he’s fired it’s usually just about the time his players are constructing a flammable effigy of him or two in the dressing room. He’s also an odd choice for such a young team. Beyond that, what Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo have to offer other than grunts and suggesting “MOAR HITZ,” I can’t tell you.

Still, the Flyers should boast a decent enough top-six, with Giroux and Travis Konecny flanking Sean Couturier up top, and new signing (and way overpaid) Kevin Hayes between Jakub Voracek and either James van Riemsdyk or Oskar Lindblom. It’s not the best top six, but it’s hardly the worst, even if Giroux is something of just a spot-up shooter right now. Joel Farabee turned some heads in camp at 19, and will start in the bottom six today, with the hopes of sticking around longer term.

The real hope for the Flyers is on the back end and especially in the crease, where Carter Hart is hopefully going to end the decades-long reign of all the goblins and evil spirits that have inhabited the Flyers crease. Hart was the only one of eight (!) goalies last year to look good, has been billed as the answer since arriving in the organization, and looks the part. The Flyers can only hope that he is finally the one strong enough to overcome the curse of anyone in orange pads.

The Flyers have promise on the blue line, though Ivan Provorov will have to overcome something of a plateaued year last year. Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim, and Samuel Morin are all young, which is why Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen were brought in to be steadying hands (Niskanen was also brought in to make sure Radko Gudas didn’t turn them all into felons). Shayne Gostisbehere needs to prove he wasn’t just a one- or two-year power play phenomenon, because the Flyers have more than enough talent there to shuffle him along to save money.

Whatever it’s going to be, it starts now. The Flyers don’t have near the speed to destroy the Hawks defense, but they have enough that we can see what the plan actually is here. If they get snowed under by this, especially without de Haan or Connor Murphy in the lineup, we know how big the problems just might be. And whether or not Crow can keep Atlas-ing this team so that it’s scoring can make up the difference.

And…here…we….go.

Everything Else

vs.

RECORDS: Flyers 35-30-8   Hawks 32-30-10

PUCK DROP: 7:30pm

TV: WGN

THEY BLEW UP HIS HOUSE TOO: Broad Street Hockey

Whatever this late-season charge is, and wherever it’s going, continues on Madison St. tonight as the Hawks host the Flyers. They have a chance to put a bad result behind them, and set themselves up once again for what would be a big weekend set against the Avalanche in an old school home-and-home. Essentially, after these three games (certainly four with the Coyotes after that), we’ll be as close to official word as we’ve had on what the last two weeks will be.

There was a moment there when the Flyers were also threatening to crash the playoff party in the East. They won 12 of 14 from January into February, but have been trading wins and losses since and have watched the Penguins, Canes, and Canadiens basically get away from them. They’re six points behind the Jackets with only nine to go, so that’s not happening. And really, this Flyers team doesn’t deserve a playoff spot. And neither do the Hawks, really. It’s one very much still in a rebuild/rebrand/transition/whatever term we use now.

The Flyers have suffered from the up-and-down nature of such a young roster. Not everyone takes a step forward at the same time, and Claude Giroux isn’t crashing in shots at to the tune of 18% anymore to even it out. 10 of the 19 skaters and goalie on display tonight are 25 or under, so the thought is the future is quite bright. And it may be, though it’s hard to see which of the neophyte set is going to be a true star. Nolan Patrick looks functional, but hasn’t yet popped or flashed that he’ll be inspirational soon. Then again he’s 20. Ivan Provorov has struggled under the weight of top-pairing assignments. Shayne Gostisbehere has looked like more than just a power play weapon, but also hasn’t really shown to be more than a second-pairing d-man. Maybe Travis Sanheim?

One who definitely has flashed being something that Philly fans will toast their lagers to before chucking the full glasses/cans at each other (it’s a sign of love there) is goalie Carter Hart. He’s also 20, but is carrying a top-10 SV% in the league and one of the better marks for a rookie in recent history. Flyers fans have been waiting for Hart ever since he started holding the entire WHL by the forehead and letting them uselessly swing their arms. He wasn’t supposed to be here, but thanks to injuries and incompetence from others he is and now he’s going to stay. If you’re any kind of hockey fan you know that the Flyers crease has been a succubus to anyone stepping into it decked in orange since Ron Hextall. Hart just might be the one to break the curse, but as it always is with the Flyers, one has to wait and see before fully committing. Odd things happen to men in masks there.

