Flyers' Couturier polishing power-play skills with Phantoms

Posted: October 03, 2012

SEAN COUTURIER played major minutes in crunch-time situations for the Flyers in front of millions last spring in the Stanley Cup playoffs, as a 19-year-old.

Yet, taping his stick and preparing for a scrimmage with the Phantoms in front of a mere 400 fans at the team's practice facility on Tuesday, Couturier had a pit in his stomach. He never had played in a minor league game before, jumping from junior hockey right to the NHL last season.

"I was nervous," Couturier said. "I didn't really know what to expect."

Under the watchful eye of the Flyers' brass - including coach Peter Laviolette and general manager Paul Holmgren - Couturier settled in and began his audition for an increased offensive role on Tuesday, quarterbacking the Phantoms' power play to two goals.

Even with a handful of locked-out NHL regulars, the Phantoms were downed, 5-3, by the visiting Albany Devils in their preseason opener. Couturier looked steady as ever, collecting two assists.

Known primarily as a shutdown center, Couturier will be given an opportunity to flourish as a scorer. It's not a completely foreign role - he posted back-to-back 96-point seasons to close out his junior career in Drummondville, Quebec - but it's not the one that earned him a spot in Laviolette's lineup 88 times last year.

Couturier averaged just 26 seconds of power-play time per game with the Flyers last season, less than any forward other than Max Talbot and Zac Rinaldo. Only one of his 27 points came on the man advantage.

"This year, I'll have the chance to prove myself," Couturier said. "I'm going to be in a different role. I know I can produce offensively. I had great offensive numbers at junior. I just need to be patient and wait for my chance [in the NHL]. At the same time, I've got to stay the same player that I am - a solid, two-way player."

Overall, the Phantoms went 2-for-9 on the power play on Tuesday, and whiffed on two different 5-on-3 advantages. Still, Couturier was patient, worked the puck around the edge of the umbrella and created and took advantage of shooting lanes.

It was his first time quarterbacking a power-play unit since junior.

"He really looked confident back there," said veteran Matt Ford, who scored one of the goals on which Couturier assisted. "He sees the ice so well. He's patient with the puck. Even though it was just an exhibition game, he was able to get the puck going north. And it was good to see him shoot the puck."

It isn't often that such a promising young player like Couturier is forced to take a step back in competition level, but he plans to use it to his advantage. The lockout will be a chance to hone new skills.

"This whole thing about growing and developing your confidence as an individual and as a player to improve your hockey game is what it's all about," Phantoms coach Terry Murray said. "This is a great time to play in those critical, key situations - especially for all the players that have played some games in the NHL."

Hovinen struggles

The exhibition game marked the North American debut of touted 6-7 goaltender Niko Hovinen, and it didn't go so well. Hovinen, 24, played all three periods and allowed five goals on 23 shots, including three goals-against in the first 7:41.

Hovinen was visited by Paul Holmgren in the locker room postgame, presumably for a pep talk.

"It wasn't good, it definitely wasn't good," Hovinen said. "It was pretty bad, actually. I didn't feel good at probably any point in the game. I didn't feel like myself, and I don't know why."

The Flyers signed Hovinen to a free-agent contract on May 17, 2011, but he spent the last two seasons playing in his native Finland while waiting for the Phantoms' logjam at goal to clear up. Tuesday was his first test on the smaller North American ice.

"I think he was probably a little jittery," Murray said. "He saw different kinds of shots from these players, it was in a smaller building. I'm sure there's a bunch of those goals that he'd love to have back. The next time he plays, he's going to be a lot better prepared to be able to handle those situations."

Slap shots

Anaheim forward Bobby Ryan, a Cherry Hill native, participated in the Flyers' informal workout on Tuesday. He was joined by Danny Briere, Jody Shelley, Scott Hartnell, Nick Grossmann, Carolina goaltender Brian Boucher and Los Angeles forward Justin Williams . . . The NHL is expected to begin canceling regular-season games this week. The Flyers were slated to open the regular season on Oct. 11 vs. Boston . . . Ilya Bryzgalov, who allowed four goals in his KHL debut for CSKA Moscow, did not start on Tuesday night . . . Brayden Schenn and Zac Rinaldo were held pointless on Tuesday. Fellow veterans Harry Zolnierczyk and Eric Wellwood were scratched . . . The Phantoms have two more preseason games this week on the road before closing camp at the Skate Zone and shipping up to Glens Falls, N.Y.


Contact Frank Seravalli at seravaf@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @DNFlyers. For more Flyers coverage and opinion, read his blog at philly.com/FrequentFlyers.

 

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