The Flyers' Sean Couturier, center, 19, is drawing some peculiar comparisons from his teammates.
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PHILADELPHIA -- At 19, winger Sean Couturier is drawing head-turning comparisons from his teammates after two games of Philadelphia's first-round playoff series against the Penguins for helping to shut down Evgeni Malkin's line fairly well and scoring a hat trick Friday in Game 2.
"I think Jordan Staal comes to my mind," Flyers winger Max Talbot said of his former Penguins teammate. "He was really mature when he was 18. You could see his offensive side of things, but he was really, really [strong] defensively. Jordan Staal has probably become one of the best third-line centers. ... But definitely a great player, so Sean has a great future in front of him."
Flyers winger Jaromir Jagr went even further, saying Couturier evokes memories of Hall of Fame two-way center Ron Francis. Jagr and Francis won two Stanley Cups with the Penguins.
"I don't think I've [seen] anybody in my hockey career that good defensively at a young age," Jagr said. "Be up one goal, last minute of the game, and he's there. A key faceoff, and he's there all the time. I would say he's our best defensive forward. Age 18, 19 years old -- Ron Francis was kind of like that. "
Perhaps most remarkably, Philadelphia has forged its 2-0 series lead going into Game 3 today at Wells Fargo Center with contributions from a lot of young players.
Couturier, the eighth overall pick in the draft last year, is one of five Flyers who entered the series as NHL playoff newbies.
The others are center Brayden Schenn (one goal, two assists, six hits, 9-8 on faceoffs), center Matt Read (one assist, 5-14 on faceoffs), winger Eric Wellwood (no points, one shot, one hit) and defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon, who had two hits in Game 1 before sustaining an undisclosed injury.
In addition, winger Jakub Voracek (one overtime goal, two assists, eight shots, five hits) has played in six playoff games, rugged forward Zac Rinaldo (no points or shots, three hits) in four playoff games, and winger Wayne Simmonds (no points, nine hits) in 14.
Those represent mixed results, but, for the most part, the numbers are strong for players with limited playoff experience -- and it's a group that makes up more than a third of the lineup.
"A lot of the young guys, after getting that first period underneath us, felt a lot better, like getting the monkey off your back," Read said. "It's what I expected. It's hard-fought. You had to fight for every inch out there. It's good get out there where the stakes are so high."
Not only are the playoffs new to the five Flyers, but they also got their baptism on the road.
"You can talk about it as much as you want," Talbot said. "You can try to tell them that it's going to be really intense, the crowd is loud [in Pittsburgh], but, as long as you haven't seen it, it's not explainable. It was loud. There was a good energy. But once we kind of got settled in, they got comfortable."
Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette said responsibility was nothing new for the young and inexperienced players, and he and his staff already had come to trust them.
"We didn't go, 'Oh, my God, it's your first playoff series!' I don't think that would help them," Laviolette said.
"Our younger guys have been utilized in every situation imaginable at this point. They had the opportunity to be a part of ['24/7' on] HBO, part of the Winter Classic, and never once has there been any lack of confidence from our staff, our organization or their teammates. ... This was their first opportunity at the playoffs, but they gave us no reason to believe that life would be any different than it was [before]."
Couturier might not get another hat trick this series, but he seems just as satisfied with being matched against Malkin, the 2011-12 NHL scoring champion who has two assists but a plus-minus rating of minus-5 through two games.
"It's not an easy task, obviously," Couturier said. "He's one of the best in the world. He's big and strong on the puck
"It feels good [to get that assignment]. It's kind of a bonus. Just limit his offense and not give him too much time and space, and, so far, we've done a good job. But it's going to get tougher and tougher."