As for the Hawks, they seem intent on carrying on with this odd and frankly wrong set of forward lines, with Daydream Nation reunited and Dylan Sikura along for the ride. It’s too top heavy for no reason, as Sikura doesn’t really compliment these two in the way they need to maximize. They need a puck-winner like Saad or Caggiula. And that third line doesn’t really do anything. It’s not a checking line because Anisimov is too slow and too soft. It has no creator to score. Hopefully Beto O’Colliton realizes the error of his ways and goes back to what we had after no more than a period. Corey Crawford is your starter.

This one should be much more open than Monday’s what-have-ya. The Flyers don’t have the defense to trap, and it’s not what their young forwards want to do anyway. That should benefit the Hawks, but there’s some sneaky firepower down the lineup for Agents Orange, which means trouble for the trash on the third pairing for the Hawks. And Hart is capable of stealing a game here and there. So the Hawks can’t half-ass this. They can’t half-ass anything. They lost that right long ago.

If the Hawks are serious about this whole playoff push thing, and I’m not convinced they are, they basically have to take the next three, and probably in regulation when it comes to the weekend. Do that and they’ll be ahead of the Avs and at worst sitting on the shoulders of Minnesota and Arizona with the latter on the schedule the very next night. The Hawks have basically fallen in their own vomit every time they had a chance to turn their season serious, and this is probably the last one. Let’s see what they’ve got.

 

Game #73 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

If it’s the Flyers, that means we have to turn to one of our creatures of the internet. We found @FlyGoalScoredBy in 2010 during the Final. He’s been stuck to our shoe ever since. 

So the Flyers have fired a coach and GM. Are we to believe they’re finally on the right path forward? Because we’ve heard that before, y’know…
There was a ton of optimism when Hextall took over, and rightfully so!  He won Cups in LA with rosters he helped build.  We thought our Canada Dry baby had come home but all we got was a very good farm system and a Finnish drug kingpin playing the penalty kill.  Hakstol was, Hextall’s “guy” but bottom line is neither of them did anything net positive with regards to building a contender in this era.  Sure, Hextall’s fingerprints may be on the next Flyers playoff team but nobody gonna remember this time as a fun one.  Chuck Fletcher comes in and by all accounts, has a mandate to change the roster around quickly and decisively.  I guess that means we’re about to lock up Milan Lucic to a max deal.
Is Carter Hart finally going to end the generations of hurt in the crease or will you monsters chew him up and spit out a husk just like always? 
The only good thing about the season has been Carter Hart.  Yeah yeah Couturier looks like a player and some nice small contributions from younger guys, but Hart is it.  Something about his calm demeanor provides stability that I honestly haven’t seen since early Hextall late 80s teams.  I will give him infinite amount of patience and time because he is a good hockey boy who needs love and protection from the likes of you. 
Shouldn’t Ivan Provorov be better than this?
I’m willing to give Provy the benefit of the doubt in a  year as shitty as this one.  I think his positives far outweigh his negatives and besides having a down year when he needs a new contract may be good for business.  As long as MacDonald is on the roster, all other defenseman will be shielded from blame and harm.  Hey, maybe THAT’S why they still give ice to AMac. He’s like a human shield for the young D core.
The Flyers have a shit-ton of cap space next year, though with Konecny, Provorov, and Sanheim to re-sign. They’re going to do something utterly hilarious, right?
I’m thinking we’re locked into a “Player-Coach Vinny Lecavalier” scenario. The Flyers are boring and slow.  They need some juice on this roster to even register in a four-sport town.  Myself and all other zombies are praying from some elite talent to get excited about….or at least sign like eight goons and embrace who we really are.  Does anyone have Colton Orr‘s phone number?

 

Game #73 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built