April 13, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier (14) scores behind Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) during the third period in game two of the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinals at CONSOL Energy Center. The Philadelphia Flyers won 8-5. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
A trio of first-year Flyers are making their respective marks as each has stepped up their play in their initial NHL postseasons, helping Philly to a 3-0 series lead over the Penguins.
Just as they have for the entire 2011-12 NHL campaign, the contributions of Philadelphia Flyers rookies have made a huge impact on the success of the Orange-and-Black thus far in the playoffs.
Currently holding a 3-0 lead in their first round matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Philly freshmen haven't looked at all like this is their first taste of an NHL postseason. Instead of fading into the background like some young kids tend to do, they've stepped up their respective games and come to the forefront in a matchup against a team many experts predicted would go on to win the Stanley Cup.
Kind of brings back memories of a group of rookies who made their respective marks on the franchise back in 1985.
Rick Tocchet, Peter Zezel, Ron Sutter, Murray Craven, and Derrick Smith all had key roles in leading the club to the Stanley Cup Finals, and Tocchet later went on to win multiple Cups with the Penguins.
All in the present crop have played extremely well, but it's been the top three, in particular, who have made the biggest impact on the series.
Read, who scored 24 goals to lead all NHL rookies during the regular season, potted his first two postseason markers -- including the eventual game-winner late in the second period -- in Sunday's 8-4 drubbing of the Pens.
Read says the freshmen all know their roles with the club, and are carrying them out with precision.
"I thought we all did our jobs out there," Read said after Sunday's victory. "We all played well and did those little things, like keeping your head up and having an extra look when you're out there. Just making the right plays, and not worrying about getting hit or something like that. Just playing hockey, and have fun with it."
They do seem to be having fun, and are making some pretty impressive contributions along the way.
When you think of number 10 on the Flyers, most immediately think of John LeClair. Some will have the late-Brad McCrimmon come to mind, or Mel Bridgman, or even Bill Clement. Schenn is quickly working towards adding his name to the mix, as his two assists in Game 3 now has him tied for second in team playoff scoring with Danny Briere and Jaromir Jagr with five points.
A key piece in the trade that sent Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings, the 20-year-old centerman has also been a growing physical presence. At 6' 1", 190-pounds, Schenn uses his size to the greatest advantage and hits like a freight train.
His clean shot on Pittsburgh defenseman Paul Martin drew the wrath of former-Flyer Arron Asham, who responded by cross-checking Schenn to the throat, then when the Flyer collapsed to the ice, punched him in the back of the head for good measure.
When asked after the game what he thought about the sequence, Schenn was very matter of fact about the incident.
"That's just his (Asham's) temper rising, nothing more then that,: he said of Asham's attack. "Really nothing more then a cross-check and a punch."
Schenn was hampered by early season injuries, but still showed flashes of the promise of his vast potential during the year. After three games in the second season, he now appears to be ready to take the next step in his progression.
Couturier has had numerous contributions in the trio of triumphs, and his Game 2 hat trick -- the first ever for a Flyers rookie in the postseason -- might not even be the most important.
Perhaps none has been any larger than his outright neutralization of superstar scorer Evgeni Malkin. Couturier, the eighth-overall selection in last June's NHL Entry Draft, has frustrated the probable League MVP in the three contests, holding him to no goals and four assists, and just 10 shots on goal. Malkin is also possessor of a -4 rating, showing the stifling affect of the 19-year-old's close checking.
"Coots again, outstanding job tonight," assessed veteran forward Maxime Talbot. "Maybe he doesn't have a hat trick (on Sunday like he did Friday night), but all game long he played solid and he's tough to play against. You look at a guy like Matt Read stepping up with the goals. They did it all season long and I feel like these guys knew their role all season long, and they're a big part of our team. So they just keep on doing it, and it's a big part of our sucess right now."
With three goals and four points, Couturier is also one of the team's leading scorers in the first round.
With the tremendous two-way game he brings to the table, great things have been predicted for Couturier's future. But with how he and his teammates have been playing, the wait may not be as long as originally predicted.
Is it just a coincidence that Malkin's linemate, James Neal, decided to run over an unsuspecting Couturier at center ice away from the puck in the third period of Sunday's afternoon tilt? It would seem the frustration being felt by the Pens is team-wide, and the youngsters are front and center as primary disturbers.
"Well, on Coots, he didn’t have the puck and Neal hit him", said former-Pen Jaromir Jagr. "The puck wasn’t even close, nowhere close. I thought it was kind of dirty play."
Kimmo Timonen was not happy about it at all.
"If you can hit guys without the puck nowadays, that is dangerous, I think, said the defenseman. "I understand the rough game and I understand the guys with the puck and you can hit. I love the rough game. If the guy doesn't have the puck and you hit him blindsided, I don't understand that. The league should get on that."
Philadelphia has had a close-knot cast all season, but Pittsburgh's antics seemingly have helped them become even more unified.
"They went after (Brayden) Schenn and (Sean) Couturier," said Briere. "They keep going after anybody, and we keep standing up for ourselves. We keep being there for each other. Rookies are (playing like) veterans. It’s a good sign."
It truly is a good sign, one that should pay dividends not only now, but for years to come. The youth of the Flyers is thriving as the spotlight continues to heat up with increased intensity.
Very much like those rookies during the 1985 playoffs, who infused a healthy dose of spirited play in aiding the Flyers all the way to the Finals.
The scary thing for opponents to consider is this group may be even better.