Inside the Flyers: Flyers need big production from Schenn, Couturier

Sean Couturier has looked stronger and faster.
Sean Couturier has looked stronger and faster. (YONG KIM / Staff)
Posted: September 23, 2013

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. - Even 33 years later, when you walk into the Herb Brooks Arena, site of Team USA's epic hockey upset of the Soviet Union en route to Olympic gold, you feel your goose bumps rise.

You look around at the Olympic flags, the signs that commemorate the victory, the photos of the shaggy-haired kids who created what Sports Illustrated labeled the greatest sporting event in the 20th century, and Al Michaels' voice pops into your brain.

Do you believe in miracles?.....Yessssssssss!

The Flyers are finishing their four-day camp in Lake Placid on Sunday, and they don't need a "Miracle on Ice" to erase the memories of last season.

They do need their defensemen to stay healthy, and significant improvement in the nets. Those developments are vital if they are going to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs after a rare hiatus.

So is this: major strides by young forwards Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier, who slipped as sophomores during the lockout-shortened 2013 season.

"This is my third year in the league and I expect big things from myself," Schenn said.

Ditto Couturier, 20, a center who had only four goals in last year's abbreviated season after scoring 13 as a rookie. He has bulked up and looked stronger, faster, and dominating in the first two exhibition games last week.

"Last year is behind me," Couturier said. "I feel more comfortable, more confident on the ice."

With the countdown toward the Oct. 2 opener, the focus has been on the goalies, Steve Mason and Ray Emery, and a defense that was broken down last year.

The Flyers believe the goaltenders, locked in a battle for the starting job, will bring out the best in each other. They also believe the return of good health - and the addition of Mark Streit - will greatly improve the defense.

Streit and Erik Gustafsson give the Flyers some much-needed puck-movers, a glaring weakness after Matt Carle went to Tampa Bay as a free agent.

The offense was inconsistent last year, but the addition of playmaking center Vinny Lecavalier should help. And maybe, just maybe, he will jump-start the highly touted Schenn, a physical player with good speed. Lecavalier may center Schenn and Wayne Simmonds.

"I felt like a connection was there," Lecavalier said after working with Schenn and Simmonds for the first time Thursday.

Lecavalier may bring out the best in Schenn.

"He's creative and he sees the ice and makes plays," Schenn said.

Schenn, whom general manager Paul Holmgren called the "best player not in the NHL" when the Flyers acquired him and Simmonds in a 2011 deal that sent Mike Richards to Los Angeles, said last season was a learning year. The Saskatchewan native did a better job setting up teammates, but managed just eight goals in 47 games - he went goal-less in 16 straight at one point - and he had ups and downs on defense.

A converted center, Schenn, 22, will be used at left wing.

"I'm learning and getting the feel for it and it's still an adjustment period," Schenn said. "But it's good when you're playing with guys like Simmer and Lecavalier, big strong guys."

The Flyers need Schenn and Couturier to have breakout seasons, like Richards did in his third season with the Flyers, increasing his goals from 10 to 28 and his points from 52 to 76.

Many players seem to come of age in their third year as their on-ice maturity kicks in: Witness Richards, Flyers center Claude Giroux - his goals increased from 16 to 25, and his points climbed from 47 to 76.

Schenn and Couturier say they haven't set personal goals this season, that they simply want to be more consistent and make a bigger impact

The proverbial sophomore jinx behind them, the two players appear to be on the verge of coming into their own. From here, that's a must - or the Flyers will need a Miracle on Ice to be considered a Cup contender.

Inside the Flyers: Ready to Break Out?

Here are the statistics compiled by Brayden Schenn, 22, and Sean Couturier, 20, during their careers with the Flyers:

Brayden Schenn

Year   Games   G   A   Pts.   TOI*    +/-

2011-12   54    12     6    18    14:07     -7

2013    47     8    18    26    15:32     -8

Sean Couturier

2011-12    77    13    14    27    14:08    +18

2013    46     4    11    15    15:53     -8

*-time on ice per game - Sam Carchidi

Contact Sam Carchidi at Follow on Twitter @BroadStBull.

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